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Review #199

Siren: Blood Curse
Publisher: Sony
Developer: SCE Japan
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 7/25/2008

Siren: Blood Curse is my first foray into the Siren series. The first game was not particularly liked Stateside, with complaints about the controls, story, graphics, and gameplay. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Siren did quite well, both in terms of sales and critical praise. It’s no surprise then that Forbidden: Siren 2 was never released in the US, but again went on to be quite successful in the rest of the world.

Now Sony brings us the third game in the series as a true test of the Playstation store. For the first time a big first party game is being released as a download, either a one giant purchase, or in episodic form. I think this is a great idea as it allows gamers to try a snippet of the title, without having to invest the full $40 into the game. I’ve also read in several articles that Siren: Blood Curse is mostly a remake of the original title, but with an American cast and crew, and all of the previous complaints eliminated and/or improved.

So how does Siren: Blood Curse stack up? We’ve got two big survival horror games coming out later this year in Dead Space and Silent Hill Homecoming Let’s see if it’s worth saving your cash for either or those, or if Siren has finally released a US friendly member of their franchise.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The story is an odd duck to be sure. You’ll be playing as multiple characters throughout the game, switching between them from chapter to chapter in each episode. As well, bits of the story are left hazy or unclear and the full meaning can only be achieved if you locate and then read about each of the 50+ archive items you can optionally encounter in the game by going out of your way from the specified goals.

The plot in a nutshell revolves around a TV crew filming a show about haunted places. This crew travels to Japan to check on the paranormal history of long deserted village named Hanuda. However, upon their arrival the crew witnesses several blatant murders by what are eventually revealed as creatures known as Shibito. The problem here is that the game begins instantly with the witnessing of this murder. You are given no information about the characters, why they are here or what they are doing. It is all just thrown at you. Then you instantly switch to a new character that is not connected with the crew in any way and you are given a single sentence explaining their name and their misfortune to be in this location as well. I was really disappointed in how thrown together this was. I would have really liked a little more back story and fleshing out of the characters.

The further you get into the game the more things begin to make sense. Which is odd considering the game is a pretty convoluted and bizarre tale featured Great Old Ones falling from the sky and being eaten, time warps leading to insane time paradoxes, and other details that make for a nice horror story, but not necessarily one that hold up to scrutiny.

In all, the story is an enjoyable little romp, but in the end it lack any real sense of terror and seems to have twists for the sake of twists rather than a solid narrative.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

Graphics are a mixed bad. A lot of the “screenshots” I’ve seen online of the game are doctored ones making it appear as if the game is brighter/lighter then it really is. In fact, when the game is dark, it is TOO dark. There are times when you can see little to nothing and your character, regardless of which camera view you pick, blocks a lot of your flashlight. It would have been smarter to have the camera behind and up rather then directly behind or directly behind and a little to the right. As such, most of the graphics at night are dull, things are hard to make out, and drab in such a way it feels like the developers were bad at graphic design rather then trying to make an eerie atmosphere.

On the other hand, when the game is in a more lighted area, everything looks pretty good. There a degree of attention to detail, but sometimes there are things on the screen you can’t actually see, but that you are told to pick up, like a can opener or police log (as examples of two very early on items). It would have been nice to have visual representation of items instead of. “Press X to pick up ITEM.” I felt like I was booting up Zork.

I really like the character models and they are some of the best I’ve seen on the PS3. This is all the more impressive considering this is a downloadable title. Character walk, punch, run and look as if they were real. I especially enjoy a lot of the creepy Shibitos. They’re all just a little bit dead, but just enough that it’s unsettling.

So great character design, but some poor backgrounds, shading and texturing issues keep me from recommending the game’s overall visuals.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

I love the score of this game. It’s nothing you’d download and put on to your Ipod, but man is it creepy. The music is scratchy, shrill, and ominous. It fits the mood of the game perfectly and I was very impressed with every single track.

The voice acting was top notch as well. It was the best ensemble I’ve heard, but each character sounded believable and like the events of the game were actually happening to them. The funny thing is the voice acting at times were better than the visuals, so that the voice acting sounded more intense then the expression on the characters’ faces. How often does that happen?

Sound effects get a thumbs up as well. A sake bottle sounds different from a frying pan, gun, or pipe, and each Shibito has their own specific grunts/voice patterns. Not bad.

Probably the strongest are in Siren: Blood Curse, the noises are creepy then the rest of the game combined.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

One of my big complaints about Survival-Horror games compared to the Adventure-Terror genre is that the controls for damn near every S-H game ever have sucked utterly. Whether it’s an Alone in the Dark title, Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the controls are pure bollocks. This reason alone was what kept me from playing the first Siren. When fans of a genre known for its awful gameplay are say “THIS game plays poorly.” you know you’re in for a bad time.

Thankfully Siren: Blood Curse PLAYS better than nearly every S-H game I have ever picked up before.

Moving characters is exceptionally easy. There no rotating with one stick and moving with the other. There are no collision detection issues or aiming problems. The game is amazingly solid, and at times, almost too solid thanks to how exceptional the aiming/shooting mechanism works once you finally have a gun. I was very impressed and also shocked. How could a survival-horror game play this well? Especially from a series with a reputation like Siren

As mentioned before, my big issue with the game was with the camera angle, but when haven’t you heard that one. The camera in Blood Curse is still above and beyond anything I’ve seen in most other horror games, but there are times when it is a pain to control or you just can’t get the right shot so as to see what you are doing.

The game makes use of both the SIXXAXIS and Dual Shock aspects of the controller. You can shake your controller rapidly to push off a grappling shibito, or you can shake it hard just once to reload your gun. The controller also vibrated in accordance with how close you are to being discovered in your repeated hidings.

For me Siren: Blood Curse felt more like Fatal Frame meets Metal Gear Solid as it looks spooky, but most of the game is sneaking around and doing silent kills on already dead monsters. I normally hate stealth games, but the s-h factor of the game made it feel more like a Clock Tower game then say, Vampire Rain.

Finally we have the trademark of the Siren series: sightjacking. occasionally you’ll play as a character that has the ability to see through something else’s eyes, be it another human or a shibito, You can cycle through all the characters within range and this ability helps you with your hiding, or more importantly, finding a character you were supposed to be following but then were parted from. I really enjoyed this, especially as when you sightjack you get a split screen between your eyes and the person you are sightjacking. It was a bit hard to get used to at first, but after a while, it began to feel natural and it helped the game to really stand out from the pack. From researching previous Siren games, I learned that in the older titles, you could move or defend yourself when sightjacking, which is a horrible game design flaw. Thankfully that too is missing from Siren Blood Curse as you can move, attack and run like hell freely while looking through the eyes of the beastie you are wailing on with a hand held scythe.

Simply put, this has the best gameplay in a survival-horror game since The Suffering.

Control and Gameplay: 9/10

5. Replayability

It’s too bad that Siren: Blood Curse is extremely linear, as it makes this the weak point in the games until-now above average status. Sure you can go back to individual episodes and play just that bit in order to claim the archive item you missed the first time you play it, but that’s only really for OCD kids. Part of the game is finding out the mystery, but once you’ve beaten the title, what is worth coming back to? It’s a solid game, but it just doesn’t offer anything save an extra difficulty level for you. Things will unfold exactly the same (Which is actually appropriate considering the plot) and everything will be in the same exact spot.

I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again now that I’ve beaten it, even if the game was fun and solid, Because of that, I can’t say it’s worth a straight $40 for the download, but for a one time shebang, it was a nice romp through the spooky remains of a haunted Japanese village.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Wait. What am I playing here? A solid, well made survival horror game that walk you through things at the beginning and slowly ramps up the difficulty ensuring that you will always have a challenge to go along with the superior gameplay?

Well, no. Not really. As far as survival horror games go, Siren: Blood Curse is a pretty easy one. Mayhaps too easy, but I am unsure if it is because the game’s controls don’t leave me swearing until I am blue in the face unlike some other horror franchises.

I think I died once in the first few levels, and that was because I tried fighting a shibito without a weapon, which well, you can’t really do in this game. Other then that, it was a pretty easy time, albeit one filled with a lot of close calls. The last battle of the game is actually quite hard compared to the rest of the game, but that’s because the site jacking and the amount of stuff going on makes it a bit hard to find the appropriate “target.”

I didn’t really notice a difference between the easy and normal difficultly levels. Regardless of what you have it on, most of the game is sneaking, running, and avoiding bad guys unless you have a gun or heavy damage object. Then you’re an undead slaughtering machine.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

As mentioned earlier Siren: Blood Curse is a remake of the original with a lot of changes made to the gameplay and a new American protagonist cast. I realize the game is new and highly innovative to me, but it’s the third entry in a beleaguered franchise. They made some nice changes to the controls and improved the sightjacking, but really Siren Blood Curse is merely a quality title trying to get noticed in a deluge of survival-horror games. It may not be a dime a dozen like the majority of the genre, but it’s probably two bits a dozen.

Siren: Blood Curse is a fun title and a nice reinvention of the original game, but in the end it’s a remake of a title that was a just another title in an already overmined genre.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

One of the nice things about the game is that the title is downloadable in 12 separate episodes. You can buy them in a set of three, or all at once, with the latter providing a bit of a price break. However, this breaking up of the game also puts a damped on playing it. This made each episode feel a lot longer then it really was, and after each episode I felt like taking a break instead of continuing on to the next chapter.

I still had a lot of fun with the game, even if I never found it scary. it was simply a well made game will an intriguing, but ultimately silly, plot. The two combined kept me playing far longer than I would other more action-oriented horror games. The title only took me about 8 hours to beat, or 40 minutes per episode. That’s quite good for a title like this and I can’t say there was anything other then the episodic breaks that made me want to put the controller down.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

The PS3 has been in real need of a strong system exclusive that isn’t The Show ‘08 or Metal Gear Solid 4 that appeals to a cross section of gamers rather than the best title out for the system in Folklore which is also sadly niche at best.

Will SBC be that game? No. Sadly it won’t. People will be waiting for REV or the next Silent Hill which is Origins is any indication, will play like crap compared to Blood Curse. As well, SBC is a downloadable only title, meaning gamers without net access won’t even be able to look at it, much less play it. A lot of gamers will also probably take issue with the fact it is a $40 downloadable and the amount of space it takes up rather then going “Wow. a next gen high def game for $40 less then if I bought it in a store.” More’s the pity.

Still, Siren Blood Curse is one of the best survival-horror games I’ve played in years, and I have no doubt that those who download it will be rewarded with a top notch solid game. It’s the best original title from the Playstation store so far, and even people like myself who generally hate survival-horror games will walk away giving this one a big recommendation to their friends.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Kudos to Sony for trying something this risky with one of their first person titles. It helps to make the PS Store stand out a little bit more compared to Wiiware and Xbox Live. Before now, the PS Store was simply a dumping ground for old titles or games with graphics from a generation or two ago.

Another big kudos is the price. A full PS3 game for $20 less then you would pay in stores? SIGN ME UP. This is a great way to cut costs as well as cut out the middle man, ensuring everyone wins.

Although there are no extras and there is no real motivation to play through the game more than once, the game is a solid title that appears to outdo the original Siren in every way. It may eat up a lot of space on my hard drive, but it’s easily my favorite exclusive title fort the PS3 this year. What can I say? I’m not a fan of Metal Gear. Instead I’ll enjoy sneaking up on zombies with a metal pole and kicking them down an elevator shaft.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5
Graphics: 5.5
Sound: 8
Control and Gameplay: 9
Replayability: 4
Balance: 6
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 6.5
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 6
Total Score: 62.5
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary

Enjoyed by the Japanese and Europeans alike, Siren might finally have a title under its belt that American gamers can get behind. With the best control scheme for this genre I’ve seen in four years and an intricate story, Siren: Blood Curse is one of the best spooky games I’ve played in 2008. Is it a game of the year contender? No. Not it’s not. is it a solid game that should be on every PS3 hard drive? You know what, compared to the ports and trash out there for $60, it probably is.

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