The survival horror genre has proved to be hugely successful on PlayStation 2, with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises being two of the most popular on the system. In 2004 however, those games were knocked off their perch with the arrival of Forbidden Siren. Genuinely one of the scariest gaming experiences ever, Forbidden Siren drew on the slow-burning, psychological Japanese style of horror exemplified by films like The Ring and The Grudge. Now it's the turn of Forbidden Siren 2 to pick up where its predecessor left off and destroy what remaining nerves we have left. And we'd just about recovered as well...
Set on the island of Yamijima, Forbidden Siren 2 begins with a violent shipwreck and a group of characters being washed up on the island's shore. Little do they realise however, that 29 years earlier, all the inhabitants of the island mysteriously disappeared in a black-out and have returned as Shibito, the living dead.
Sightjack your body
During the game, you play as different characters on each of the different levels, each with their own abilities and weaknesses. Luckily, the one thing that links all the characters you play in Forbidden Siren 2 is that they all have the ability to Sightjack. For the uninitiated, Sightjacking allows the player to view through the eyes of any living thing in their vicinity. Hit L2 and you're immediately presented with a screen full of static. Slowly rotate the left analogue stick however, and you can "tune in" to the viewpoint of any number of enemies and allies within the vicinity. It's Forbidden Siren's calling card, and one that works extremely well. Most of the time you'll be controlling characters who are physically weak, and while you can beat the zombies into submission, it's extremely difficult and you'll probably be killed. Forbidden Siren 2 is much more of a stealth game, made a lot easier to bear by the inclusion of the Sightjacking mechanic.
By watching the world through the eyes of your enemies you can monitor their patrol patterns and make your move at the most opportune moment. Working out the location of the zombies that you are Sightjacking is one of the main challenges of the game, and really ratchets up the tension as the force feedback causes your controller to rumble rhythmically the closer you get to an enemy.
On one particular level you find yourself controlling a partially sighted character in a first person view mode. Viewed through this character's eyes, everything is so blurry that it's almost impossible to get out of the front door of the house you start in. But you can Sightjack his guide dog, and move around while the dog follows closely behind. Thus you find yourself Sightjacking zombies around the level, before Sightjacking back into your dog to escape them. Needless to say, this is almost unbearably tense, and one of the coolest things we've yet experienced in a survival horror game.
Stay away from the light!
The Shibito are drawn to the light, so in order to avoid them successfully you'll have to switch your torch off, something you'll be understandably reluctant to do. However, there are new kinds of enemies, known as the Yamibito, who are fatally vulnerable to the light. Deciding when and where to use your flashlight can mean the difference between life and death and helps create a sense of palpable fear as you creep through a forest in the pitch darkness, knowing you are mere feet away from a particularly nasty death.
Faces of fear
Graphically the game is superb. Cutscenes are grainy and flickery, which really add to the Japanese horror movie feel of the game. Faces and facial animations in particular are extremely well done, conveying a real sense of fear and emotion in the characters. The voice acting is competent, and the other ambient noises too are excellent, ranging from the creak of branches in the forest to the blood-curdling moans of the Shibito.
Forbidden Siren 2 is a brilliant example of how to build and sustain fear in a horror game. Times will come when you are genuinely too afraid to move your character and sit for what seems like hours watching the world through the eyes of your enemies. As odd as this sounds, it is genuinely one of the most exciting gaming experiences out there and definitely worth picking up whether you're a fan of horror games or not. Just don't play it alone...