Siren
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2
Publisher
SCEA
Developer
SCEI
Genre
Survival Horror
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Nice atmosphere and excellent story
• Sight-jacking is a nice new element
• Mission-based gameplay offers replayability

The Bad

• Harsh difficulty
• Controls could be better designed
• Pretty poor voicework

 
Grade
B

Siren is Sony's attempt to once again break into a genre held onto by other developers. This time around, Sony is trying to throw in its hat with the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill by bringing the original Silent Hill's Director Keiichiro Toyama onto the project as director. Because of the inclusion of Keiichiro Toyama, Siren does have a certain Silent Hill quality to it all the while trying to set itself apart and even including some new aspects to the genre.

The story behind Siren is about the Japanese village of Hanuda and the people who find themselves there when the village becomes cut off from the rest of the world by a flood of red water. The few survivors left must find out why the villagers have turned into the deranged shibito and how they can both survive and escape. Told through a disjointed means of storytelling that not only goes through multiple characters but back and forth in time, the plot of the game is quite good once you get a grasp of what's going on. But, too be honest, being a bit confused and clueless does seem to add to the mood of the game. Even once you do have an idea of what's going on, the game is going to game tossing you curves.

As soon as the player gets into the game, they'll find a lot of new aspects that may take a bit to get into. First and foremost, the game is broken up into missions, some of which are basically "find the exit" or escort someone to the exit. These missions provide players with challenges in the form of trying to avoid enemies, locate items and even solve simple genre standbys like "find the key" and "locate the combination". Fortunately, many of the missions have "hidden" items to find or activities to perform to both unlock and complete secondary objectives, giving a certain degree of replayability to the game. Between missions, you'll see the progression of the game in the Link Navigator, which becomes accessible later on.

Even though the standard backbone of the game falls into survivor horror conventions, players will find the ability to Sight-jack helpful and useful. Sight-jacking involves pressing the L2 button and rotating the Left Analog stick to dial into the eyes of nearby NPCs and enemies. You can preset four different perspectives to the face buttons in this mode. Doing this at the beginning of most stages becomes pretty much a necessity as you'll want to know where enemies are, what their movement patterns and whether they can see you or not. Of course, once you move around in the stage, you'll need to do more sight-jack searching to get your bearings. Because the game has no other means by which to determine a level of stealth, this becomes a vital means of surviving.

Before too long, you'll realize that Siren is as much, or more, about being stealthy than anything else. Players will want to move in the shadows and hide from the shibito as they are both brutal and fast. Many of the characters come unarmed or vastly underarmed and when faced with more than one shibito, you become dead quickly. You'll have to be sure to hide from enemy sight or learn how to escape and hide from them. Since the shibito can be rather dumb, if you manage to run away, they'll give up the chase. And this alone is really the only way to defeat the shibito as even a serious case of being peppered with bullets doesn't keep them down. Yes, you heard me right - shibito CAN'T be killed. You can only hope to incapacitate them long enough to get past them.

While the game controls a lot like Resident Evil, you do have the benefit of the camera following you through most portions. Unfortunately, there are moments when the camera changes angle, which tends to throw you off until you get used to moving with the new angle. And it's not that the change in angle does anything different to the controls, but that the standard camera tricks you into believing it's more like Max Payne or Ninja Gaiden. You also have the ability to go into first person view for a look and even zoom.

There is a bit of confusion when it comes to doing even the smallest of activities. Simple things like opening doors seems to be done by just pressing the X Button, while context-sensitive (and mission-progessing) activities are done through a mini-menu brought up with the triangle button. This menu also gives you options to shout out to draw the attention of shibito and even give directions to NPCs you may be guiding. So early on, you may be hammering the X Button to do something that in fact you should be using the Triangle Menu for. If you want to just pick up a key, you have to select that option in a menu and then use the menu again later to use the same key to unlock something. It seems like a bit overcomplicated, but I'm sure you'll get used to it before too long.

The graphics for Siren are pretty solid and work well for the style the game is going. Each location is well detailed and feels like you're in a real location. But this is tempered with the overbearing fogginess or darkness that tends to wash most of the games colors and tones down, giving even the sharpest textures a lackluster look to them. Of course, you could turn on the flashlight to get a better view, but considering how quick death would follow if the enemy sees your flashlight, you'll not want to do this much. The character models tend to have a blockiness that can be overlooked by the finer detail of the faces that give a more believable aspect to the characters. The cutscenes have a fine stylish quality and the face-mapping, while occasionally looking a little odd, really works at making the characters look realistic. Animations are well done and except for some clipping issues (which become really noticeable when you die), the game, on the whole, looks pretty good.

The audio portion of the good is both good and bad. The sound effects, especially the haunting squabbling of the shibito, do a wonderful job at solidifying the ambiance and tone of the game. Music, when it does show up, is suitably powerful and likewise drives home what is a fairly bleak game. Where the audio portion suffers is the completely awful voice acting. Some of it is endurable, but most of the English voice acting is stale and hearkens back to the original Resident Evil in terms of annoyingness. It's a shame that you have to endure the voice acting to get such a good story.

Even with all the minor design issues (or choices) the only real aspect of the game that is sure to decide whether you can play this title or not is the pretty unforgiving difficulty present. Most of the game is trial-and-error, leading you to play the same stage multiple times until you figure things out. Get seen by a shibito? Go ahead and die, because it's likely that running and hiding isn't worth the effort. Siren is the kind of game that requires patience and a willingness to do things multiple times to get it right.

With that said, though, the story and newer gameplay elements do make Siren a nice addition to the genre, even if it tends to be a bit harder to get into than other titles are. The story and presentation makes for a wonderful horror experience.

- - Vane

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