By the time of its release in North America, Siren had some stiff competition to deal with amongst other survival-horror greats on the PlayStation 2. Series like Fatal Frame and Silent Hill were already well established on the console, so the developers at Project Siren undoubtedly had some pressure when it came to developing new material for the genre. In many ways, they succeeded. In other ways, their attempts at something new didn’t turn out so well. If you’re a fan of this genre, then you should enjoy Siren’s story and setting. However, get ready for some frustration. Siren is a difficult game that emphasizes precise stealth-based tactics and plenty of trial and error.
Siren’s story is one that is both familiar and original. In the Japanese town of Hanuda, a Japanese student with an interest in the supernatural and urban legends named Kyoya watches a bizarre ritual. The blaring blast of a loud siren startles Kyoya and he gets spotted. As a result, he becomes a target of the crazy villagers. He’s not alone, either. Other folks have been drawn to Hanuda for various reasons and are in danger of angering the villagers. These citizens are known as Shibito and they only have one thing in mind: death to intruders. The truth behind the Shibito and their origins is gruesome. It’s also one that veterans of the genre have seen before in a different setting. The characters that get caught up in the town are a varied bunch, but due to the way the story progresses, it’s hard to truly get to know most of them.
Siren’s progression is shown over the course of three days using something called the Link Navigator. In order to fully fill in the Link Navigator, you will need to finish missions. The weird thing is that the missions aren’t in chronological order. Instead of starting from the beginning and going to the end, Siren’s saga jumps around. It’s an interesting choice, but one that I don’t care for. It would have been much more effective to just tell the story from beginning to end.
As mentioned, filling in the Link Navigator requires you to take control of a character and fulfill a mission objective. Usually, this means getting from one part of Hanuda Village to the other. Of course, there will be times that you have to find key items or escort NPCs. Siren takes the “survival” aspect of survival-horror to the extreme. Most of the time, the characters you control have no means of defending themselves from Shibito. A few hits from them means that the game is over. Some of them carry guns, meaning that they can pick you off from a distance. Stealth plays a critical role in Siren. Even during the times when you can defend yourself with some sort of weapon, your best bet is to remain hidden from the Shibito because they can’t die. Instead, they can be temporarily stunned. Expect to die many times in Siren. The first time you see a Shibito lumbering in your direction or hear them communicating in their bizarre language, it’s terrifying and your fight or flight senses will kick in as you think of a way to avoid being spotted. The second and third time, it’s irritating. By the fourth or fifth time, it’s throw-the-controller levels of frustrating.
There is a feeling of helplessness in Siren that adds to the fear, but also to the frustration. However, there is one more thing that you can do in order to try to finish a mission. Characters in Siren can perform Sightjacking. This feature allows characters to tune into a Shibito’s or an NPC’s point of view. With proper use of Sightjacking, you can pinpoint where you are in relation to others on the field. The downside is that Sightjacking leaves you defenseless. Furthermore, you can’t do anything to the hacked character. Like other aspects of the game, Sightjacking is clever and unique. It gives you a slight edge against the ruthless Shibito. Yet, it doesn’t feel like enough. Utilizing all of the tools and weapons and tactics available to you in Siren can’t replace old-fashioned trial and error. The majority of the missions are relatively (and thankfully) short, but the sense of accomplishment you get from finishing them feels more like relief than triumph.
The presentation in Siren is odd. When I play a survival-horror title, I look forward to seeing disturbing imagery, creative enemies, and environments that no one with any sanity would dare venture. In Siren, you don’t get much of that. First, the character models have images of human faces portraying various emotions. In some ways, it’s more disturbing than the Shibito that wander Hanuda. They move well, but seeing their faces is a different matter. The Shibito themselves perform better. The tension will rise when one spots you with blood in their eyes. The village of Hanuda is a perfect setting for a survival-horror game. The problem is that you’ll be seeing the same areas of it over and over. The heavy use of grays and dark textures adds even more monotony. There isn’t much music to discuss in Siren since the lack of it helps add to the atmosphere in this genre. But another bizarre choice is that all of the voice-acting is done by subpar actors/actresses with English accents. The delivery would have been much more effective if the script was read by Japanese actors/actresses, especially when you consider all of the characters are Japanese -AND- the setting is in rural Japan.
For those that are truly skilled, Siren won’t take long to finish. For those that get frustrated easily and/or those that enjoy rushing head first into the action, it will take much longer. There are a variety of collectibles to find that shed more light on the characters in Siren. This provides some incentive to revisit old missions via the Link Navigator. I’m glad that I took the time to check out a new survival-horror title with Siren. The story and setting, while slightly familiar with others in the genre, made the tedium, frustration and odd choices worth the struggles. However, I have a hard time recommended it to other fans due to those same expected levels of tedium and frustration. The ability to Sightjack is fun to fiddle with at first, but others would prefer to deal with their enemies the old fashioned way: a bullet or bludgeon to the head. Siren’s tale is worth witnessing, but it is hard to recommend unless you have a high level of patience.
Overall, 5/10: Siren provides equal amounts of scares and annoyance; only the most devoted fans of the genre will find something enjoyable with it.