Siren: Blood Curse – How The Shibito Got Their Groove Back
When I last left off, I was doing a brief, rough outline on the state of the survival-horror genre in this generation, punctuating the end of that post with an introduction to what I consider to be the first true horror survival game of this era (sorry Condemned fans, but though it’s got some good atmosphere, it still comes off as more of an action game to me; Doom 3 had the same problem): Japan Studio’s Siren: Blood Curse, a remake of the series’ first entry from 2003.
Okay, well the aim of the review isn’t so much as a blow-by-blow diagnostic and critique of the game’s construction and implementation as it is a breakdown of what I found to be exceptional and a thorough improvement over the original Siren (having never played the sequel, comparisons to it will obviously be excluded).
Well, the very first thing that a lot of gamers seek out about a title before actually sitting down and playing it is its relative difficulty. As many before me have already noted, the original Siren was at frustrating at times to the point of damaging controllers. Those who have played it will always remember that the various types of Shibito will not only soak up damage like sponges but dish it out several times over. In fact, a good number of, if not all, frontal assaults on a Shibito usually ended badly for the player. Had a nice weapon in hand? Perhaps it’s even a nice, heavy hammer? TOO BAD. Unless you make sure you get the absolute drop on a Shibito by sneaking up on them from behind, chances are good you may get bested in combat. You see, most weapons in the original either had poor reach (like Mr. Hammer from my previous example) or you wouldn’t last long enough to trade blows with your quarry (often, your character can only absorb 3 or so hits over the course of a single battle). Guns were nice to have when you were able to run into one, since they had the stopping power to immediately give approaching Shibito a nice dust nap. HOWEVER, as is true with most of the weapons available to you, Shibito could also wield firearms. The ones that could were perhaps the most deadly enemy in the game thanks to their enhanced eyesight and marksmanship (a single shot would dole out heavy to fatal damage). If there was a single thing to hold responsible for making the original game less a hit than it could’ve been, it was definitely these undue frustrations.
Now how were these points handled in Siren: Blood Curse? Well, the basic combat engine remains in place with perhaps the only notable additions being a inconsequential context-sensitive motion controls for reloading firearms and the option to fight Shibito barehanded (lol). While the original featured only 15 or so total different weapons for use, the remake opted to increase that number to 50. A quarter of which are mostly useless (sake bottle, ashtray), another third having slightly more utility (kitchen knife, hand sickle), another third being truly battle-worthy (pickaxe, scythe), and the remainder being firearms or divine weapons. Despite what you may think of the plethora of weapons included in the game, only a few are found in each level and obtaining them occasionally involves risky exploration and combat. Engaging the Shibito this time around is a more player-friendly affair given their reduced stamina (which gradually increases toward the game’s finale), but still manages to maintain a harrowing experience (lol, unless you’re playing as Saigo in which case you’ll usually be free to feed the hostile natives 12 gauge buckshot at will) by making each swing of your weapon a sheer display of desperation and savagery; what else can you expect, you are fighting for your life after all. As for the Shibito snipers? They do make a return, but the difficulty in neutralizing their threat is reduced somewhat thanks to changes in another aspect of the game:
Ah, besides the Shibito, what would Siren be without its proprietary Sightjacking system? Billed as one of the main ways of evening the odds in your characters’ bids for surviving Hanuda, sightjacking was a means to tap into the visual feed of a Shibito’s or companion’s eyes. By seeing what they were seeing, you could much more easily discern their position within a building or off in the distance. In the original game whenever sightjacking was initiated you would be unable to move, not only leaving you vulnerable to enemy attack but also negating some of the advantage behind this unique skill. For example, if you were to check the sight of a patrolling Shibito around the corner, in the time you spent scrolling through the available eyesights in the area, finding the correct one, and taking a peek, you could’ve very well missed your chance to dash on by. The remake deftly sidesteps this issue by making your character immobile only during the “tuning” process, enabling you to move around after you’ve found and locked-into the Shibito of our choice. Now, you could easily position yourself for the quick escape or stealth ambush while you wait for the Shibito’s eyes to wander off elsewhere.
Maps and Navigation
Usually when you pull out a paper map of an area you don’t see anything indicating your position on it. You’d have to make use of landmarks and the like to get your bearings. While it may sound good to maintain immersion in a game aimed at exploration, doing just that in a survival-horror title can be a touchy deecision to make. Entries in the Silent Hill series have done a great job in giving players that sort of experience, but they usually didn’t have recurring enemies as tenacious as the Shibito strewn across their levels. Since exploration in the original Siren was a good way to get your throat crushed by the cheerful locals, game over screens were especially abound in missions that had very vague goals for completion. Unless you absolutely knew the lay of the land front and back (most likely by dying a whole bunch of times), there was a good chance you’d get lost and well, being lost in that game was basically the same as being dead. Thankfully, or to the chagrin of you more hardcore-types, Blood Curse opted to highlight not only your current position on the map, but also those of where stage-clearing objectives were to be found. This could easily result in shorter stays in Hanuda for the first-time visitor, but in some cases that’s the sought-after effect.
So there you have it, the biggest flaws of the original Siren and how they were changed for its 2008 doppleganger. Next time, I’ll be going into some detail surrounding how this remote mining town became a hive of we-need-to-leave-NOW.
All screencaptures, except TBC! image, by GameGirl.com