Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: Siren: Blood Curse

SCE Japan Studio


In reimagining the PS2 stealth horror game Siren in downloadable episodic and later Blu-ray form, SCE Japan Studio also made some alterations to the game’s plot and structure.

It’s still a haunting slow walk through the village of Hanuda, which is itself still as creepy and implacably horrific as it was in the last console generation. Reported to have engaged in human sacrifice more than thirty years ago, the villagers are now shambling horrors, all ready to kill any American film crew stupid enough to wander into town. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a reality TV crew on its way.

Siren: Blood Curse offers a more linear narrative to the game than its predecessor, despite it being split into twelve chronological episodes. Even playing as different characters, the story progresses in an orderly fashion, and each character has clear primary objectives in each chapter. The only secondary objectives serve to fill in the game’s archive, and chipping in parts of the backstory. Hidden in the chapters are items like diaries and logbooks, all of which are only accessible outside of the game. It creates a curious perspective on the action, having to withdraw from the narrative to delve into the supporting structures of the diegesis, but it’s nonetheless engaging.

Also adding to the immersion is the split-screen sightjack system, which lets characters ‘lock on’ on the sight of nearby enemies and friendly characters. Seeing their vision side-by-side with that of you character is at first disconcerting, but the practice is a useful one, enabling you to sneak past enemies and clue in on their cycling attention spans.

Picture that old practice of reading a serialised novel chapter by chapter, of paying off an encyclopedia set volume by volume, and only having a complete set to reference at the very end of the exercise. Similarly, the game’s chapters aren’t great value for money separately, but PSN also offers the chance to buy them as a set, or as a full set on a disc.

The trouble is that at a certain point, you need to have the whole story in front of you if you’re able to appreciate its smallest parts. And since it’s the small parts that are supposed to make Siren: Blood Curse so accessible, we’re in a bit of a bind. The only answer here is to get hold of the whole game, or don’t try it at all. There’s little resolution at the end of each chapter, and the only thread tying the first few chapters together is the (hopefully) inevitable curiosity of the player. Assuming you feel like protecting an American reality television crew, that is.

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

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