|By Good-Evil Contributor||Wednesday, 17 Dec 2008|
For the faithful and discerning fan, the horror genre can be distilled into a vast selection of witch’s brews that vary from one end of the shadowy spectrum to the other. Whether your poison of preference comes in the adrenaline-soaked zombie annihilation variety, like the recent Left 4 Dead, or whether you opt for more of a thinking man’s terror with generous helpings of psychological fright (in which case you’d be hard pressed to find something more satisfying than Silent Hill 2). Either way, there’s something out there for everyone looking to face their deepest fears while still wanting optimal entertainment for their gaming dollar. But in this current financial climate, where our waking hours are often spent fending off an entirely different boogieman, how does a game find its way into our hearts and homes in this modern era?
Siren: Blood Curse (or New Translation as it’s awkwardly sub-titled in its native land), is SCE Japan’s latest attempt at easing the home console market into an all digital age with access to the game’s twelve chapters made available through Sony’s PlayStation Network on the PS3. A hugely pivotal, yet relatively underappreciated endeavor, SCE has eliminated the need to venture out into the light with the hopes that genre fans will gobble up their retail-quality terror in these bit sized chunks and come back, ravenously, for second helpings, but will this gruesome meal sustain?
Siren: Blood Curse already has one thing going for it – name recognition. While the average gamer may not immediately recall playing one of the game’s previous two installments, if you check with fans of the genre they will likely confirm at least recalling the name of the series. For Sony, that’s as good as gold. Not convinced? Remember all those political pamphlets you received in the mail leading up to Election Day? See!
So now that we’ve got the How out of the way, let’s get into the Why?
Siren: Blood Curse is a re-imagining of the 2003 title Siren (or Forbidden Siren depending on which side of the pond you live) in which a group of individuals, through various circumstances, are trapped in a mysterious village that was thought to have been destroyed during an earthquake in the mid seventies. Through happenstance, our cast of characters coincidentally stumbles onto a terrifying ritual where human sacrifice is on the menu and as quick as you can say “Curse? What curse?!” the ceremony is interrupted and our Gaijin visitors are sent running for their lives. In an attempt to differ itself from previous outings as well as increase appeal with Western gamers, SCE opted to remove the All-Japanese cast from the original Siren, replacing the protagonists instead with an American television crew, and a young American student attending high school in a neighboring town. This really comes off as a nice addition for the Western gamer as it not only aids in helping the player connect with the characters by familiar association, but it also increases the tension that comes with the stranger-in-a-strange-land scenario.
As the game proceeds and the plot unravels, Blood Curse reveals its true genius by splitting up the story into twelve individual chapters, each in turn being divided up into smaller segments. Flipping the modern method of linear storytelling in games on its head, Siren chooses to shun the A-to-B formula and instead bounces around from one point in time to the next and back again, giving you glimpses into the individual challenges that each of the characters face during their stay in the ghostly village of Hanuda.
Delivered in a way akin to a television series (perhaps a fun nod to the placement of the American tv crew), each chapter begins and ends like an episode of your favorite show, with video previews for coming installments as well as opening recaps. Once you factor in that each of the chapter’s segments can be played in a relatively short sitting that accommodates even the busiest gamer’s schedule, you start to appreciate just how great episodic content can be.
In addition to receiving bits of narrative from the typical cut scenes, Blood Curse also maintains the archive system made famous by its predecessors. As one scurries about the dilapidated ruins of traditional Japanese dwellings and other crimson-soaked landmark locations, certain items can be discovered that will prompt an in-game notification announcing the unlocking of new archive items. You’re able to access these informative objects from either the main or in-game menus, allowing you to sift through the multiple personal items and various world objects that will provide a fascinating look into the characters and the world they exist in.
Character hopping aside, the one gameplay technique that sets Siren apart from some of its contemporaries is the ability to Sight-Jack. Working much as the title would lead you to believe, Pressing a combination of shoulder buttons on your controller will allow you to cycle through all characters, friend or foe, in the immediate area, granting you the ability to see through their eyes and giving you a chance to monitor their patterns and find out other pertinent information needed to complete the missions objectives. When in use, Sight-Jacking enables you to split your vision between your controlled protagonist and one of the Shibito (corpse people) that are attempting to hinder your progress. After finding the Shibito you’re looking for, you can assign said POV to one of the four face buttons for easy cycling. Being that the creators of Siren would prefer you experience the added terror that comes from a good sneek-around, it is suggested early on that stealth is your greatest ally and this is where the Sight-Jacking really comes in handy as it gives you a leg up on avoiding the demonic denizens of Hanuda.
As you make your way from chapters one through twelve, certain scenarios will either provide you with a weapon, give you a chance to obtain one, or eliminate self-defense entirely. This variation adds a nice ebb and flow to the tension in the game, which breaks up the monotony while keeping the scares from being too intense, too frequently.
In the end, Siren: Blood Curse brings a great mix of East meets West, along with the standard requirements for what makes a horror game truly work. It’s not entirely perfect, and the very bizarre, very Japanese ending might put some of that desired Western demographic off a bit, but few will contest the fact that Sony has done a smash-up job bringing something fresh to both the genre and the downloadable market at large. Now, if they can stop coming up with new SKU’s for their hardware long enough to advertise some of the software we’d really have a contender on our hands.