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Playstation 2



Survival Horror






Sony Japan



M (Mature)



April 2004



- Actually very effective at scaring

- Much longer than the usual survival horror game

- Excellent sound design



- Freaking hard, due to trial-and-error nature of the game

- Disjointed story

- Nonsensical puzzles and subquests

- British accents? Why?



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Score: 7.7 / 10


Traditionally, the survival horror genre takes a curious approach to instilling fear. It's always seemed like the game would scare you by threatening you with death - but yet, dying was a relatively rare occasion, unless you really screwed up. Siren, directed by Keiichiro Toyama of Silent Hill fame, decided that maybe it was time for a change. Siren doesn't just send a couple zombies to spook you. Siren will kill you. A lot. And while that may not sound fun to a lot of people, those who have the patience to deal with it will have quite an enjoyable experience.


siren review          siren review


Instead of the usual bits of running down endless corridors or finding valves, the focus is spread amongst ten different people, in over seventy short scenarios. In a range of roles that would make Stephen King proud, you play as a college student, a professor, a priest, a cranky old man with a hunting rifle, and many other characters. The primary objective is usually just to reach the exit, either alone or escorting some other helpless person, as they attempt to escape from the village where all hell has broken loose.


And by hell, I do mean Hell, or at least the Japanese version of it. The biggest problem is that all of the villagers have turned into zombie-like creations known as Shibito. They generally seem content to sit down and continue their earthly deeds, like tilling soil or fixing their broken houses, but one glimpse of any living creature (i.e. you) and they'll get PISSED. And since Siren is all about keeping you unarmed -- you're freaking lucky if you get so much as a flashlight in a given mission -- most of the time is spent hiding from or sneaking past them.




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And in here lies the most innovative part of the game: sightjacking. All of the characters can peep into the eyes of all of the surrounding Shibito, getting a good view of what they see. This is especially important for dealing with the zombie snipers, which is perhaps Siren's most irritating contribution to the survival horror genre. A good amount of time is spent popping into your enemy's head, scoping out their movement patterns, then running like hell. This gets a little awkward, as it would've worked much better with a split screen or picture-in-picture, instead of switching between views.



This also gets frustrating when you jack into various Shibito throughout the level but without being familiar with the landscape, you still have no clue where they are. Therein lies one of Siren's more subtle charms. Since you often revist levels, you begin to start memorizing the terrain. This gets drilled in especially due to the automap system or, rather, the lack thereof. You're given a map of the area, and all of the landmarks are labeled, but no indication as to where you are. You'll end up checking the map every few seconds to get a good idea of where you are and where you're going. This is immensely clunky in the beginning, but then you realize it actually does add to the panic of being lost -- lost in a place where you know enemies are out there, know they're after you, but only vaguely aware of where they are.


And this is why Siren works better than so many other horror games of recent. Unfortunately, due to the immense difficulty, this fear eventually subsides into annoyance, and then eventually, complete anger.


The nature of the game is very trial-and-error, and you'll spend a lot of your time dying, especially given the unforgiving nature of the bad guys. In fact, it's more than just a little similar to Splinter Cell. Siren's not-so-subtle way of saying "don't enter" is to have you get shot at immediately and since trying to escape with the usual clunky controls is practically a pipe dream, you're more or less dead. Occasionally you're given midlevel checkpoints, but not nearly often enough.


siren review          siren review


The other major problem is the scattered nature of the game's plot. It jumps back and forth in time, from character to character, making it impossible to form a cohesive story. What makes it more annoying is that after a certain number of missions, you have to replay old levels, this time completing different objectives. Cryptically, these secondary objectives are unlocked by doing extremely obtuse activities in other missions, usually requiring deviations from the game's path. Rarely do any of these make sense. In one particular level, I accidentally told my comrade to hide in a certain location, and this somehow opened up another objective. Trying to figure these out is practically impossible without either lots of messing around or a strategy guide.


Which brings us to the nature of the puzzles. Siren essentially tells you how to solve all of them, which an immense help. In one level, you have distract a sniper by tying a string to a fan, which apparently will cause the creature to leave his post. While distracting them with fire or bright lights makes some logical sense, this just seems totally arbitrary, and would've been quite difficult to reason out without help. But on the other side of the coin, what's the fun in having problems that come pre-solved? It's a gigantic contradiction.


The graphics are the usual dark, grainy, dreary landscapes, although the real draw are the facial graphics. While they're reasonably flat, the designers put real actor's faces on the characters, which make them look more realistic than the usual CG rendered stuff - and much creepier. Music is mostly non-existant, although the sound effects, especially the shrieks of the Shibito, are quite well done. The only qualm is with the voice acting. It's passable, but everyone talks with a British accent, which just feels incredibly out of place.


Resident Evil's idea of terror is to give you limited ammunition. Siren's idea is to give you practically none at all. It's a feeling of defenseless that translates well to scare you, but frustrates you from a gameplay perspective. It's a excellent experiment, at least, and if you have the patience, you'll get a lot of great chills from Siren.


- Kurt Kalata

(May 23, 2004)

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