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Siren
Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
There are two types of survival horror games. In one corner there's the B-Movie horror Resident Evil; in the other, the more psychological Fatal Frame. Then there's a third area which combines parts of the two. A good example of this grouping is Silent Hill. This is the group that Siren also represents, but in its own unique way. The one defining aspect of Siren is that it takes chances and tries to present new ways of experiencing the genre. While it doesn't completely reinvent survival horror, it still manages to provide a creepy experience if you can overlook a number of shortcomings.

The best way to describe the look of Siren is surreal. Take the best parts of every survival horror game you've ever played and you'd have a good idea of just how the game looks. This isn't to say that the game is a graphical powerhouse, but it manages to create its own style -- a trait that is always welcome in my eyes. The overall look of the game is very, very bleak and, in a way, called to mind old horror-movie footage from the 80's that has degraded over the years. The level of detail is kept very low and there's a definite blur and flatness present. Some might point it out as once again showing off the PS2's biggest graphical shortcoming, but this is to the game's advantage.

The one aspect I didn't enjoy that much were the character models. Character detail is on par with those found in the game's environments, but they don't work nearly as well on characters. Their animations are also thrown off and feel too stiff at times.

Sound is one of the key elements of any survival horror game, or anything horror related in that case. The experience in Siren is one of the creepiest I've heard in awhile and ranks second to those found in Fatal Frame 2. Every sound in the game has a realistic, yet creepy feel. The music even helps to build on this. The downside to the entire thing is the only aspect in the sound department you're likely to remember is the terrible voice acting. This is easily the worst voice acting I've ever heard in a game and if I could have turned it off, I would have. But then again, I'd miss the other sounds.


Gameplay:
Every 30 years things, go really bad in the town of Hanuda, Japan. The skies open up and a mysterious blood-red rain falls on the town, turning the villagers into Shibito zombies. This is all the set up you get in Siren's opening narrative.

One of the neat parts about it is that you're only told what you need to and left to figure out the rest of the tale by yourself. The initial setup sounds clich, but if you can navigate the story it's quite good. One of the neat aspects of Siren's narrative is in how it's told. The story follows 10 characters, each with their own agendas and trials. These stories are spread across 78 missions, each featuring their own plot points and only giving you glimpses of the overall picture. While this method allows the story to slowly evolve and adds a shroud of mystery to the game, it also kills some of the emotional tie you have with the characters. One of the signs of a good story, be it in a game, movie or book, is that you care about the characters. Since the story in Siren jumps around so much, you never get past the surface of characters and never really have that investment that you would if you followed one strong central character.

Another interesting innovation Siren brings to the genre is Sight-jacking. By pressing the L2 button and using the left analog stick to focus or tune in, you can see the game through the eyes of enemies. This allows you to figure out where enemies are, what they can see and how to best tackle an area. For example, in one area you have to avoid an enemy with a sniper rifle. By Sight-jacking his view, you can tell how to best avoid his deadly sights. This lends a stealth-action feeling to the game. In fact, this aspect is played out during the game in more ways than one. Siren sticks to the survival horror staple of giving you few weapons and a horde of enemies to deal with. There's simply no way you can take on multiple Shibito during the game -- even when armed with the hand gun. Further complicating things, Shibito aren't your typical Resident Evil zombies. First off, they're quick and smart. On top of that they can climb, use weapons and can't be killed. Even if you knock one down, it'll get back up after a minute of two since the red rain, which is always falling, heals them. The red rain also benefits you since it also heals your character, provided of course that you are able to find a place to rest. All things considered, sometimes the best course of action is to avoid everything you can however you can, even if it means turning off the flashlight and stumbling around in the dark.


Difficulty:
If you're not a fan of stealth games, then you'll have a hard time getting anywhere in Siren. Even seasoned survival horror vets will have a difficult time if they can't learn to think evasively. While this can be said about most survival horror games, things are a bit different here because you are given few options to fall back on since the weapon selection is rather poor. Even with a mastery of stealth skills, that still might not be enough to overcome Siren's more frustrating moments.

Siren wastes no time in placing you in placing you in bad situations and has a tendency to put you in them so often that it become tedious. Sight-jacking isn't the great help it is meant to be either, since in some areas where it should be very useful, such as dealing with snipers, it isn't.


Game Mechanics:
The one thing that all survival horror games have in common isn't zombies, it is bad control schemes. While this is a point of contention among some fans, the simple fact is that there has never been an effective control scheme in the genre. Siren carries on this fine tradition and is par for the course. The controls are workable and playable, but they still just don't feel right. A major failing of the system is that it requires too much menu navigation. There are no simple one-button press actions. If you want to pick up a key you have to first press the action button to look at the key. Then you have to press the Triangle button to pick up the key, and then use the action button to target the key door, press Triangle again to confirm it and use the key, then press the action button again to highlight the door, press triangle again to open the door. Anyone seeing a lot of unnecessary steps in this process?

Another fun aspect of the entire set up is that your character is stunned whenever you hit a solid object. It is possible to try and run through a door only to be knocked back and stopped dead in your tracks because a piece of your character hit the door frame. Throw in a bunch of immortal, blood-thirst zombies on your tail and it is no picnic.

All combined, Siren really doesn't feel all that accessible to everyone and may even turn off a few survival horror fanatics. If you're able to look past flaws and see the true mastery of the innovative ideas presented in the game, you may have a better time with it.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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