SIREN: Blood Curse
Is this Sony Japan's first true hit for the PS3? We review the full Blu-ray release of the game.
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The infestation of popular culture by eerie little schoolgirls is, of course, a matter of some documentation. Those wretched things are everywhere, peeking from rubble-strewn doorways in tough manly shooters and lurking beneath Hollywood's triple-varnished boardroom tables. Many otherwise perfectly reputable disintegrating, blood-stained hospitals, butcheries and asylums have been rendered uninhabitable by their unsettling presence. It's all this global warming that's to blame, you mark our words. Displacing species from their natural turf, sort of thing.
Games like Siren have a lot to answer for, too. The original lurched disjointedly onto North American PlayStation 2s in 2004 and promptly sank to the neck in the soils of consumer indifference, but one waltz through the valley of death wasn't enough, it seems, for here we are with a PlayStation 3 revamp - trimmed, tucked and sprinkled with current generation pixie-dust. Admittedly, Siren's own specimen of eerie little schoolgirl is less disturbing than most - she talks, appears to have more than one facial expression and spends relatively little time looming ominously at the ends of corridors - but before you start to feel too forgiving, bear in mind that creator Keiichir? Toyama is also responsible for Silent Hill - the game which sowed this particular crop back in 1999.
The "vanished" Japanese village of Hanuda has more than catatonic teen wastrels to deal with: it's facing an epidemic of overacting Americans. News reporter Melissa Gale and cameraman Sol Jackson have arrived to investigate reports of heathen rituals and human sacrifice, with Melissa's ex-husband Professor Sam Monroe on hand to flap eruditely at stuff. Being a conscientious, level-headed bloke, Sam has brought his pig-tailed daughter Bella along for the ride. Also in the ring is Howard Wright, a young college student with a fatal (no, that isn't a spoiler) interest in the paranormal.
Siren: Blood Curse begins with the cast split up, fleeing the monstrous Shibito or "corpse people" who populate Hanuda's sodden woodlands, and while it soon meanders into familiar waters, there's a leanness and finesse to the multiple-perspective storytelling which sets the game apart from both its PS2 ancestors and Toyama's other, better-known brainchild. Much of this has to do with the new 24-esque narrative template, which takes the unwieldy cacophony of the original, lops off extraneous characters and devices and crams it all into 12 episodes, each encompassing four or five 30-minute chapters prefaced by rapid-fire "previously on..." montages.
While it would be easy to brush this off as a sop to post-MTV attention spans, the episodic structure lends itself to some skin-tight level design. As you guide your hapless fish-out-of-water through Hanuda's rain-slicked, undead decrepitude, you'll rarely be at a loss for direction: each area's one or two routes to safety are plotted on your map screen with bare-faced contempt for any deductive talents you might claim to possess. The objectives and sub-objectives are almost insultingly unambiguous, and while the game cuts you enough slack to wander off and dig up the odd narrative artefact - diaries, letters and their ilk - it stops a long way short of non-linearity. Expect an abundance of locked doors, impenetrable shrubbery and good ole' fashioned inexplicable crevasses.
Survival horror veterans may find such hand-holding intolerable, but there's actually a lot to be said for these funnelling tactics. For one, they allow the developer to pour a Sistine Chapel's worth of fine detail onto a relatively small area, investing every single rotting window frame or mournful rice paddy field with the sort of organic presence once confined to pre-rendered footage. Sony Japan has drawn inspiration from celluloid entertainment in more than purely structural terms, laying down film noise and saturation effects reminiscent of budget 16mm horror flicks.
Blood Curse's taut choreography is also quite refreshing when set against Silent Hill's yawning three-dimensional fastness. While you'll occasionally renegotiate parts of an area with different characters in successive chapters, actual back-tracking is at an absolute nil, which should suit those of us who put the emphasis in "survival horror" firmly on the "horror." While it perhaps lacks the same sustained ambience, Blood Curse won't tire you out the way its illustrious stablemate once did: short bursts of intense grotesqueness (each, moreover, well-provisioned with checkpoints) take precedence over long-haul excursions.