Full Review: People who hope to escape an invincible race of zombies sure do have a lot of snow on the brain.
To see without seeing. To be there without being. To assume the role of another, without them knowing you're coming. What if? What if you were someone who could possess the eyes of a killer? You are not them, you are their eyes. Whatever it is they see, you do as well. While you have no direct control over anything they look at or do, you'll know the path they follow, the steps they'll take, and the very instance in which they'll be headed right toward you. Now what if those eyes were not of human origin? What if somehow, someway...zombies could think? A "what if?" as good as any, this is the surrealistic premise behind Sony's newbie stealth-thriller, Siren.
Forget you heard the word zombie. Crumble that sticky note in your head right up into a ball and toss it inside your brain's desktop recycling bin...because, there are no zombies in Siren. Not the kind you know of already. These are Shibito. The living dead, maybe, but with a different name and entirely different abilities from the type of zombie you're used to. Unlike a typical zombie from film or a Resident Evil game, Shibito are more human than they are rotting corpses who only want to sink their teeth into your soft and chewy flesh. Instead, Shibito can talk. They can wield weapons. They can be ever watchful until you come into the picture. And that's when who you thought was the predator (you) becomes the prey (you again).
There is an offshore Japanese village called Hanuda. Every 30 years, a siren sounds off in the distance. Water from the river's streams boil a blood red. Rain endlessly seeps from the heavens. And the Shibito, who were people that once inhabited this accursed land, return here to kill. The fact of the matter is, the people of the village have said good-bye to their human form, and hello to something unnatural. That is, most of them have anyway. Over the course of the next three days, you'll play the part of ten different survivors in this strange occurrence to find out what the hell is going on.
Three days isn't a lengthy time naturally, but evidentially in Siren's own way it is. Siren is built off of time slots, not time limits. Each slot makes for a mission. Each mission means you'll be shuffling through all ten playable characters throughout the entirety of the game's method of stealth and survival -- but we'll get to that part later. Siren is an obscure venture because of its shifty patterns. The thing is, each character can help one another out, even as they're their own people trapped in their own missions, or sometimes partnered with a follower. As the game starts you out with one character trying to escape from a Shibito, it then moves onto the next survival victim, and then the next one after that. Each time a mission's main goal is complete (which is always to get from the starting point to the ending point of the level), then you'll enter a new area with another character.
What can actually be done to affect what happens to these other people in the game is only accomplished in choosing to solve Siren's collection of riddles hidden in between these passages. Though vague and mysteriously separated from the game's main objectives, the optional puzzles of Siren can be useful for later (much later) missions in the game (if you want particular article items you couldn't get any other way) after partaking in tasks from smashing locks to locating a number that's used as a marking position for the setting on a tape recorder, to obtain a recording of a new number, to access a lock, and finally to obtain a towel for wetting and then storing inside a freezer for a later mission. The problem is these mysterious attractions are not only unexplained, but they're put off to the side of the levels, that only by navigating every possible inch will you discover them. So unless you're super intelligent, super crazy, or super skilled at deviating from Siren's normal path, this game can become super hard -- even without complicating issues with somewhat useless brain busters.
For, the biggest test of all is that of sneaking around Siren's lofty breed of zombie hordes. Going into Siren thinking you're a smart feller, having dealt death and judgment to monster-things before and that you're going to breeze by this game in a weekend, is only foolery. Shibito aren't stupid. They can see long, and they hear strong. They'll know you're there and hunt you down even if you slip-up for a moment. Get near enough to them, walk around, and they'll come your way. Stand in one place long enough from a distant spot that's shrouded by fog or darkness, yet still in the line of sight where a patrolling Shibito directs his eyes on, and he's going to move you from that very spot -- dead, or running. Only by hiding behind objects or crawling on the ground can you really avoid these messes.
To sightjack is to live, and is precisely the gameplay stratagem that keeps Siren rolling forward. Only by sightjacking can your character or characters remain mobile past each deadly scenario. Sightjacking, or seeing through the eyes of any Shibito or human companions by your side, is an ability embedded in each of Siren's ten playable individuals. Executed by pressing down on L2 and rotating the left analog stick in any one direction, the sightjacking feature acts like a radio tuner. Entering sightjack mode the first time through only gives you a fuzzy TV screen. But, if a Shibito awaits at some point up, down, left, right, or sideways somewhere and you've got the analog stick locked into that position, it's then possible that you can map the vision for that Shibito to any one of the controller's four face buttons.
Waiting around and staring through an enemy's dreadful eyes for the best course can get tricky though, as there won't always be just four Shibito. There could be more down the path you walk. Assigning any Shibito's perspective could be relevant toward working your way past certain portions in the stage setting, or not. The controller can only input up to four views. Otherwise, you have to continue to toggle around for the remaining ones you may never know could be important toward learning anything about or not. Because, depending on whether you're headed toward the exit of a level or just grazing for the key puzzle plot, can be a bit of a struggle as the extra large order of Shibito aren't exactly necessary when the game's puzzles aren't all that necessary to begin with.
By studying the environment directly through the eyes of a Shibito, it's also that you must do a lot of estimating as to where you're sitting from where they're standing, walking, gardening, waiting... There's no displayed radar beacon in the game. There are just you and what these creatures' eyes can capture. There are, however, colored crosses that mark the location of you or anyone beside you. When sightjacking, a Shibito sees your character's position as a giant blue cross (if they're close enough by to where the Shibito rests), and green for someone you may sometimes have to accompany the burden in waiting and hiding and trudging through the level with -- from a frightened school girl to a blind chick.
In seeing what the monster sees, it's not just important to realize where you are from their location, but also what specifically the Shibito sees. If for example a Shibito's routine path is to walk past a car and then a telephone booth, you can then detect what area of the game's map its route lies. This map being the other essential element to determine your way around. Landmarks, like shrines, offices, bridges, buildings, gates, and other such items of note can be read off the map to help pinpoint where certain enemies take their toll, if they so happen to lounge in the surrounding. Sometimes it can be difficult though, as Shibito can be anywhere, looking at multiple paths, or just have their eyes locked on a bush. Unless extreme patience exists in your nerves, Siren is a slow game to approach that must be examined from just about every angle.
Here's just the reason why that is: it doesn't take much effort for a single Shibito to end your life. Zombies in Resident Evil got nothing. Well, maybe they had claws and an off-color acid they would hurl on top of you from a distance, but never were they armed with any form of craft humans possessed. Shibito on the other hand does. Some carry knives, others carry hoes or hammers, and for the most lethal of all, there's always some nut-job Shitbito waiting to put a bullet through your front or backside. To put things into perspective: crossing a bridge with a rifle-wielding Shibito directly on the other side of it cannot only see you coming, but once two bullets are in you, your ass will be on the grass. This is exactly why stealth, not combat, is the central focus of Siren. At certain stages, characters are able to brandish a gun, a fireplace poker, a hammer, or some other melee weapon (and sometimes they're without any). Killing Shibito isn't as helpful an ability as you may come to think. Eventually, their bodies will reanimate. As it is, it's hard enough to eliminate one Shibito on its own (since battle and traveling in the game are drudgingly slow) -- especially at the point when other Shibito are in the vicinity.
Siren isn't a very pretty game either. Drab, plain, and morbid, the visuals here are fused together to create a distinctive stage for each road ridden. Although, it goes without saying that the game isn't as technically advanced as the rest. Bland and blurred comes to mind and eye when concentrating on much of what Siren has to offer. Aside from slimmer effects such as blinding fog or darkness, and rain always present, there are trees, shrubbery, dirt roads, rocks, broken up wooden shanties, street lights, tunnels, and let's not forget the muddy red rivers that are all included ingredients in just what develops the rustic levels throughout the adventure.
Even though Siren isn't heavily sweetened, its taste is still very much edible on the eyes. People of the game (all Japanese) are replete with seventies-styled haircuts, minus the tacky disco clothing. As the actual people's character models are all unique, it's only sadder to see that the Shibito aren't. Seldom to differentiate, the models of your attackers are about 5'5", poorly garbed in shredded rag clothing, has brown or black skin, and are all bloodied up. The Shibito, a strange creature indeed, aren't categorized as very fearsome things either. In fact, with all of its waiting and evasion of combat all together, Siren can hardly be seen as a terrifying experience -- the kind that never stops haunting the daylights out you.
Probably the game's most horrible entry that can give your nerves a little tingle is actually hearing some of the Shibito breathe endlessly like they've got a major sore throat (or are coughing up a lot of hairballs). When peering into the eyes of another, the Shibito will continue in this panting exercise, or moan, or talk in some otherworldly language, and sometimes even giggle. At first, with listening to the broken static in the background, some of these moments can stir you up a bit. But then, it all gets tiring quickly. If you know where the enemy is, and all you're doing is crouching in one spot listening to them say the same things, the Shibito-speak effect gets old.
Luckily, the game's cast of characters slide in with their own bit of speech. Unfortunately though, outside a secondary bothersome character annoyingly and persistently asking questions relating to, "What are you doing?" and "Hurry up and lead the way!", this mostly happens during shortened grainy-film story segments. The English (as in from London, England instead of American, England) actors who perform these roles aren't able to establish outstanding accomplishments in the story's pretense either, as Siren plays out more like some dubbed Japanese martial arts film (you know what I mean).
Audio and music have a say here too. While the aural sound is decently and effectively varied, with gun shots, gun clicking, hammering, stepping (on ground or water), rain dropping, and other bytes living up to how they should sound, the background music is rather sparse. With Siren being an oddity of a game, it manages to implement a sort of hallucinating, trance theme that doesn't change. At least noticeably anyway.