Written by Matt Mirkovich on 5/26/2004 for PS2  
More On: Siren
If a commercial for a game is so scary that it can no longer be aired in Japan then the game must be outstanding. Turns out it was just a good marketing campaign for Sony. After playing Siren you’re left with a slightly bitter taste in your mouth, leaving you with so many instances of you saying they could have done this or that to make the game better. Well sorry they didn’t, so instead you’re stuck with a sub par horror game that can’t hold a candle to the Silent Hill series and definitely doesn’t come anywhere close to that of Fatal Frame. From the British voice acting (BRITISH?!), to the frustrating bang and you’re dead moments of this game nothing seems to come together properly for what could have been a really good horror game.

Gameplay takes place in the isolated Japanese town of Hanuda, a town deeply rooted in the occult religions and very cautious of those who would dare to come and try to disrupt their practices. The timeframe of the game is spread out over three days and involves ten individuals who are trying desperately to resist the call of the siren that consumes the villagers and turns them into the grotesque shibito. The ten individuals who you will be playing as are all connected in some way and playing as each one will affect another character in some way shape or form. This would be all well and good if the game did a better job of giving you background information on some of the people. Instead you are treated to case files of each person that won’t be viewable until some time later in the game. One character early on, an old man with a rifle, says “There’s something in the air,” and that’s it, you begin his stage. So you really have no idea what you’re chasing or why you need to get to a certain part of the village until way later in the game, and even then it isn’t a clear cut explanation, at least with Silent Hill and Fatal Frame you were given a place to reach and a reason for going there.

In your effort to reach a given place you’re going to run into a number of the shibito who are out patrolling the town in an effort to find anyone who is not possessed by the evil presence. Your main weapon against the shibito is a skill known as “Sight-Jacking” which gives you the ability to see through their eyes. Now this is an interesting gameplay mechanic and for the most part it works out very well. It is done by pressing the L2 button and then using the left analog stick you search for a suitable pair of eyes and using one of the four face buttons you can hot key it to that button which makes it less cumbersome to have to constantly search for a target. You’ve got a limited range on how far you can sight jack so you have to make sure you do it often. While using this feature you are also clued in to your position relative to the shibito and it appears as a blue cross hair this is incredibly useful when trying to sneak around by going say under a window that is being patrolled. Of course the shibito won’t track you on sight alone, you’ve got to walk, run, and sometimes crawl past them in an effort to get by undetected. There are going to be times though where you’re going to get spotted and in that case you better run like hell and find a safe spot because the shibito will come after you with a vengeance and of course will promptly lose you and return to their rightful patrol. Or if you’re really in a pinch you can always fight, which is also a subject of bad design.Once again the designers of the game have opted for the forklift style controls, rather than the 3-D relative controls, up moves you forward, left and right turns you and so forth and so on. This isn’t of course a bad thing, but after playing a good amount of Onimusha 3 I must say I prefer its style of control. The fighting in this game is downright atrocious at times though, hold the R1 button to ready the weapon and press X to attack, fair enough, but your character swings with such a lack of effort it’s a wonder how the shibito ever go down at all. Basically fighting boils down to whoever takes the first hit is at a severe disadvantage because all you have to do is take another step forward and swing again, and thanks to the regenerative properties of the shibito they never actually die, and you don’t want to be around them when they get back up. Of course this doesn’t cover the shibito who get to have guns. Those are a different breed of shibito altogether and they have AMAZING accuracy for hobbling zombies. It can be pitch black out from their point of view and they can still tag you from across a bridge, and they like to be positioned in the worst places, and if you forget to sight jack them and just try to run wantonly through a stage prepare to get picked off a number of times. Unfortunately for you, your characters are not blessed with such skills for firearms and can miss at practically point blank range if you’re not careful.

One of the most impressive aspects about this game is the amount of facial motion capture that is present in this game. The characters look frighteningly realistic and facial movements blend together superbly, same goes for the shibito although they just seem to have the strange contorted look that is just disturbing. Outside of that the game is reasonably good to look at even if most of takes place in the dark, with a drab color palette that begs for more than just a few colors. The sound team did an excellent job with this title, atmospheric sound is now the way to go in a horror game and the shibito also can make the most disturbing sounds that will really throw you off if you’re playing in the middle of the night. HOWEVER the person on the localization team that decided that there should be British voice acting in the game wins my award for worst mistake of the year. It really takes the player out of the element to hear British voice acting from Japanese people, almost to the point that it is laughable. Seeing as how Sony sells their games at the 39.99 price point they could have saved money by simply leaving in the Japanese language track and just add subtitles. It would have made the game much more enjoyable in this reviewer’s eyes.

I really wanted Siren to be a good game, and I am so disappointed with how it turned out. Everything seemed to be in place for a superb horror game but with the gameplay speed at that of a snail’s pace, instantaneous deaths, and worst of all the voice acting being the way it is, this game so far is the front-runner for my “Let Down of the Year” award. If you actually make it far into the game and you want to finish it then you’re in for a reasonably good tale of macabre, but you’ve really got to love the subject matter if you want to see this game through. Otherwise pay the extra ten dollars and get Fatal Frame 2 or save ten dollars and get Silent Hill 3, either game is a much more viable choice for a good fright.
Sony’s jump into the survival horror genre takes you on a mind-bending journey, one fraught with out of place voice acting, dumber than mud zombies, and a story that’ll have you scratching your head for weeks.

Rating: 6.7 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.


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