Sony?s first-party terror romp is a masterfully crafted paranoiac nightmare and a much-needed conceptual shot in the arm for survival/horror.

Surrounded by controversy (Siren?s chilling ads were pulled from Japanese TV), fueled by a toxic imagination, and scarier than any horror film made in almost 20 years, Keiichiro Toyama?s vision of terror speaks to primal fears of the unknown, the unseen, and the unkillable. Having cut his directorial teeth on the seminally shocking Silent Hill, Toyama, finger firmly planted on the pulse of American zombie flicks and macabre Japanese folklore, has extracted the elements that make horror work, married them with a multicharacter driven antisequential plot, and introduced innovative features that effectively subvert the genre if not redefine how games are played as a whole. Believe the hype.

They?re Dead?.
Accompanied by the sound of a foreboding siren, a remote mountain village is rocked by an earthquake followed by raining blood, which turns almost all of the town?s inhabitants into zombies. It has also bestowed a small handful of survivors the gift of ?sight jacking,? a preternatural ability to see through the eyes of others both living and dead. Switching control between 10 characters, you go on approximately 80 short missions, which usually require you to get from one part of town to another while avoiding contact with bloodthirsty creatures and trying to stitch together the reasons for the biblical events that have unfolded. Now this is where the game gets interesting.

Though you have a map, which shows you the layout of your environment, there is no marker to designate where you or the zombies are. Furthermore, you have no radar or alert system of any kind to tell you when the monsters are near, so the only way to avoid them is to look through their eyes and take note of nearby terrain and landmarks to determine where they are. You also have to memorize their patrol patterns and determine blind spots so you can creep past them when the opportunity presents itself.

They?re All Messed Up.
Where most games thrive on confrontation, Siren requires you to avoid confrontation. Most characters you play as are unarmed, and any run-ins with a ghoul are sure to be fatal as Toyama forgoes the common representation of zombies as shuffling, somnambulistic flesh gobblers and imbues his fast-moving nightcrawlers with rapacious cunning and agility. Siren?s ghouls not only search for you with flashlights and come at you with shovels, but they also skitter along telephone wires and snipe you from rooftops. They don?t die. Death can come at any second, from around the corner, or from places far away, so sight jacking the enemy is integral to survival and becomes the core of the gameplay. And as it requires a staggering amount of patience and well-tuned acuity for your surroundings, it?s effectively a new animal of gameplay never before seen.

Though there are some slight flaws in the design and production (you have to replay certain missions to complete secondary objectives, and the British dubbing is on the ropes), the amount of tense paranoia produced combined with photo-realistic character models, pseudo-scratched celluloid cut-scenes, and unnerving sound design results in logical and exhilarating progression of the survival/horror genre that should not be missed.

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