Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan’s internal studio, the release of Siren: Blood Curse signals the influx of several horror-theme outings on PS3 in 2008, preceding forthcoming entries such as Silent Hill: Homecoming and Electronic Arts’ forthcoming Dead Space. More than just a mere doppelganger however, Blood Curse’s decidedly stealthier approach to the traditional survival horror experience excels in scares and implements some unique ideas to create one of the most memorable horror outings in recent years.
Essentially, Blood Curse is an Americanized reworking of the original Siren title released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2003. The game takes place in August 2007, and focuses on the efforts of a TV crew investigating the mysterious Japanese village of Hanuda, also known as the “Vanished Village." This village is said to have played host to human sacrifice some 30 years ago. Inevitably, things go awry not long after the crew arrive, and the group soon becomes embroiled in all manner of horrific events involving insane cults, zombified inhabitants, human sacrifice and a nefarious, intricate plot line.
At its heart, Siren functions as the quintessential survival horror adventure. Players will have to guide several characters across a series of highly atmospheric locations while completing various objectives along the way. Users will also be facing off against numerous undead foes, known as the “Shibito.” Your overall objective will differ depending on the character you are playing as at the time. On one hand, as a reckless young highschool student, you may be forced to evade a pursuing Shibito, requiring you to locate an adequate hiding space before looking for a means of escaping the surrounding area. At the other end of the spectrum, however, you may be tasked with finding your way out of a local hospital as a defenceless ten-year old girl, forcing you to utilize stealth in order to accomplish your mission, as opposed to brute force.
As you progress through the story you’ll also have to pick up the usual assortment of key items and complete various other tasks in order to finish your objective. Although they hardly challenge any of the pre-conceived ideas of traditional adventure games, they’re well integrated and ultimately varied enough to ensure that the core experience doesn’t become monotonous over time. Elsewhere, you can also obtain various documents and other items to flesh out the game’s archive component, giving you an intriguing insight into the background of the story, weapons and characters throughout the game. Concurrently, this also extends the games’ replay value by a substantial margin, as there are literally dozens of hidden items to collect.
As mentioned previously, the game relies more on stealth than outright combat, despite the fact you have over 50 different melee weapons available throughout the course of the game, in addition to a handful of assorted firearms. However, Blood Curse encourages you to avoid confrontation wherever possible, sneaking past your foes in an effort to get by unscathed. Alternatively, you can sneak up to a foe, weapon in hand, before knocking them out with a single, powerful strike to the back of the head (just make sure you don’t attempt to achieve this with a lacklustre weapon such as a frying pan, as my character regretted rather painfully). Naturally, though, there are times when your foes greatly outnumber you, which, combined with the claustrophobic nature of the game’s environments, can be exceedingly difficult to circumvent without simply battling your way through.
A key strategic component in evading your foes comes in the form of the Sight Jacking system. As with the first game, this intriguing feature allows you to ‘hijack’ your enemy’s vision, giving you precious information in regards to the area in which your foe is located. This not only allows you to see where they are in relation to your position, but you can also track their movements, affording you ample opportunity to sneak past while their back is turned. Additionally, you can also utilize Sight Jacking to locate a missing partner that you’ve somehow been separated from. Overall, this feature is incredibly satisfying and adds a compelling dimension to an otherwise tired and tested formula, though it must be said that dispatching or evading foes by more conventional means can be just as effective in the long run.
Blood Curse isn’t without its fair share of issues, and suffers from one noticeable problem that has become virtually synonymous with the survival horror genre as much as anything else associated with the brand; poor controls. While they’re not as archaic as previous titles in the genre, Siren’s control output is decidedly clunky at times, and more than often you’ll find yourself colliding with a wall or other inanimate objects as you steer your character through some increasingly tight corridors. Problematically, combat can also become quite a frustrating task at times, as you’re limited to simply pressing either Square/R1 button to attack, with no reticule available as to where you’re aiming your weapon (though a small selection of firearms do support zoom targeting functionality, they are few and far between).
Though these niggles aren’t likely to deter the more obstinate of followers (myself included, admittedly), they are hardly the most accommodating for those unacquainted with the various pitfalls associated with the genre. Also noteworthy (though by no means as irritating) is the fact that some of the game’s episodes are conspicuously easy and short lived, giving you little time to acquaint yourself with the characters on screen. This is exacerbated by the constant jumping between playable characters (seven in total), although thankfully, the narrative is solid, and does a fine job at interweaving the stories at the beginning and end of each episode.
Visually, Blood Curse looks gorgeous, and quite comfortably ranks as one of the most impressive looking PlayStation Network titles released thus far. Character models are immaculately detailed, and the environments are positively dripping with atmosphere, whether it is the dark, ominous exterior locations or the bleak, dilapidated interiors. The lighting effects are also top notch, and the shadows created by your flashlight accentuate the visual presentation enormously, leading to some particularly creepy moments.
Equally competent is the game’s aural presentation, which works in harmony with the on-screen action to create a chilling experience through some appropriately atmospheric sound effects and thumping soundtrack. Fortunately, the experience is not marred by the same cheese-encrusted dialogue as seen in the likes of Capcom’s Resident Evil series, with the game accommodating an impressive voice cast of both major and minor characters alike.
Ultimately, Siren: Blood Curse is a welcome nod back to the fundamentals of survival horror, and provides a captivating experience on the strength of a solid plot and atmospheric gameplay experience. Though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the asking price for all 12 episodes is an undeniable bargain, and more than outweighs any noticeable flaws that the game possesses. Highly recommended for horror aficionados, and more than worth a look for those curious to see how survival horror should be portrayed.