I don't know about you but I try to avoid enemies as much as possible in survival horrors. These often undead nasties aren't the prettiest guys on the block, with limbs hanging off, mutated body parts, creepy walks and a general disregard for human life. So, the one thing I really don't want to be doing is seeing through their demented eyes and following their journey as they go about their undead duties. This is exactly what Siren: Blood Curse, the PS3 debut for Sony's spooky horror series, asks you to do.
Siren started out on the PlayStation 2 with its main selling point being the way you could jack into the sight of enemies and other humans in order to see the game world through their eyes. The idea was to get a better idea of their whereabouts and to spot things you might not be able to while wandering about in relative safety. On PS3 the sight jacking makes a return, although tweaked for more streamlined use, and once again it seems to be core to Siren's nerve shredding gameplay.
Something else sure to set Siren: Blood Curse apart from the rest of survival horrors on the market is how it'll be distributed. It will be the first game released episodically via PSN, meaning you'll be able to buy and play one episode at a time. We've been able to play through the first three episodes, and so far they're roughly 30 minutes in length - although the first episode is incredibly short, lasting no more than 10 minutes.
Blood Curse begins as a film crew witness a horrific murder in the village of Hanuda. The crew is there to film a documentary on the supposed vanished village where human sacrifices are said to have taken place many years before. It also happens to be the setting of the first game in the series, where the villagers became an army of zombie-like killers. The siren in the title referred to a call that made all the villagers immerse themselves in red water, turning them into slaves known as Shibito.
'It's extremely unsettling to see yourself creeping past in the shadows through the eyes of a Shibito...'
In Blood Curse you'll take control of seven characters at various points in the timeline, although so far it seems as though only certain characters can use the handy sight jacking feature. This honour falls upon the first character you take control of in episode one. After finding himself in a small shack, a Shibito policeman crashes his car and starts firing. With only a torch to light your way you scramble to a small house and hide. After escaping the cop the episode ends and you're treated to a small trailer for episode 2 - something Sony is surely hoping will tempt gamers to part with more cash.
The previous Siren games became known for their incredibly cheesy English dubbed voice over work, and Blood Curse won't disappoint fans. Once again the voice over work is almost always wrong in tone and effect. After Resident Evil ropey voice over work has become synonymous with the genre. We can't say that Siren's voice work is deliberately bad, but it somehow doesn't jar as much as it ought to. One aspect that has been vastly improved is the facial animations of characters. While the incredibly spooky photograph-like faces of the originals are now absent, the next-gen hardware has allowed for realistically modelled characters and lip syncing.
Played from a third-person view point (either over the shoulder or directly behind) Siren: Blood Curse mixes a number of gameplay styles. For the majority of the opening three episodes stealth was key, with the Shibito seemingly blissfully unaware of your presence as long as you stay low and keep quiet. One character managed to get hold of some pretty hefty melee weapons, allowing him to take out enemies in one hit if attacked completely unawares. He also picks up a gun in episode two, which handily auto-targets the Shibito who maniacally charge at you through the darkness. Traps will also play a part. You're able to lay traps and then shout out to nearby enemies, drawing them towards you and into the trap you've laid in their path.
Siren: Blood Curse is an extremely dark game and as such it's hard to make out how detailed the environments are. It does feature some brilliant lighting though, with your torch providing a very small window of vision that can make for some extremely tense moments. When you're jacked into someone the screen splits in two so you can see your character and the view of an enemy. It's extremely unsettling to see yourself creeping past in the shadows through the eyes of a Shibito, knowing all too well that if spotted you'll probably face a bloody end.
Although story within the game is slim, Blood Curse features plenty of extra material that you can access from the game's main menu. This archive of items you acquire gives you background info on characters and the setting. For example, one item you acquire early on is a phone, complete with three voice mail messages. Another is a document outlining the program the film crew is planning to shoot in Hanuda. Having these items available in this way keeps the game moving at a brisk pace and allows those who do want more background info to delve deeper if they wish.
We haven't had a proper pant-wetting survival horror title in some time, so Siren: Blood Curse could well fill that gap on its release. Sony is being coy about its release plans and price structure, but from what we've played Blood Curse could be one of the best efforts at episodic gaming so far.