Taking it point by point, most missions entail little more than picking up an object somewhere (usually already explained to you but not necessarily of direct relevance to the mission at hand) and heading off somewhere else. Almost without exception it's a case of going from point A to B to C and quickly moving onto another mission somewhere else on the island, possibly hours earlier or later. Once you know what you're doing and where to go, most missions can be completed in a matter of minutes - but it's rare to ever get a handle over what the point of your actions is. Timelines scribble over the place, and characters interchange so much that it's tough to keep up with who they are, and isolated cut-scenes deliver out of context fragments of a story which rarely seem to give an insight into what's going on or how the key figures found themselves on this cursed island in the first place. Some were washed up on the shore via a tsunami, but other characters' appearances seem unclear. It's a Gordian knot that seems to delight in its own obscurity.
Having learned our lesson last time around, we made notes before and after each mission in an attempt to make more sense of each character's role in the criss-crossing tale, but even 50-odd missions in, there was still an over-riding sense of general confusion about what was really going on, and why we were going after certain individuals. Fortunately, part of its appeal is unravelling this muddle; tempting and teasing the player on to lift the fog with a series of generally well-acted sequences that feature the same facially stunning character models of the original. Whether you enjoy joining the dots has a lot to do with personal preferences; at times the exploded jigsaw approach seems fascinating, but at others you just wish the excellent sequences made some sense. Without the benefit of context, you often feel like you're playing a series of basic, random survival horror vignettes, when it may have been preferable to be immersed in all this atmosphere in a fully connected environment with a beginning, middle and end. Sure, this may have made the narrative feel more traditional and less daring, but you can't help but feel it would have made it a more focused, entertaining game - which is surely the main goal.
In truth, Forbidden Siren 2 is simultaneously the victim of its own ambition and held back by its self-imposed restraints. Throwing dozens of vaguely connected mini-snapshot 'scenes' at the player is a very bold and eclectic approach, but it also strangles the gameplay in crucial ways. Placing the player in enclosed environments with a focus on undertaking a small number of basic tasks automatically scales everything down. The result is that whatever character you're controlling, and whatever environment you're in, every mission amounts to a perfunctory object hunt in the dark while dealing with lurching enemies you can't kill - that's the gameplay in a nutshell. Sure, the abilities of each character can shift the emphasis slightly from unarmed stealthy escape to more aggressive firefights, but the core goals of most missions remain largely the same. Also, the constant recycling of locations and the strange need to often play through a slight variation of the same mission merely feels like unnecessary padding.
Sight-Jack of all trades
The developer also throws lots of new ideas into the mix and then doesn't build on them. A case in point is the new ability to drive vehicles - used only fleetingly a few times - while other innovations like Sight-Jacking into the past, taking physical control of the Shibito or using the sight of another character are similarly under-used. It seems that once these ideas are introduced early on, they're used very sparsely and for the vast majority of the time the game slips back into default 'find object X, reach location Y' formula.
Technically, the game uses much the same engine as last time, albeit with better lighting techniques. It's still a fine looking game in certain departments; the stylish cut-scenes show off the game at its very best, with superb facial detail lending enormous credibility to the narrative. In the main game, though, the animation's never looks particularly convincing, and there's a distinct clumsiness to the camera and controls. The new first-person mode is initially welcome, but its twitchiness soon has you switching back. Other minor niggles creep in, too, like the over-sensitive sniper mode, the constant lack of ammo (something the Shibito never have to worry about) and the flagging energy levels of characters if you run around too long - things that are just unnecessary and add nothing to the game.
At least the audio has been taken care of this time around. Not only do the English voiceovers suit the characters this time (unlike the hilarity of the clipped Home Counties delivery in the original) but there's also the option to choose the Japanese voiceovers with subtitles. Slapped wrists, though, for Sony's English localisation team, who failed to match the subtitles to the actual words being spoken on so many occasions it's embarrassing. As ever, the brooding atmosphere is made even more oppressive by a catalogue of sinister noises and ambient effects in the background. Never has the lack of a musical soundtrack been more appropriate.
Despite the generally downbeat and exasperated tone of this review, Forbidden Siren 2 is still a game that horror fans should check out. With so few games of note arriving in the genre, it's very much a case of getting your fix where you can. With Project Zero 3 the only other horror title of note to arrive so far this year, and no new 'proper' Silent Hill or Resident Evil games likely to emerge for at least another year, it's definitely a barren time for the adventurer. It's easy to acknowledge that Sony has crafted a much more accessible episode this time, but in doing so has unwittingly managed to expose some flaws and limitations in this stop-start formula. If you've got the will to stick with the interweaving plot and don't mind a bit of repetition then you'll doubtlessly get through by enjoying the game's incredibly rich atmosphere - as we did. It's important to stress that Forbidden Siren 2 is always highly enjoyable, but we expected so much more; its elusive lack of focus makes it feel like you're playing a random collection of mini-episodes, while the basic tasks given to you rarely extend beyond the perfunctory, and it's the latter point that's most disconcerting. If you like your videogames to have straightforward gameplay with a story like a fragmented jigsaw puzzle, then go right ahead. If you stick with it, the rewards are there. The rest of you might end up questioning why you're bothering.
7 / 10