SIREN: Blood Curse Preview
This year, there are two survival/horror titles that are grabbing the spotlight: the guaranteed hot seller, Resident Evil 5 and the very promising Alone in the Dark, which might be a definite diamond in the rough. But let's not forget about the recently announced episodic PSN title, SIREN: Blood Curse. Sony hasn't yet settled on a release plan - they may drop all 12 episodes at the same time in one package or introduce them in smaller packages over a period of time - but we're very interested to see the final product. This is a series that didn't do so well on the sales charts but may critics had a good bit of praise for the original title back in 2004. It was flawed, but it was still creepy and thrillingly satisfying, which is precisely the goal of any survival/horror game. We're hoping that Sony can clean up some of the technical issues from the original title and give us an episodic adventure well worth playing.
So, to titillate you just a bit before delving into the nitty-gritty, here's a quick breakdown of the premise and concept, courtesy of sony's pre-E3 press conference where they unveiled a good bit of Blood Curse in playable demo form for attendees. The game takes place in in the Hanuda Mining town in Japan, and rather than controlling only one main character, you'll switch between seven different characters during the course of your hair-raising quest. And of course, you need a frightfully scary set of enemies to make your experience complete with chilling encounters. Enter the "shibito," which were once human and are now suffering from some sort of mysterious curse that has turned them all into ferocious undead creatures. They're like the zombies from Resident Evil, only they're far more agile and aggressive, and they retain more of their human selves. Hence, you'll be dealing with truly dangerous foes who simply want to see what your insides look like, and that alone is terrifying...it's all the more terrifying when you have no idea what's wrong with them. Like we said, it'll take some digging to uncover the source of that curse, and stopping it is a whole other matter.
To add to the intimidating atmosphere, there's a grainy veil over the action, which makes it appear like something out of a home video or old horror movie. This makes everything very, very dark, but thankfully, you will have a handy flashlight at all times. The flashlight is an item that is being used more frequently in recent years to up the anticipation level, and that includes games that aren't in this genre; remember Doom 3? Anyway, we like the idea of the flashlight and the grainy film because much of the game's success will be reliant on atmosphere. A famous saying goes, "the anticipation of death is worse than death itself," and that rings true in all forms of entertainment. Nothing is scarier than what you can picture in your imagination, which is why loads of gore isn't terrifying; it's just disgusting. When you hear something shuffling along in the dark, and you're completely vulnerable, lost and confused, the images your brain is capable of producing...yeah, they're insane. And that's the purpose of darkness in survival/horror games, plain and simple.
In the demo on display, players could take control of one of the first characters, Sam Monroe. He's one of those peace-loving hippy photographers who must put aside his beliefs if he's to survive, and is capable of picking up a variety of items to use as weapons. You may recall the good ol' iron pipe that is now an expected object in games like this, and it will once again be an early asset. As you progress slowly through the black night, the controller will begin to rumble - hope you have the new Dual Shock 3! - when an enemy is close, which means you must try to spot it before it spots you. If you can sneak up behind it, you can start bashing away like a madman without too much concern for your own health. But if you try to run and they see you, the "shibito" will go into attack mode, and it could be very difficult to fend off their maniacal strikes. To us, it seems like one big, tense game of hide-and-seek, and if you're on the losing side, we imagine your non-superhero constitution won't be able to take it for very long. It's for the sake of realism, obviously.
The combat mechanic will be a little different than the standard styles you're probably familiar with. Rather than simply pressing the attack button, you must alter the pressure you place on that button; a light tap executes a light yet quick strike while holding down the button causes Sam wind up for a thorough wack. Clearly, there will be a bit of strategy involved, right? When you're fighting for your life, perhaps it'd be best to land as many quick blows as possible just to give you some space and time to recover. But if you've successfully snuck up on an unsuspecting enemy, feel free to load up with maximum power. There may also be a few puzzles to attend to, which may require a variety of button prompts and a certain degree of timing. For example, during the demo, a particularly relentless "shibito" was chasing Sam, and he ran into a cabin. At that point, the game asked him to brace the doors, which you do with his body by shaking the controller back and forth. We're not sure if we'll get any of that classic RE "fetch and return" puzzle-solving gameplay, but we imagine there'll be some of that.
As the game moves on, players will come across more effective weapons, like firearms and even a sickle. As you can tell by glancing at the screenshots, there should be a great deal of blood involved, which should probably satisfy fans of the genre. The more you play, the more brutal the encounters will become, and hopefully, the story and environment will become increasingly freaky. SIREN: Blood Curse is scheduled to arrive on the Japanese PlayStation Store on July 24 and on the US store at some point later this summer. There is no estimated release for Europe, but Sony should confirm plans to bring the game across the pond at some point. For now, we have to reserve judgment - as we do with all previews - but we're anticipating an episodic adventure that grabs us from the start and never lets go. ...here's hoping we're right.
5/17/2008 Ben Dutka