I remember playing the first Siren game back on the PS2 in 2004. I was particularly put off by the shoddy controls, sub-par voice acting, and overall difficulty of the title. Four years have gone by between American releases, and really, not a whole lot has changed in Siren: Blood Curse. The shibito are still as annoying and unpredictable as ever, the player is still punished for trying to take their time, and the game still controls like a Mack truck on flat tires. The high definition visuals do little to make this update any more palpable to the savvy horror gamer, but the voice acting is remarkably improved, thankfully and made suffering through the gameplay a little more bearable. But should I be suffering when it comes to a survival horror title? A little yes and a little no, I should be afraid for my characters life, I should feel uneasy when I hear a shibito's maniacal cackle. I shouldn't be wary of shoddy controls and trial and error gameplay.
Siren: Blood Curse is served up in an episodic manner, which allows the developer to ratchet up the tension between levels. Each chapter ends with a “Next time!” type vignette that clues in the user towards what happens next. This would work wonders if the game was actually fun to play. Even the most horror starved gamer will find a hard time trying to get through these episodes, and there are a variety of reasons as to why this game fails to maintain the player's focus. It all boils down to a matter of control. The user can't control the camera, the user can't control the pace of the game, and worst of all, the player can't control the characters very well.
Camera control is limited to what your character can see. Whatever they face is what you see. You can turn a character's head to the left or right slightly but it is hardly a solution. Siren: Blood Curse retains the “Sight Jacking” feature from the previous Siren game, and now it takes on a bit more useful form in allowing the user to see through the eyes of the player and the eyes of the shibito. Whatever side of the sight jacking is more dominant will take up more real estate on your screen. So if you get spotted your line of sight will be diminished and the highlight will be on the shibito's line of sight. The biggest problem with this is that while you are able to share the sight of the shibito, you also inherit their inability to see properly. The visual effects that are present on the screen are highly distracting, and they are only made worse by the fact that the game is so dark, and having a shaky-cam with ghosting effects doesn't make things any better. Controlling the characters is really no better as they turn extremely slowly and feel very sluggish in general.
Combat doesn't really fare much better. You'll find weapons throughout the game, but all in all the don't feel very useful since the shibito are able to revive after a period of time. It's also fairly difficult to sneak up on shibito to knock them out. And if you happen to catch them head-on you're in for a battle that will end much better if you just run and hide. And don't even think about taking on multiple enemies without a firearm, that's just suicide. I guess the only upside here is that the shibito are fairly stupid and easy to hide from.
Interacting with the shibito involves a lot of trial and error gameplay which only adds to the frustration of the user. A particularly bad level is in episode three. You control a young girl who cannot be spotted by the shibito or it's game over. She has to sneak through a hospital, with a flashlight that you're never quite sure the shibito can see or not. I had to sneak around in the dark with a finger at the select button to view the map to point myself in the right direction. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs I had to sneak around a corner to another room, once I got in to the room there was a shibito waiting for me blocking my only path. I tried to yell to get it to chase me, and while I was somewhat successful in getting it to follow me, I was unable to escape the damn thing and it chased me and eventually caught me. Eventually I found out I could make a heart monitor go off and then squeeze through a small hole to get behind it and on the other side of a door. Here's the kicker though, I thought I was safe, but when the shibito returned to where it was originally standing, it thought it would be a good idea to enter the room I was standing in. I had no prior knowledge that it was going to go there, and only infuriated me further when I had to start at the previous checkpoint. After I finally managed to clear this objective I was treated to another “chase” sequence where I had a limited amount of time to escape from my location, all the while a shibito was tracking me down, and is able to home in on me no matter where I am.The game allows you to save at a checkpoint, but if you load any other episodes then your save will be lost, so beware trying to back track and make sense of the story. One of the things I did like however is that if you feel like you're having too much trouble with a particular episode, you can just load up one of the future episodes and skip ahead. Granted you've missed a bit of story and gameplay, but it helps to ease the frustration.
The story, like the previous Siren game is about a group of people caught up in rural Japan during an incident that turns all the villagers in to murderous zombies, and when someone is killed by them, they will join their ranks. Some people involved belong to an ancient cult, some know more than they let on, and others are just in a bad place at a bad time. Completing episodes and individual chapters will unlock objects in the archive that can be viewed from the main menu. These little bits of information help to fill in some of the gaps and come in the form of text, images, audio, and even video which do a fairly good job of immersing the player in the world of Siren, even if the gameplay is trying very hard to push them out.
Graphically this game is fair, the character models look pretty good, the dingy locales are fitting, though the game suffers from next-gen brown-in and has a tendency to wash everything out. Dark areas are ridiculously dark without the aide of a flashlight. The shibito are quite frightening, and some of them can fly now, making them all the more deadly and terrifying. Unfortunately the game doesn't take a whole lot of advantage of the PS3 as it only broadcasts in a 720p resolution. Audio fares a lot better this time around. Gone are the British actors, and now the user is given a proper mix of English and Japanese actors who all fit the game quite well. The shibito's broken and maniacal Japanese along with their constant cackling helps add to the tension. An interesting option for those who have powerful surround sound systems is the “Midnight mode” which heightens the audio for more natural sounds.
Being a Playstation Network title, this game is quite a hassle to pick up, there are twelve individual episodes to grab, each taking up between five hundred megabytes to a little over one gigabyte. Downloading the entire game over my cable connection took almost ten hours. Then comes the fun part of installing each episode which adds another twenty minute wait per episode. The only upside to this is being allowed to start from any episode you desire, so if you wanted to you could potentially just jump to the final episode.
Siren: Blood Curse is sadly a game I hate to hate. I love the premise behind the game, and the characters seem very interesting, but I had a very hard time feeling compelled to follow through the story because the game play was just too stifling and required a pristine playthrough far too early to allow me to really get in to the game. I became frustrated as early as the third episode and skipped ahead until I felt like I wanted to go back. The graphics are hardly impressive on a console that is nearly two years old, and the delivery method is cumbersome at best. You'd have to be really dedicated to this franchise or horror games in general. And while it's not much better, I enjoyed Silent Hill: Homecoming a lot more than Siren: Blood Curse and with Dead Space now available it makes it even harder to recommend this game. If you're really hard up for a scare, you're better off going with something other than Siren: Blood Curse.