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Graphics : 8.0

For the most part, Siren is a fine looking game. The best quality of its visuals is probably the great attention given by the developers to the color palette; for the most part, the environments look grey-green-white-black, giving the game a cold, beyond this world look. But occasionally, a deep blood red is used for elements like the rain or the river that flows through the village of Hanuda. The effect is striking, beautiful, definitely well conceived and brilliantly achieved.

The game features fully 3D environments, thus letting the players switch to a first person view to look at their surroundings. Each mission takes place in a level, usually of a relatively limited size. Being a rural village, Hanuda is immersed in intricate woods that show some intelligent use of textures and polygonal models. While looking closely at each tree, at the foliage, at the terrain, the textures look dull and blurry and the polygonal models a bit too simplified, looking at the image as a whole the woods of Hanuda look realistic and scary, immersed in a thick darkness that your poor flashlight can hardly fight. Realistic fog and beautiful particle effects used to simulate dust floating in the air of Hanuda create a veil that wraps everything when you are in the woods of Hanuda. Interiors are sometimes extremely detailed, with some great attention to details and some fine texturing, but occasionally they just look generic and poor in atmosphere. Like Silent Hill, Hanuda seems turned in a hellish place, where decay is eating every object, every wall, every place in the village.

Character models aren't as detailed as in other survival horror games, and they are far from reaching the realism of the latest Silent Hill's character models or the polish of Resident Evil's character models. While showing some fine texture work on their bodies, character models in Siren are built with fewer polygons than in other survival horror games; 2D images of the faces of real actors have been mapped on the head of the models. The effect is weird but convincing, as are the smooth animations - leaving aside the funny looking crouched position. Cutscenes are usually brief but well directed; the character models are more detailed than those used in-game but they show some rough animation that, coupled with the average voice acting, makes the cutscenes often less impressive than one would expect in a game with a good and interesting storyline like Siren. Usually, Shibito aren't as imaginative as monsters seen in other survival horror games. They are not frightening or creepy, and after a few missions you will start getting used to these poor countrymen turned into smelly and decaying creatures. Sightjacking is also not as visually effective as one would expect, considering the game's focus on this element. When in Sightjacking mode, and you are looking through the eyes of the Shibito, you will see the action in first person view; so, like in a first person shooter, you will also see the hands and eventually the weapon of the Shibito. Anyhow, because of the low number of polygons used to render the hands of the character models, the hands of the Shibito are funny, motionless, blocky things. This definitely goes against the immersion of the player into the game. It was probably difficult for the developers to use polygonal models of the hands specifically designed only for the first person view - but just imagine how scary the Sightjacking mode would have been if you had been able to see realistic, livid, animated hands trembling for the trepidation of finding a new victim.

Sound : 8.0

Sound effects are of primary importance in Siren. Realistic and often used to unnerve the players, they don't lack also a touch of good irony. You often hear the Shibito mumbling, laughing, and even singing songs they sang as humans but that have now turned into funny inarticulate tunes. This gifts the Shibito with more personality than any average zombie. Siren also takes advantage of the Playstation 2's S-Force 3D library, which was used also in Silent Hill 2 to simulate 3D sounds through a normal 2-channel speaker system. Playing the game on a good TV, or using a good pair of stereo headphones, you can really feel the distance and the direction of sounds. This can be extremely useful in the woods, since Sightjacking offers no real indication of the distance of a Shibito, leaving aside the intensity of the signal while you are tuning in. Siren is one of those few games were sounds have been really designed to let the players figure out the relative position of a nearby enemy.

The soundtrack is adequate, even if not as essential in setting the atmosphere of the game as the sound effects; many stages make a better use of the soundtrack to build up tension, but in general, Siren does not rely on a mix of music and sound effects as Silent Hill games, probably to follow its more realistic attitude. Voice acting is in the average; a couple of the actors hired for the game provide occasionally some good voice acting, but for the most part the characters of Siren have uninspired and uninspiring voices, with unemotional and hardly believable tones. And this is strange, considering the focus of the developers on storytelling.

The score here could go from 3.0 to 10.0, depending on the player. In fact, Siren is surely the longest survival horror of all times. There are roughly 80 missions to play, and while the most skilled players could maybe complete the game in 15-16 hours, I think that average players will need even 30 hours to finish the game. Anyhow, the long gameplay time is also a result of the difficulty of the game, since you will surely have to replay almost every mission several times. Also, many missions will ask you to go back and play again in the same levels you have completed before, so you shouldn't expect 80 missions all taking place in different locations. You will usually have to play in the same stage with multiple characters or you could need to go back to a stage to complete secondary objectives. This can be annoying, even if repetition of the same environment is not uncommon in the survival horror genre (usually justified by the introduction of some variation for each reiteration).

In reality, many players, including veterans of the survival horror genre, could decide to give up after the first four-five missions. And they might honestly have many good reasons to do so. Why should one want to play a game able to give, for the most part, frustration? Frustration that Siren seems unable to use to build up tension (like the unbalanced Silent Hill 3 was able to do, but only in part) and that constantly makes you think about how badly designed the game is.

On the other hand, the good storyline and the surprising narrative structure can be interesting enough for the most dedicated and patient players to play through this scarily long and difficult game.

Overall Score ( not an average ) : 6.5

Siren isn't what many were expecting. There are many nice ideas behind this game - Sightjacking and the brilliant narrative structure - but the developers were unable to properly use them to develop a solid, cohesive, balanced gaming experience.

In a moment in which innovation is feared by most developers and publishers, Siren has the merit to try something different, but a development team should put the player's needs as their top priority - an artistically valid game, with strong elements of originality, is still lost when it's doomed by frustrating game mechanics, design issues, and an excessively steep learning curve. There is great talent behind Siren, so we can just hope that the developers will learn something from the errors made in this first game to create a sequel worthy of their personal vision of the survival horror genre.

It's actually extremely hard to find a target audience for Siren. Saying that veterans of the survival horror genre should go and pick this game up would be wrong - Siren often puts the players in front of difficulties that fans of the survival horror genre might consider annoying, to the point of being forced to abandon the game after a couple of missions. Yet, also fans of stealth action games will find in Siren a too limited game, with imprecise controls and with crouching as the only stealthy move available to the characters.

Only the most dedicated players who have already played the other major survival horror games available on the system should buy Siren; patience might lead to discover the game's good side: a strong, well written storyline and an intricate and intelligent narrative structure.



Page 1: Gameplay

- Harry (15 Jun, 2004)


Scores
Gameplay
5.0
Graphics
8.0
Sound
8.0
Replay Value
8.0
Overall Score
6.5



Developer
Access Games
Publisher
SCEA
Origin
Japan
Genre
Adventure
Action
Players
1
Peripherals
Dual Shock 2
8MB Memory Card
Release Date
North America
April 20th, 2004
Europe
March 3rd, 2004
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More screenshots of Siren



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