hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Siren: The success of suspense over surprise in horror

9:00 PM on 02.11.2013 // Revuhlooshun

Promoted from our Community Blogs

[For his "Horror Story" Bloggers Wanted response, Dtoid community blogger Revuhlooshun shares his experience with the PS2 classic Siren, and the difference between "surprise" and "suspense" as a means for scares. Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]

The original Resident Evil f*cked up my childhood. Living out near the woods as a kid, that game was the last thing that I needed to see while growing up. Leaving the house at night became a dreaded affair for years to come. Basements became a place that I no longer ventured into. If the power went out in a room that I was in, I wailed like a bitch. There was even a brief period of time where I lived in an apartment that was right behind a graveyard with the windows facing towards it. "Oh my gawd, if sh*t starts poppin' out the grave, I'ma be the first to go!" I don't know how my parents ever got me to sleep in those days. They must have been crushing Ambien caplets into my desserts before they put me to bed.

It's been a long time since a horror game has spooked me so much; I sort of became desensitized to the genre after playing so many of its games. I still enjoy horror games and play them frequently, but it's from a much different perspective than the one I had during middle school. Now when I play a horror game, it's less about the scares and more about savoring the atmosphere. It's a little saddening to say that, but let's be honest: How can a game scare you after you've seen everything that the genre has to offer? There just comes a time where these games stop scaring a person.

Then I played Siren, and I no longer want to go to Japan. Ever.

Siren is a PS2-era game produced by a lot of former Team Silent members, including the creator of Silent Hill, Keiichiro Toyama. A bunch of cult shit is going down in Bum Fuck, Japan, in an attempt to resurrect some sort of ancient god, and now everyone is turning into zombie-like mutants because of it. You play as multiple characters trying to flee from the area, ping-ponging between their stories to gain new perspectives of the situation as it unravels. What sets this game apart from a lot of mainstream horror titles is that most of these characters are either defenseless or armed with only makeshift weapons (there are a few exceptions to this rule, with one or two characters occasionally wielding firearms with limited ammunition). Given that you're playing as ordinary civilians using shovels for self-defense, the emphasis of the game is placed on stealth: You start at Point A, you sneak to Point B, and you pray to God that you're not spotted in between. You're not playing as a space marine or a STARS member, meaning that engaging with these mutants in hand-to-hand combat is usually a suicidal endeavor. In fact, you're better off just hitting the reset button as opposed to trying to brawl your way through a level.

This game got to me in a way that many haven't, which baffled me for a while. Why can a game like Silent Hill or Amnesia not phase me at all, but Siren can crawl under my skin with little to no effort? It took me a while to distill the answer, but I found part of it in the often-quoted words of Alfred Hitchcock:

There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

An integral mechanic to Siren is "Sightjacking," which allows the player to see through the eyes of the creatures around them (and the reason that they can do this is because all of the characters are slowly devolving into these creatures -- fuck!). This mechanic plays exactly into what Hitchcock was talking about when he spoke of suspense vs. surprise.

The previously mentioned Resident Evil relies a lot on surprise. Be it the dog jumping through the window on the first floor or the zombie hiding in a closet, the scares are brisk affairs that offer sudden jolts of fear which subside as quickly as they arrive. This is a much different approach to horror than Siren's focus on suspense. By allowing you to see into the eyes of your enemies, this creates a natural, perpetual tension that feeds into the game's hunter-vs-hunted dynamic of largely unarmed civilians pitted against a crowd of overpowered superfreaks who kill with impunity. The game's atmosphere and general weirdness help to feed the player a sense of terror and hopelessness, but it is the game's unrelenting thirst for suspense and anxiety that brings about the most dread. There's nothing more terrifying than hiding in a corner where you think that it's safe, only to then see an enemy heading towards you through its own eyes.

There came a point in the game where I had to delve into a tunnel, and I could see that there were at least two-to-three enemies laying in wait for me below. Not only did I know of their existence, but I knew of their general locations and I was equipped with a shotgun loaded with proper greetings. Yet I was terrified to go down there, even while playing as one of the game's few gun-toting leads. What if something goes wrong? What if they don't die right away? This gun only holds two bullets, am I going to have time to reload? What if they gang up on me? What if they're too fast? What if I'm too slow? Can somebody turn on a light in here?! This is way too stressful right now!

I loathed every step I took in this game, which speaks to the suspense that it puts forward. Siren put the screws to me at every chance that it got, causing me to sweat bullets for its entire duration. Every time that I turned this game on, I had to mentally brace myself for the shit that I was about to deal with. "Look man, just take shit real slow. There's no rush. Well, actually, there is, and if you get spotted, then run like a bitch and hope that these dudes will tire out before they can find you. Why am I playing this game?!"

The answer is because the game is awesome, of course. It's been quite a while since a game has riled me up like this. Is every person going to have the same reaction to this game that I did? No. Horror is subjective, and different things scare different people. But at the very least, I think that most people who are into the horror genre can appreciate the game for what it is. I encourage everyone to give this game a spin, if only to take in the story and the wonderful sights of Hanuda village.

Just don't drink the water while you're there.

 Follow Blog + disclosure

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our moderators, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

Shinta avatarShinta
MGO's pretty fun! I suck at it though. I mostly hang back and just mark enemies and get the occasional sniper kill. It's pretty fun to be semi-useful with a very hands off role like that. Love my avatar character guy too.
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
Fuck Insecticons
nanashi avatarnanashi
they pooped in my food they pooped in my food they pooped in my food they pooped in my food
Robo Panda Z avatarRobo Panda Z
I have been accused of the greatest of crimes - cookie snobbery.
Yanick Bourbeau avatarYanick Bourbeau
Zombie eating player from my game: [img][/img]
KyWii avatarKyWii
Rock Band 4 is really fun...takes me back to my teenage days of high school. Also reminds me of all the hours I wasted on a plastic guitar instead of getting better on a real one xD
Avoclefo avatarAvoclefo
Team Fortress 2 just got a massive community-made Invasion update. SFM short, reskins, cosmetics, and 4 brand new maps?!?! God, I love this game and its wonderful community so, so much. [youtube][/youtube]
Rad Party God avatarRad Party God
AARRGGGHHHH!!!, GODDAMIT!, fucking SOMA has crashed 3 fucking times in a row and I always lose ~20 minutes of playtime!, playing the same section over and over kinda ruins the tension! >.<'
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
N-Not that P1 isn't perfect the way she is! Isn't that right sweetie? Yes it... Oh, now don't you go and listen to those P2 fans! They just go around spreading rumors and pretending Hitler was just a handsome gentleman in sunglasses, that's what THEY do!
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
Persona Q has made me realize I really want a Persona 1 remake on 3DS in a similar style. A lot. A loooooooot. You listening, Atlus?
Super Mario Maker, the announcement of Sonic Lost World for Steam, and remembering all of the mods that got made for the PC version of Sonic Generations makes me wish SEGA/Sonic Team would make their own dedicated Sonic level creation game.
gajknight avatargajknight
Hey, is your fridge running? You better catch it. I mean, it has all your food, and without food, you die. Like, forever. You don't wanna die right? If you die, how will you watch The Good wife with your favourite bowl of Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Go.
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
My local Best Buy is drowning in Marth & Dark Pit amiibo
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
Spooky yet totally true gaming fact: the bushes and the clouds in Super Mario Bros are the same exact shape. #Spooky
Sr Churros avatarSr Churros
It is coming fast AAAAAAH
Fuzunga avatarFuzunga
The newest PS4 update finally got rid of that bug where I'd get the "you can customize your power options" message every time I turned on my console!
El Dango avatarEl Dango
Should I just pass on MGSV? I haven't really liked any of the games after Snake Eater, and it's being used as a money sink at the moment.
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
[Youtube][/youtube] All the episodes are on youtube now. Also I never knew they got to do a season 3. Pretty cool. Now back to Transformers. Scored a gc to my favorite thai place too. Pad ahoy bitches. It's been too long.
ashamasha avatarashamasha
i have almost all the pieces i need to build my own Arcade machine... and the last one arrive this Saturday! Soon, one my childhood dream will became true!
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Interviewer: Konami, why are you selling cosmetic DLC for MGSV? Konami exec: I breathe through my skin.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -