Review by Rainbow Despair
A vast improvement over the original game
Siren 2 for the PS2 (Review based on the Chinese version)
Take 1 part genius and 1 part frustration, mix them together and you had the original Siren game. The game had a very steep learning curve & was relentless in its difficult: one mistake was often all it took to be taken back to the game over screen. Many players went through the first few levels, got stuck on level 4 or 5 (out of 32), and then gave up. However, the few players who persevered and played through the entire game were rewarded with a survival horror game with some interesting gameplay mechanisms and a story that rivaled even Silent Hill 2's story in depth and complexity.
So how does the sequel compare? Read on.
Siren 1 was a good looking game; Siren 2 is even better. Using a palette of mostly red & grays, the game's visuals do an excellent job at absorbing the player into Siren's creepy world. In between levels, intentionally grainy movies tell a dark story. Although the visuals look better all around, one area that has seen drastic improvement is the first person perspective camera. The first person camera is impressive in its realism: for example, reloading a gun will make the camera go down and actually look at the gun as it's being reloaded. It's now quite possible to play the game entirely in first person perspective if so desired and this provides a new and potentially terrifying way to play the game.
The music and sound effects in this game are designed for one purpose: to thoroughly creep out the player. They succeed. Enemies often chant or otherwise talk to themselves and the effect is unnerving to say the least. Unlike the first game, the sequel now features Dolby Surround Sound so if you have the appropriate sound system, you can expect great things.
The original game had some issues with control, most noticeably having to open a sub-menu to accomplish just about anything. The first level was a particularly bad offender as you had to open the sub-menu up four or five time to accomplish something that would have taken one button press in any normal game. Siren 2 is much improved in this regard. The sub-menu is still around, but now it's used entirely for generic actions like yelling, switching and reloading weapons, and directing companions. Now whenever the player reaches an item that can be interacted with, a command appears on screen, and they merely need press the action button similar to Resident Evil 4's system. In addition to that change, speed while moving in the game's stealth mode has been drastically increased, a very welcome change indeed.
Like the original game, Siren 2 takes an unorthodox approach to storytelling. During the course of the game, the player will have the opportunity to take control of around a dozen different characters from various wakes of life as they try to survive the horrors of Yamajima (the island of shadow). Levels aren't necessarily told in chronological order and important parts of the story are often merely hinted at. The result is an intelligent intertwining story that requires effort on the player's part to understand. And even for a veteran of the first game like myself, I found some of the levels and situations in Siren 2 to be most terrifying indeed. The story is definitely Siren 2's strongest point and to be more specific would be to risk spoiling it.
Siren 1 introduced Sightjacking: the ability to look through another's eyes. This was used extensively in the game to solve puzzles and avoid being detected by enemies since enemies definitely had the upper hand (some characters don't even start out with a weapon). Siren 2 continues to use sightjacking extensively, but it's added a few twists to the formula as a few characters have enhanced sightjacking. One such character has the ability to sightjack into the eyes of people in the past. Another character has the ability to actually control the enemies that she sightjacks into, but only for a limited time. One especially clever scenario has the player controlling a mostly blind man who has the ability to move while sightjacking. Thus he quite literally uses the eyes of his seeing eye dog to maneuver. Between these new sightjacking additions and the addition of a few gung-ho run and gun levels, there is much more variety in the gameplay than Siren 1's sneak, sneak, and sneak some more.
Siren 2 adds a few new enemies to the series. In Siren 2, many of the new enemies can be stunned or even killed by shining light on them. This creates an interesting dilemma for the player: leave the flashlight on to deal with the Yamabito (shadow people) or leave it off so as to avoid alerting the Shibito (dead people)?
Siren 2 manages to eliminate most of the frustration involved with the first game. The result? It's now fun to be scared silly. Three levels of difficulty are available (Hard needs to be unlocked by either beating the game or having finished game data for Siren 1) thus allowing all levels of players to enjoy the game. An extensive hint system is available if desired. Levels have more checkpoints and the checkpoints are kinder; no more dying and discovering that you've been sent to the checkpoint with all of your items missing. The highly annoying 100% accurate snipers that seemed to appear every 3 minutes in the first game are almost entirely gone. The map has been made much more useful by the ability to see where exactly on the map you are instead of having to guess like in the first game. Characters can take more hits this time around and being discovered is no longer a sure-fire trip to the Game Over screen. Combat is much improved with some nice features like being able to use firearms as melee weapons and being able to pick up weapons from fallen enemies. Character AI has been improved; now allies will pick up weapons and actually try to help you instead of just looking on as you get killed by a Shibito. Finally, being able to freely drive a car around a couple of stages (complete with a realistic feeling driver's seat view) is another of the game's many appreciated additions.
One especially nice change is in the game's use of locked stages. The first game received much criticism for forcing the player to do some rather obscure and illogical things in order to unlock some of the later levels: "You mean in order to unlock this level, I need to go back to a previous level, toss a radio down a well, and then wait for a Shibito to come nearby and push it in? How on earth am I supposed to figure something like that without cheating by consulting a guide?" Although Siren 2 does require the player to go back to previous levels to unlock later levels, it now gives much more direction in what needs to be done. Checking the map will reveal a list of events that need to be done in order to unlock later levels with messages like "Pick up an item in such and such room" or "Create a new entrance to the 3rd floor of the mansion."
Longevity: About 20-60 hours
Although the main game will probably only take around 20-25 hours for an average player to complete (less if played on easy mode with all the hints on), mastering the game will take much longer as the player tries to find all of the clues scattered throughout the levels and tries to piece together the story. In addition to the main game, there is also a time trial mode, and some very neat bonus games that can be unlocked. The bonuses vary depending on the difficulty level so there's a definite incentive to go back and beat the game on hard mode.
Overall: A+ (10/10)
Siren 1 was a wonderful horror game with some horrible flaws. Siren 2 is a wonderful horror game without any major flaws. Graphics, audio, gameplay, and story all combine to create one of the most disturbing and scary horror games ever made. Although the game can still be frustrating at times (particularly towards the end), the new additions to the gameplay and a much more balanced difficulty curve ensure that everyone has a chance to enjoy this game, not just the most hardened of the hardcore gamers. Highly recommend to all fans of horror games.
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