Settle in for an Unsettling Series
Like many others, I enjoy a good survival horror game. It’s great when you have the house to yourself, can turn the lights off, turn the sound up, and really get into the mood. However, the survival horror game genre has really been lacking lately, and some games that might have been scary a decade ago come off as “just another shooting game.”
This is especially true with the Resident Evil series as well as titles like Dead Rising. Sure, hordes of zombies would run at you mercilessly, but it became so routine that it lost its scare factor. Luckily, there are some titles that still manage to create new ways to be scary, and I am happy to report that the episodic PSN title Siren: Blood Curse manages to be quite frightening. But be warned, it is a slow build.
Siren: Blood Curse tells the story of several characters who have gotten caught up in the mysterious town of Hanuda, which is a lost village that has mysteriously vanished. The game opens with a television crew happening upon a frightening human sacrifice ritualand being introduced to the undead Shibito. These Shibito are not your average zombie and have heightened senses. They are capable of independent thought and will be able to detect when you are very close to them (they even talk on occasion) and have a very high creep factor all by themselves, though the Shibito are definitely not what makes this game scary.
The overarching story is told through the individual perspectives of seven playable characters, which include the ill-fated television crew, an American student, and a few natives of the town. These characters are not immediately related, and the story relies on you playing as all of the different characters and experiencing the events through different points of view to connect the plot points. The perspective-based gameplay really gives you a sense of the overarching story, while withholding just enough information to keep you on the edge of your seat. This creates a lot of suspense because you’ll often know more about the situation then your character and will have to guide them through levels knowing what horror will await them.
One of the things that I like most about Siren: Blood Curse is how it is uses very small goals to progress the action. Many times, in horror games, a character will be put into a situation with zombies or monsters and will instantly become very courageous and an expert gunman capable of saving the planet. The characters in Siren: Blood Curse, however, are ordinary people and have less heroic goals that generally consist of finding a place to hide or sneaking past the Shibito. Sure, you’ll have a fair share of physical confrontations with weaponry, but these are generally kept to a minimum, and the game’s focus is really firmly placed on telling the story of the hapless souls entangled in the events of the narrative.
As far as gameplay is concerned, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the mechanics. Since most of the time spent playing the game will be focused on exploring and sneaking around, Siren: Blood Curse definitely doesn’t feel like some of its other survival horror contemporaries. But the focus on staying alive really heightens the fear factor because many times the game will deliberately place you in a situation where you are unable to use a weapon or defend yourself. In fact, several stages focus on the child Bella Monroe, who can only run, hide, and scream. In these levels, the Shibito become even scarier because their appearance doesn’t signal just a few gunshots or a quick sprint, but certain death. It is actually quite terrifying because you never know when someone will whip around the corner or pop out from the ceiling, and you’ll have to start all over.
Luckily, all of your characters come equipped with an ace in the hole. For reasons unknown, the characters are able to utilize “Sight Jacking,” which basically means they can split the perspective between their own and that of the Shibito. The game shows this secondary perspective by splitting the game screen in half, with the left side showing what you see and the right side showing what the Shibito see. It’s a clever tool for figuring out exactly where enemies are and for finding safe routes in complex maps. This gameplay feature does take a little getting used to and definitely takes some practice to hone. But if you can perfect using the Shibito perspective, you’ll have much better luck running and hiding, which means less Shibito eating your face.
But the game isn’t wholly focused on running from the enemy. Some characters can pick up weapons, and a few are actually quite good at firing a gun. But of course, it all depends on perspective. One character, Seigo, has been living in Hanuda for quite some time and one well aimed shot from his shotgun can kill Shibuto yards away. Other characters, like the student Howard Wright, are not as good at long-range gunplay, but can fire at close range as well as use items like frying pans and shovels as blunt objects to fend off attacking Shibuto.
Controls in this title work extremely well and benefit from their remarkable simplicity. As you might expect, you’ll use the left and right control stick to look and run around. You’ll use the control pad for character specific actions (like yelling and turning on a flashlight or flare), and the X button will be your catch-all action button. Weapons are used with the R1 or square button, and guns use an auto aim that can be triggered via a quick tap of L1. L2, however, is probably your most important button, as this triggers the Sight Jacking mechanism. The game also uses the Sixaxis motion controls, and you can give your controller a quick shake to either reload or get away from enemies. And in case you despise motion controls, don’t stress because there are button alternatives.
Graphics in Siren: Blood Curse are very good, especially considering it is a downloadable title. Characters have a very sharp amount of detail, and animations are extremely fluid. However, one thing you will notice about this game’s overall look is that it is very dark. In fact, this game is so dark it is basically impossible to play if there are any lights on in your house (or visible windows if it is daylight.) I can recall one situation in the first episode of the game when I couldn’t find a pathway just because I had a lava lamp on behind me. That is how dark this game is.
But if you’ve turned out all the lights, then you should be warned, this game not only looks incredibly creepy, it sounds creepy too. The level music uses some foreboding melodies, and then the signature high-pitched violin will come in when you’re exploring unknown areas. The game also gives you audio clues when you are in danger or a Shibito is near. These generally take the form of a racing heartbeat or louder violin music. In addition to the music, the voiceover is also excellent. All the characters are fully voiced, and the actors do an excellent job of conveying emotion, which is actually a bit rare in modern survival horror games (think Resident Evil.) Since characters are Japanese and American, both Japanese and English are spoken, and it’s actually quite nice to have a game where people don’t all just speak English.
Overall, Siren: Blood Curse is a pretty awesome horror game. The game’s focus on story and substance rather than just shooting zombies really makes this one worth picking up if you are getting a little bored with your run-of-the-mill horror shooters. Plus, its episodic nature really keeps you on the edge of your seat and helps pace your gameplay. And with twelve episodes, each with about 1-2 hours of gameplay, maybe your Thursday night sitcom just became your Thursday night horror!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Certainly not the best the PlayStation 3 hardware can offer. However, the graphics are mighty impressive considering the title’s downloadable nature. 4.1 Control
Very easy to pick up and play. Since the game is all about exploration and occasional combat, there’s no real complexity, which keeps you immersed in the story. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Level music and sound effects do a great job of increasing the creepiness factor exponentially, and voiceovers are spot-on. 3.7 Play Value
The episodic nature works very well. The suspenseful story definitely keeps you downloading, and there is a lot to explore in later levels. A great title for horror fans who want more than gunplay from their games. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.