Once upon a time, survival horror games were defined not only by shambling corpses and creepy atmosphere, but also by protagonists that moved with all the grace and agility of a Sherman tank. Things have changed since then, but at first glance, Siren: Blood Curse, a horror game now available for download on the PlayStation Network, seems almost willfully behind the times, with play control that feels clunky and outdated. However, if you bear with the game and give it a chance to show off its strengths, you'll find that its episodic presentation, chilling ambiance, and terrific use of the Siren series' signature sightjacking system come together to create an enjoyably frightening experience.
Blood Curse returns the series to the doomed village of Hanuda, the setting of the original Siren. The game takes place in August 2007 and begins with an American television crew arriving in Hanuda and stumbling upon a horrifying ritual involving human sacrifice. Things only get worse from there. It quickly becomes apparent that virtually everyone in the village is a shibito, a corpse person. These shibito are more unsettling than your run-of-the-mill mindless zombies because even in their gruesome, decaying states, they maintain a shred of their human identities. Shibito farmers still till the land; a shibito cop patrols the town; and a young shibito girl spends time in her room drawing, producing nothing but mindless scribbles. The game's story twists and turns back on itself repeatedly, weaving a narrative that some will love analyzing but others will find needlessly baffling. The story's best asset, though, is in its cast of seven playable characters, a good assortment that includes a vulnerable 10-year-old girl, a brave high school student, and a mysterious, cool-as-ice Japanese doctor.
Unfortunately, Blood Curse makes a poor first impression. The graphics aren't very impressive from a technical standpoint and the incredibly short first episode puts you in one of the darkest areas in the entire game. You immediately learn that your characters control stiffly and that combat feels slow and unresponsive. At first, the game feels a bit like a relic of survival horror's past, with the one concession to new technology being the frequent, frustrating use of vigorous controller shaking as a gameplay mechanic. Whenever you're knocked down, you'll need to shake the controller wildly to get up and escape with your life. It quickly becomes tiresome, and you'll soon long for the good old days when you could just pound on a button as quickly as possible to get back on your feet.
Despite these shortcomings, Blood Curse eventually develops into a compelling, compulsively playable game. The biggest reason for this is the novel implementation of the sightjacking system. Sightjacking is the ability to see through the eyes of any other character, and it's vital for sneaking past patrolling shibito that are deadly when you're unarmed. Pressing L2 puts you in sightjack mode. While sightjacking, you can manually search for targets by using the right stick, which is similar to hunting for elusive radio stations on the dial, or quickly and easily cycle through possible targets using L1 and R1. The screen splits and displays the viewpoint of the current target on the right. You can assign up to three viewpoints to different buttons and lock on to one particular view, which is displayed on the right as you continue moving.
The game also has a mind of its own when it comes to sightjacking; if there's a shibito stalking or pursuing you, it will often automatically present its viewpoint on the right for dramatic effect. Sightjacking is crucial for getting through the game's stealth sections, and at times, it's also useful for revealing important clues, such as the location of a key you might need to progress. But it isn't just an interesting element of the gameplay. It also contributes significantly to the sense of horror and dread that permeates the game. It's quite terrifying to see a shibito's gaze linger on a closet where you happen to be hiding or to see yourself running for your life through the eyes of the shibito that's right on your tail.