Siren: Blood Curse

We've had some rough nights - isn't that what freshman year of college is for? But we've never woken up in the middle of the night to find ourselves in a remote Japanese village where it just happens to be raining blood. Yet, that's what an American named Sam finds himself doing in the beginning of Siren: Blood Curse, the latest in Sony's quietly demented survival horror series.

Sam is just one of seven playable characters, most of whom are part of a documentary film crew who came to the cursed village expecting to debunk the trite local legends. Big shock when it turns out to be true - the town is crawling with the series' trademark enemies: Shibito. The natives, it seems, turn into bloodthirsty zombie-types every so often. You can't usually kill them; you can only hope to knock them out long enough to get away before they wake again.

Anyhow, the gritty look and strikingly realistic characters won't surprise those who played the original PS2 Siren or its Japan and UK-only sequel. And the largely linear, story-focused gameplay is typical of the genre. But this familiarity doesn't make it any less harrowing when Sam has to sneak past a raging Shibito on his search to reunite with the other members of his team. Crouching makes your footsteps quieter, but slows you down - when you're six feet from a bloody freak busy repeatedly slamming a shovel into another Shibito's cranium, the urge to run is strong.

Luckily, Sam made it past and entered what seemed like a mine, where he pulled a pipe from the wall and stealthily used it to dispatch another Shibito without detection. If you get the drop on the enemy, you'll often get a special kill-move, such as this one: a quick swipe to the back of the head with the lead pipe, and then he was able to grab the Shibito by the head and ram her face into the wall. There are 50 weapons in all - not rocket launchers, but mining picks, bottles, crowbars, and a few guns - and each has its own special kill move.

Inside the mine's tiny office shack, Sam is immediately knocked out by an unseen assailant, ending the chapter on a cliffhanger. Luckily, we're not kept in suspense for long. The next chapter begins with us seeing Melissa Gale, another member of the team, apologizing for braining him with a wrench. Your objective then becomes getting out of the mine. After a sequence in which Sam must brace the door by holding a button and shaking the PS3 controller to keep a Shibito from busting in, the enemy then successfully tries another door - only to be clubbed into unconsciousness by the tandem of Melissa and Sam.

There are three Shibito blocking the narrow path out - too many. So you head a different way, and Sam sneaks up on a lone Shibito, shoving it down an elevator shaft (location-specific kill move there!) and grabbing its pistol in the process. That evens the odds against the other three enemies, who run shrieking toward him only to be cut down and, in one case, shot and then heaved over the edge of a small rope bridge.

That's the end of the playable portion of the demo, but we then see Sam collapse and the action cuts to a little girl - possibly his daughter, judging from the way Melissa is berating Sam for bringing her along. She's initially running from a Shibito, but then we see she's been dreaming. Or possibly remembering how she got caught - she's in a dank, nasty looking room that looks like a makeshift jail cell. What are the odds that saving her is going to be easy and safe? We'll find out for ourselves this summer, when Siren: Blood Curse hits store shelves.

May 16, 2008