Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Horrorthon: Forbidden Siren 2

About two years ago I wrote about Forbidden Siren (http://lifein16bit.blogspot.ie/2010/12/forbidden-siren.html). The stealth based horror gameplay made it one of the most interesting horror games I’ve played but was unfortunately let down by too many silly design flaws. The sequel manages to address everything that was wrong with the original game making it one of the best horror games available on the PS2.

Forbidden Siren 2 follows a group of characters that have been mysteriously drawn to Yamijima Island. 29 years ago an underwater power cable was cut and the entire population of the island disappeared.  Just as this group of people reach the island it is hit by a massive tsunami. When they awaken the island is teeming with Shibito out to kill them. The events of 29 years previous seem to hold the clue to why they are here and what is happening to them.

Shibito are back and as terrifying as ever!

 As in the previous game the story is told from the perspective of about a dozen different characters while the story jumps between different points in the timeline. The game uses a Link Navigator to allow you to select what stage you want to play and show where in the timeline it is. Usually you have a choice of multiple stages to play as you see fit. One of the major problems of the original Forbidden Siren was that each segment of the game had a secondary objective necessary to complete the game and they were so obtuse that a FAQ was pretty much essential. These secondary objectives return once again but thankfully Siren 2 gives hints before the mission and clearly defines the objective. If a secondary objective is required to advance to another stage the game clearly indicates which stage the objective is in and states on the map screen what the objective is.  Siren 2 is thankfully a much better designed game and I never needed to confront a FAQ.

The original Forbidden Siren is infamous for its high difficulty. Many characters were unarmed or so weak that if a Shibito spotted them they were as good as dead. Even when they were armed ammunition was so scarce that you could not afford to waste a single bullet. While this made the game incredibly tense it also meant some of the stages became an exercise in trial and error. The characters in Siren 2 are now more capable of defending themselves. Most stages are checkpointed to further alleviate frustration. However make no mistake, Siren 2 is definitely not a cake walk and enemies still pose a major threat and avoiding confrontation is always preferable to combat.

The Forbidden Siren series most distinguishing feature is ‘sightjacking’ where if you press the right analog stick in the direction of an enemy or other character you can see through their eyes. It’s a wonderful mechanic that is explored in even more interesting ways other than learning enemy routes so you can avoid them.  One of the characters has extremely poor eyesight so you must sightjack his dog to help him see. Another character is able to pick up psychic visions of the past in certain areas while another can take control of sightjacked enemies for a limited period. The use of lighting is also cleverly implemented. To offset the greater offensive capabilities of the characters in Siren 2, Shibito have now become more aggressive and intelligent. However you can now use darkened areas to hide yourself from them. Later in the game Yamibito appear. Yamibito are like the Shibito except they are damaged by light. You can use your flashlight to stun them or hide in well lit areas safe from harm. I found this play on light and darkness a very interesting mechanic. Shibito and Yamibito are natural enemies and you can use this to your advantage, they will rather fight each other rather than attack you.

Sightjacking a Shibito. That's not you holding the gun, it's you in the Shibitos crosshairs

Forbidden Siren 2 is one of the more visually stunning games on the PS2. The environments are excellently rendered and the use of lighting, fog and other atmospheric effects add greatly to the oppressive nature of the game. Characters faces have been digitised from real actors and while the effect can end up in the uncanny valley it does a great job of humanising the characters.

While Forbidden Siren 2 addresses all the problems with the original and adds its own interesting twists to the gameplay it falls short in one area. The story of Forbidden Siren 2 is nowhere near as good as the original. It’s again told in a very obtuse manner and most of the important points are hidden away in archive items you must find during the game. It’s just not as satisfying once you piece it all together. I really liked how the original game focused on the humanity of the characters. Shibito being former humans carried out bizarre corrupted imitations of their everyday routines. There was a strong focus on how the characters dealt with the situation and how they were all slowly turning into Shibito themselves. The characters of Forbidden Siren 2 are just not as interesting and there’s nothing that comes close to the emotional highs of the stories of Tomoko Maede or Risa Onda in the original. It’s still a well written piece of horror fiction just not up to the standard of its predecessor.

The Yamibito are shrouded in black robes to protect from light but not well enough to avoid the light from your torch

Forbidden Siren 2 is one of the best horror games ever made and well worth playing. The stealth horror gameplay that showed so much potential in the original is now polished and allowed to shine.  It’s tense and terrifying like all good horror games but without the frustrations of the first game. The oppressive atmosphere is helped by some wonderfully realised visuals and a superb soundtrack that gives the Silent Hill games a run for their money. Another nice feature is that the game gives you the choice of English voice acting or Japanese voice acting. The original game had Japanese characters speaking with jarring English accents so playing with the original actors and subtitles is a welcome addition. Unfortunately Forbidden Siren 2 was only released in Japan and Europe meaning US players will have difficulty playing this game.

Just a small note to end with, the game is very loosely tied to a Siren film. It’s not required viewing to enjoy and understand the story but worth checking out for fans of the series. My girlfriend really liked it while I found it very disappointing.

1 comment:

  1. I liked it, not "really" liked it, get it right :P. Will share it soon, you wrote better than what I would have