Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks? This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.
After creating one of the most successful franchises ever and one that defined the Survival Horror genre in the form of the Silent Hill series, exactly where does the future hold for a game designer? Do you continue with Survival Horror, branch out into different genres or do you just retire from games completely satisfied in the knowledge that you’ve created some of the best games ever? Well Keiichirō Toyama had different ideas and decided to make Siren, a third person Survival Horror game which was fiendishly difficult, horrendously terrifying and serves as a series of which we will most likely never experience again. The game didn’t sell as well as Silent Hill, nor was it as well received due its alienating gameplay and plot, but really does deserve another look by players as a truly great experience that with the hindsight of time enables us to see that Siren was one of the greatest of the genre.
You start the game as Kyoda, a young student in search of Hanuda, a disappeared village with a dark and disturbing past that many years ago was seemingly destroyed in an landslide decades ago but was rumored to be the site of a massacre. Whilst searching for the village, he accidentally stumbles upon a ritual involving a young girl. After being spotted by one of the participants of the ritual, he attempts to flee but is pursued by a policeman. Things soon begin to become even worse when an earthquake occurs and a loud siren rings out and all of a sudden his pursuer is turned into Shibito, a terrifying creature from which Kyoda is lucky to escape from. From this point, the player is able to take control of ten survivors as they try to survive the hell that has overtaken the town with their lives. The game itself is undeniably bleak and after the aforementioned opening, serves only to become bleaker as the game goes on. It’s not hyperbole to say that the story will make the player feel depressed and continue to plague their mind long after playing. Even years after the games initial release, most of the events of the game (most of which are too spoiler heavy to delve into here) still stand out as some of the most terrifying in gaming history and the monsters present are horrible to even think about let alone actually play against. Even in today’s era where graphics are often amazing, you’d be hard-pressed to find any game which can come anywhere near as close as creating terrifying creatures on the scale of those found in Siren.
Gameplay is very unique and serves to add to the overall atmosphere of Siren by making the player feel truly helpless and vulnerable to an extent that even most other games of the genre wouldn’t dare touch. Enemies are unable to be killed, at all. You read that right; you can only knock them down for a few seconds before they continue to pursue you and unlike many games this means that they know that you are nearby as soon as they get back up and will be determined to kill you. The only ability which serves to assist the player is the ability to sightjack, which allows you to see through the eyes of a Shibito and make your move accordingly. Yet even this isn’t as helpful as you may imagine due to the fact that you can’t move whilst using this ability meaning that you must make sure to plan carefully once exiting sightjacking lest you stray into the eyesight of the Shibito. Add in the fact that this mode is terrifying due to the inhuman mumbling that the creatures make means that you’ll come to view this ability as more of a curse rather than a helpful gameplay feature.
The game itself is very unforgiving and the player will find themselves dying often if they don’t make sure to plan their every move carefully lest they wish to be discovered. Sneaking is for all intents and purposes the only option that the player has, as fighting is made frustrating and ineffective and will more often than not result in your death rather than causing any real damage to the enemies. Many reviewers criticized the game for being clunky and for being very punishing yet it seems that they missed the point of the genre. Survival Horror is not meant to be easy and forgiving and if you feel at any time that you can beat the creatures hounding you then you’ve essentially failed in creating a Survival Horror game. The point is surviving and Siren makes the player truly feel as if they are clinging on for dear life from the game’s start and for all intents and purposes embodies what a Survival Horror game should be.
Siren stands as one of the most under-appreciated games ever created and something that must be experienced by any gamer with even a passing interest in the genre. Although reviewers at the time seemingly missed the point of the game, there can be no doubt that it is an undisputed great game whose reputation will only grow as time goes on. It really does deserve to be uncovered by more players, and those who finally obtain a copy will rue not doing it sooner. Utterly terrifying, Siren is an experience that you will never forget and one that will continue to haunt you for years after playing it.
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