• Siren 2 Review - Sony PS2

    Thick mist covers the island and the sky is tinged blood red. Mamoru Itsuki and Yuri Kishida are walking across Yamijima when they run into two members of the Japanese Self-Defence force. Blinded by the torches, Yuri hides behind her manly protector and then the siren begins; the noise is ear-splitting and emanates from a vast metal radio tower in the centre of the island. Seconds later, the wave comes, a blood-red tsunami which knocks all four people off their feet and into unconsciousness.

    The original Siren, created by Silent Hill’s Keiichiro Toyama, took the survival horror genre by storm with its unique combination of the zombie-like shibito, the ability to see through the eyes of others (‘sight-jacking’), in an authentic Japanese setting. Siren 2 continues these themes but also expands upon various aspects of the game play.

    Set on Yamijima, an isolated island in the Sea of Japan, Siren 2 pits various characters against the denizens of nightmares; the lumbering shibito from the original title return but halfway through, the terrifying yamibito (People of Darkness) are introduced.

    As zombies go, the shibito are not just lumbering piles of reanimated flesh; they become deadly when armed with semi-automatics and Uzis but most only possess irons, baseball bats and other short-range melee weapons. Essentially mutated humans, the shibito are smarter and more eager to hunt down any humans they stumble upon; they can even yank unwary characters out of vehicles.

    The yamibito on the other hand have the appearance of pupating larvae with human faces, tied into a straight-jacket, with the odd one or two possessing human-form albeit with chalk-white skin. Point a torch at them and they will begin to smoke; a few swipes with a weapon and the creatures evaporate in a pleasing blue light. On the whole, however the yamibito are much faster than their shibito-cousins and tend to favour an ambush approach.

    To combat this, each character is now capable of carrying two weapons which can be rotated from the in-game menu and, rather than the mundane selection of household items and the odd pistol or rifle used in the original game, the availability of weapons and the selection is much larger, thanks to the presence of the Japanese Self Defence Force. Toddler Shu is the only one who remains weaponless and schoolgirl Ichiko is unable to carry guns, although that doesn't prevent her from acting out some of the more interesting sections of Battle Royale.

    As well as umbrellas and frying pans, players can wield machetes, various pistols and even rapid-firing Uzis. A handy bug also allows for unlimited ammo; when a gun is exhausted simply drop it then wait for a fallen shibito to resurrect and acquire the weapon. Beat the creature into submission and the gun will be reloaded. However, most of the high-calibre weapons cannot simply be picked up and are either available from the start or must be appropriated from the shibito, either by subduing them or making use of a car to run them down.

    While the use of keys and certain items is now automatic, it is finally possible to smash the panes of glass in doors to unlock them. The game also offers a first-person perspective that adds to the over-all tension of the levels, particularly when wandering through the tunnels of the gold mine.

    The Archives – one hundred items that aim to explain some of the plot and back-story – have also been updated. As well as informative items like diary entries, books and letters, they also contain a trophy, a statue and even the Japanese version of Pot Noodles. However, it is now possible to not only hear audio clips but also view various videos. The Archives also point out various online promotional websites, including ones belonging to Akiko and Shu Mikami, giving it an added sense of realism.

    The plot is intriguing but so much is left open for discussion and, as well as taking place in one or more parallel universes; it also seems to be split into three timeframes: 1979, 1986 and 2005 and there are numerous references to events that took place in Siren. The gamer is left to draw his or her own conclusions about what exactly is taking place and much of the back-story is made available though the Archives or short stories published on the official site, the first of which takes place on the wrecked ferry and focuses on schoolgirl, Ichiko Yagura. The storyline is also linked directly to a live-action movie that began it’s theatrical run a few days after Siren 2’s release in February as well as a one-volume manga or Japanese comic book.

    Much of the game now takes place in daylight but – in true horror fashion – the island receives no sunlight. In the earlier levels, characters must wander through locations that, although dark, seem relatively normal but later on these begin to transmute, becoming filled with a thick red mist which limits visibility to a few metres. One interesting note is that all the locations, from the gold mine to the apartment building were based on real places and are remarkably realistic.

    While there’s no visible life bar, the current character’s health can be estimated by their physical appearance, with puffing and panting heralding those in a weakened state. However, it now takes more than three hits to kill and the addition of checkpoints means that missions do not need be to be played right from the beginning. Most missions also have two objectives that must be unlocked by triggering an event in a different mission; this can involve anything from finding an item to flicking a switch or opening a door. However, there's also a hint screen that provides helpful points on surviving the level such as where to go next.

    From the start there are two difficulty options, easy and normal. However, to complete the game with the full number of Archives, you need to play using the normal difficulty and gamers with a memory card containing a save file from the first game will also be able to unlock the hard mode.

    The types of missions basically fall into one of several categories: shepherding a companion from A to B, finding a specific item or completing a task and getting to a certain place. Companion characters can be both NPCs or characters played in earlier missions but their AI has been significantly improved allowing them to not only hold weapons and move with more autonomy but also coming to your aid if a fight turns nasty.

    One of the foundations of Siren 2 is the multiple perspectives and this latest instalment offers eleven different playable characters, including a visually impaired author, a schoolgirl, a toddler, a psychic and two members of the Self Defence Force. All the characters can sight-jack but some also possess enhanced abilities. For example, the mermaid-obsessed author Shu Mikami is so partially sighted that all he sees is a shapeless blur of light and dark but this can be circumvented by sight-jacking. By tuning into the viewpoint of his dog Tsukasa and pressing the R3 button, Shu can move around the levels. Although awkward in places, it is certainly novel.

    Fortune-teller Akiko also possesses enhanced sight-jacking abilities. Whilst playing her missions, the screen will shudder with static for a moment and the player can then see past events in sepia. Finally, part-time worker Ikuko can actually control the yamibito and shibito for a short period of time, which allows doors to be unlocked or weapons to be obtained.

    With an eerie soundtrack and unique combination of photo-realistic characters and locations. Siren 2 is scary with a kind of palpable fear that repulses but also keeps the gamer playing. It’s a more than worthy edition to the horror genre and is sure to delight and terrify fans of authentically Japanese games like Project Zero and Kuon.

    A review by Lesley Smith