This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Siren Blood Curse.
Well, my copy of that new Riddick thing is still on order, so in the meantime let's leave the exciting space year of 2009 and cast our minds back to the primitive, pre-industrial dystopia of 2008. Survival horror is what I might call my pet genre, a pet I keep in the toolshed and feed broken glass, and in my awards for last year I accused everything that claimed survival horror status as being nothing but a parade of action games where some of the enemies jump very suddenly out of cupboards.
But some viewers took issue with that. "What about Siren: Blood Curse," they cried. "While you were blindly clinging to the hope that the new developers would recover Silent Hill from the dustbin with the baked beans and fish heads cleaned off, the PS3 was enjoying a true original survival horror game, full of all that Japanese-style horror you hold in such high esteem watashi wa baka gaijin, etc. So, all right, I guess I'm going to have to put my hands up for that one. Yes, there was at least one survival horror game last year. It's just that it was rubbish.
Siren: Blood Curse was released episodically in twelve bite-sized chunks, and while I see no reason this couldn't work as a development strategy, the version I got hold of was a store-bought box compilation of the chapters - with box art they probably put together with TypeTool and two minutes of Photoshop filters, but anyway - would it have taken so long to cut out the previews and recaps at the starts and ends of every episode? Especially early on, when the episodes are short, it's like I'm hearing the story from a bloke with a bad stammer.
Said story is a somewhat familiar survival horror setup. Some unknowable evil has befallen a small community and has unleashed a mysterious signal that attracts idiotic fuckskulls with no survival instinct and the strange and mystical ability to lose all their good weapons during loading screens.
I played the first Siren game on the PS2 and found it lacking. Well, let's not mince words. A game could fire white-hot shurikens from the disk drive that lodged directly in the smell center of my brain so that I perceive nothing but eggy farts for all eternity and I'd still rate it higher than Siren 1. But I did think the whole "sightjacking" feature was an interesting one. You use an interface not dissimilar to a TV tuner to look through the eyes of your enemies in what is probably the only example of second-person perspective gameplay. It goes well with the whole horror thing when you quantum leap into an enemy's viewpoint and realize he's rubbing his tummy and coming towards a fridge that looks a lot like that one you just hid inside.
Blood Curse still boasts the feature, and now you can split-screen several enemy viewpoints into the action, although doing so will buttfuck the frame rate to the level of PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint buttfuck aside, sightjacking itself is a good idea with a lot of potential, but Siren never seems to know what to do with it. It's a small child wielding a power tool, idly eviscerating mummy's pot plants and making you wonder if you should tell someone now or wait until something gets chopped off. In a stealth-based game, such an ability could be invaluable in determining enemy locations without having to go out into the open like a big, stupid lemon with a target painted on it.
But while it does indicate the direction a sightjacked enemy lies in, there's no way of telling how far away they are, so the information is confusing. And if there are any weapons around, it's all rendered moot. You could either sightjack all over the place to put together a carefully time exit strategy or you could just pick up a rake and bludgeon everyone to death. Of course, on some occasions weapons are withheld for this very reason. But the sightjacking is still rarely useful when the missions are all so small and linear they might as well be dragging you through on a fucking choke-chain.
That's the other major problem I have. When you play Siren, you do things its way. It has that adventure game of every challenge having one and only one solution. "You will step in line, motherfucker, and if you don't like it you can fuck off back to your sandbox!" I almost gave up on the very first chapter when I was asked to escape from a zombie cop only to find that every route was a quite literal dead end that would get me shot and killed.
Turns out I was supposed to go down a forest path - that was virtually undetectable between muddy graphics, foliage, confusing camera angles, my own personal retardation - then hide under a shed until the cop went away, after which I could return to the main road and get shot and killed as part of a cutscene to continue the story! As the leper said to his mistress, "where's the bloody point?"
I've got nothing against linearity, especially in a story-heavy game, but you'll spend a lot of this game hand in hand with the trial and error twins, because the game will only let you continue if you follow the rails of its very tightly predetermined storyline. Which could perhaps be forgiven if the story was well-told, but the presentation is so disjointed and schizophrenic the only thing I could be sure of towards the end was that I badly wanted all the characters to die!
Strangely, all the main characters are American and are voiced by Americans, but since this is a Japanese game the dialogue comes across as a little bit off, like it was written by someone who got all their experience of Americans from TV and observing the tourists chained up in his basement. But the one character around whom all the pain revolves, who would go on to feature prominently in my fantasies alongside a vice and frying pan, was the fucking little girl.
Defenceless innocents in horror games are fair enough as long as they stay out of the way or die horribly, but don't make us control them and for fuck's sake don't make us escort them! Especially not when they "Game Over" your arse if a monster so much as brushes against her thigh. And especially especially when the plot demands that she die anyway (spoiler warning). The crowning moment is when she gets trapped under a log and you have to run around distracting the monster of the hour from her and pouring gasoline on it. Then when you've done that enough, she suddenly fucking frees herself! Just in time to watch you and the monster burn together. A few seconds earlier would have been expedient, dearie!
So, in short, Siren is one mishandled good idea and I recommend it only to people who are undecided on the abortion issue.
Product of a broken home: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Don't get me wrong, I like children when they're quiet, well-behaved, stationary and ideally anencephalic
I've just realised that 'Blood Curse' would be a good name for a game about the HIV virus