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It was the setting of Siren Blood Curse that undid me, at once both familiar and changed. The PS3 exclusive updates the 2004 experience and breaths a fresh sense of unease into every crevice.
Sony Computer Entertainment Japan's 2004 survival horror game Siren underwent a remake in 2008. Along with the expected graphical overhaul Siren: Blood Curse also received improved voice acting and a few changes to the story. These updates aimed to maintain the tension of the original game while updating it for the PS3.
Set in Japan, Siren's narrative revolves around a village and the cult that is consuming it. On paper it seems to share a lot with Silent Hill and soon created in me an expectation of twisted bodies and deformed worlds. But instead Siren: Blood Curse offers more familiar territory, a recognisable world. Rather than lessening the fear, Blood Curse is all the more disturbing for it.
I stepped into Siren: Blood Curse's small Japanese gated community on a far flung mountaintop. It was a landscape instantly recognisable to me - being a resident of Japan. But at the same time is was eerily unfamiliar. Houses were deserted and dirty, with furnishings slightly outdated and everything has that not-quite-right feel to it. There was an edginess in the air and the emptiness did little to temper the growing sense of dread growing inside me.
I turned on a microwave to tempt one away from my path and breathed easy for a while.
A serialised structure to the story jumps between characters constantly. Initially this proved irritating. Starting as a young American exchange student my only option to escape was hiding in an old house. Then abruptly I was whisked off to the next chapter before I had even come to grips with the games cumbersome controls. The shift in scene was jarring.
Although the jumps threaten to brake the chilling tension slowly built up for each scenario, the weight of impending doom served to make sense of these shifts. I quickly found these breaks my only respite from the horror. Many of the characters were simply not equipped to effectively fight against the inhabitants of the village, and without shifting I would have been trapped, doomed to for to ever be on the defensive.
Three stages in, playing as a young girl held captive in a hospital, I was forced to avoid nurses by tricking them away from their route. This child was blessed the ability to 'sightjack', see through the eyes of her captors. It was sickening. A shaking camera and grainy red tinted lens filled half the screen while I try to navigate away from them. To add to my discomfort the breaths of those my mind inhabited rang in my ears. Rasping and strained, I heard every nuance of their respiration, along with any contorted words they spoke. Despite my unease I tried and orientate myself and learn the patterns of my aggressors before formulating my route.
It may all sound a little ham fisted and juvenile, but the artificialness of these tasks never broke my suspension of disbelief, or my disquiet.
I turned on a microwave to tempt one away from my path and breathed easy for a while. My flight ended with a member of my original group finding the girl. He called at her/me over the hospital's intercom. Relieved I followed his voice, only to find he too had turned, like the villager's. I ran but to no avail, he had me.
Even in the areas where the tone was lighter there is a constant feeling of unrest, which edged its way up to pure terror as the game peeled away my character's defences, and my own fortitude.
Another cut. I came back as the girl's father. Still armed with the revolver of a previous chapter. Ammo was limited, but I had a chance, and three easy kills in my hand. I set off to find my daughter. The world remained foggy and dark, some areas even flooded, forcing me to wade slowly to my goals so as not to alert everyone. None of this mattered; my mood way buoyed by newly granted empowerment.
Throughout its twelve chapters Siren: Blood Curse maintains a feeling of discomfort. It constantly placed me in cliched scenarios - hiding in cupboards, sprinting through mines and barricading doors - but the atmosphere and constant tension kept me from dwelling on its more formulaic elements.
Even in the areas where the tone was lighter there is a constant feeling of unrest, which edged its way up to pure terror as the game peeled away my character's defences, and my own fortitude. Perhaps to a player who has never visited a similar Japanese village would react differently. Not feeling the same connection with the environment would draw them in less. But for me the erratic sounds, affecting environments work perfectly. So much in fact that I am currently taking a hiatus from my game to relieve the tension a little. I have promised myself to go back to it once I can summon the courage get past the sounds of the whimpering girl that greet me every time I load the title screen.
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