I’m trying to take more time to use this site as a place to write my thoughts about games down instead of just reporting survival horror news.
Some of you may remember a post I wrote a few months back where I complained that Siren is too frustrating and difficult. Four months later I am still playing Siren, but my opinion of it has increased. The game is hard, yes, and every level takes multiple tries to complete, but these flaws are forgivable because the rest of the game is so awesome.
Siren’s biggest problem is that it has tons of new ideas and it doesn’t communicate all of them very well to the player. It takes a while to realize that Siren requires you to leave your preconceived notions of how games work at the door and actually try to think critically about the problems it throws at you. Example: in most games, bushes are made using a couple of flat polygons with leaf textures on them in a plus shape. Typically games that allow you to walk through these bushes treat them as eye-candy only; they never have any affect on the game. However, even though the bushes in Siren look similar to most game bushes, they actually have an in-game function: you can hide behind them. When you hide behind a bush or other object, the zombies (“shibito”) will not see you if you are sufficiently obscured. The definition of “sufficiently obscured” is a little vague, however, and this is where Siren runs into problems. The game designers have gone to great lengths to make their world as realistic as possible, but in doing so they have traded a degree of game mechanic clarity.
Siren gets away with these flaws because it does everything else so well. However, since the game is fairly vague about the perception of the zombies, a lot of playing is required before you are able to have a good sense of where to hide and how to move. Of course, this vagueness also increases the tension in the game by several orders of magnitude, as you can’t always be sure that your hiding spot is sufficient or that the shibito is far enough away for you to walk quietly without being heard. I’m willing to put it in writing right here: Siren is by far the scariest game I have ever played.
The problem of vagueness extends to the game play as a whole. There are many, many cool mechanics going on in Siren, but they are not communicated to you clearly by the game and you are required to learn them on your own. My previous post was right in the middle of that learning phase, a time that can be quite frustrating because one feels like they do not understand the correct way to play.
However, after 4 months of playing this game (about 4 or 5 hours a week), I am mostly convinced that the steep ramp up time is worth it. The developers of Siren are innovating, and they are innovating in all sorts of crazy areas. Siren might look like a cheap knockoff of Silent Hill, but in fact it plays like no other game on the market. The closest analog I can think of is Hell Night, which employs some of the same mechanics. In the end, I don’t mind learning new ways to play horror video games if the effort is rewarded. Though I have yet to complete Siren, I already feel like the debt has been paid in full.
We need more games that try new things, even if they are not entirely successful. It is very hard to deviate from the beaten path when it comes to game design, and I have nothing but respect for developers who are able to work new ideas into their games. I’m looking forward to the Siren sequel, and I hope that the developers are able to correct some of the issues with their initial design while continuing to push this genre in new directions.