Siren: Blood Curse is an expansion of the original PlayStation 2 survival horror gem Siren, a game overshadowed by contemporaries in the genre but which gathered a small cult following nonetheless. Available as downloadable ‘chapters’ on the Playstation Network, Siren: Blood Curse introduces a variety of new characters to give us multiple points of view of the nightmarish events in the original game.
Blood Curse is split into 12 episodes, each one following one of seven characters and comprising of a beginning, middle and ending, giving the player an intensely story-driven experience. There are certainly pros and cons to this sort of episodic gaming, and Siren: Blood Curse is revealing of whether it actually works.
The game, like the original, is set in a small Japanese town where some sort of Sam Raimi-inspired zombie curse has infected all the villagers. You play as a film crew there to document the phenomenon, who inevitably end up as prey of the undead. To drive the story forward, the player must complete a string of objectives in each episode – ‘find a gun’ for example – and work his way through them one by one until the episode's completion.
Disappointingly, the rigidity of the objectives leaves very little room for player inventiveness or exploration, and are often so specific that one will find themselves repeating a piece of gameplay over and over which results in inevitable Sixaxis throwing. However, one must never dismiss the human urge to find out ‘what happens next’, much like sitting through lines of clunky dialogue in Shortland Street to find out who killed half the cast. It’s often awkward, but it works. You’ll find that damn gun if it means staying up all night.
The gameplay itself is fairly intuitive; if you’ve ever played a Silent Hill or (early) Resident Evil title it should be easy to grasp the third person ‘everyman’ control scheme. These characters aren’t grunts packing rocket launchers, they’re regular guys who’ve been thrown into a situation beyond their rational comprehension (i.e. they’re American and you’ll stumble around a lot). The experience is slightly marred by a shaky and ultra-sensitive camera, which makes the learning curve longer than it could’ve been. However, once you grasp the subtleties of the mechanics you’ll be up and running with frying pans, sake bottles and other makeshift zombie whackers.
An addition to your usual survival-horror arsenal is the ‘Sight-Jack’ system, which enables your character to see through the eyes of the undead. This helps you to know when to come in and out of hiding, or when to lay a good one on the back of a zombie’s head while he’s looking at the pretty flowers. It’s kind of a shtick, but fun, and will surely be utilized to greater effect as more episodes are released.
Graphically, Blood Curse is a downloadable title so don’t expect greatness, but it’s still a step up from the PS2 original. The camera has an appropriately grainy filter that not only adds to a creepy atmosphere but also hides any – ahem – shortcomings. The game is very, very dark, so one must learn to utilize that God-given flashlight intelligently. These zombies are attracted to light, so turn it off and spend a moment to creep around blindly in that gritty, silent darkness. Scary stuff.
The first three episodes in this series are classic survival horror, with little to bring to the table in terms of looks or gameplay. However, at around 15-30 minutes of gaming each, they do provide an addictive pick-up-and-play experience: the Sudoku of survival horror, if you will. At this stage the first episode has yet to be priced, but if this sounds up your alley it’ll provide a nice distraction until heavier horror fare is released later on in the year. Consider an investment.