I wasn’t sure that I wanted to review Syren. I find VR horror to be a bit too much for me a lot of the time. But I decided to give it a shot anyway because… that’s my job. I’m happy to report you don’t have to be afraid to play Syren. At least not for the horror aspect anyway. As of this writing I haven’t beat the game. I’ve played for a few hours though and I definitely have some thoughts that I can share before I dive back in and give the full review.
Syren doesn’t hold your hand. You’re dropped into the game with the alarm going off and all you know is that you need to escape. There is a tutorial that teaches you how to get around but nothing about how to beat the game. I walked around the same area multiple times, in the end becoming pretty exasperated, before I found a sticky note that gave me a hint. Then I had to find out what the note meant. And that pretty much describes how the game has been going for me. I walk into an area, I have no idea what to do, then I accidentally stumble upon a solution and move on to the next area. It reminds me a lot of old school games… you know, back before games started telling you how to solve puzzles before you’d even made a single attempt.
Like those old school games, Syren is mostly frustration followed by moments of success that release endorphins and trick you into thinking that you’re having a good time. Of course, at least in my experience, that describes a lot of video games that I would consider to be good, so don’t take that as me pronouncing judgment against it. In fact, I will get it out of the way right now. Syren is not a bad game. But it’s not a great game. The good news is that most of what keeps it from greatness can be fixed with future updates.
I’ll give the bad news first. Syren gives the option to use full locomotion, which is marvelous. All games should. But it chooses a strange method of doing so. Instead of moving where you’re looking when you press up on the control stick, you move where your hand is pointing. I get the idea behind it and it makes sense. You want to be able to look around while you move without changing your direction. But with this method you have to hold your hand in front of you in order to walk at a decent speed. For the first ten minutes or so of playing I didn’t realize what was going on. Sometimes I would walk really slow and other times I would walk faster and it seemed completely random until I realized that I was walking slow because my hand was pointed at the floor where my hands normally point when I’m walking or just not using them. I’m not sure what the solution is because moving where you look isn’t wonderful and neither is being forced to turn with the right thumbstick in order to change your direction. Not only does the latter make a lot of people sick. but it also messes you up when you inevitably turn your body but the game character doesn’t follow and suddenly pressing forward moves you sideways. I suppose the only thing that they can do is make it clearer how the locomotion system works.
Another fault I have against the game is the Syrens themselves. Neither the AI, nor the animation are very good here. Syren, at least what I’ve played of it, is very much set up like a stealth game. The creatures have escaped and you have to sneak past them and get to the exit. It’s hard to have a sneak mechanic when you teleport though and so it seems that unless you distract them first, they are going to see you. So you have to find something to throw that draws them away from where you want to go. It’s hard to know for sure how it works just from playing the game but it seems that wherever you throw the can, mug or whatever you have, that’s the exact spot the Syren will run to. And they will stay there for a moment before moving on, but it doesn’t seem that they are searching for you, they just start patrolling. Throw another object and the sequences repeats. But that’s all just nit-picking really. It’s basic stealth AI, but it gets the job done for the most part.
What is less okay is the sneaking itself. Basically, if the Syren sees you, you’re screwed. There are no benches to sit on, lockers to hide in, bails of hay to dive in, etc. Even if you break line of sight and hide around a corner they still come right to you. In fact, there was one part where I heard the sirens coming and ran into a bathroom stall. I watched on my tracker as they came closer. They hadn’t even seen me yet, but they came right to me and started chewing on my face. I’m not sure how smart these things are supposed to be but it would be nice to have some sort of defense against them. Based on the tutorial I presume that at some point I will have a gun, but I haven’t found one yet. I did find an axe which I planted right in the belly of the first Syren I came across, but she didn’t give it back before taking off through one of the air ducts. beyond that my only defense is to not be seen in the first place. Easier said than done though. A lot easier. That probably applies to most things though. Saying things isn’t very hard for me.
The animation doesn’t fair much better here I’m afraid. The syrens’ movement is stiff and stilted when they are chasing you. When they catch you it’s even worse. It should be frightening, and the first time it is, but the animation is exactly the same every time and it loses it’s shock almost instantly. The idea seems to be that the syren latches on to you and starts eating your face, but it’s not overly effective because she is chomping the air about a foot in front of your face. Camera clipping probably prevents her from being able to realistically lunch on your visage because her face would just disappear and it would look terrible. Which leads me to wonder why they chose to do that in the first place? It would have been more effective if she chewed open your neck and blood sprayed everywhere. And, for crap’s sake, she should not be stuck right on my face. Nothing should ever be glued to my face except maybe glasses and the occasional HUD.
Okay, that’s the bad news. At this point you could be forgiven for wondering if there is any good news. Thankfully there is. How much weight this good news carries will depend on what you want out of your VR but I will present it for your consideration. The environments are quite well made and therefore the immersion, when you aren’t looking at the syrens anyway, is fantastic. That’s what keeps me going into the game. It reminds me a lot of the brief time I spent playing Alien Isolation on my DK2 way back in the day.
Syren could stand to have a few improvements made for sure. Not being a full blown developer I can’t say how realistic these improvements are. I suspect redoing the animations and AI are not small matters and given the small install base, I’m not sure making those improvements would be a wise business decision either. But if those two things were improved Syren would be a much better game for it. It’s not a bad game as is. I’ve played worse…much worse. But I’ve played much better as well. If you’re new to VR and your lenses still have that new rose colour, the immersion may be enough to warrant a purchase. If you’re a hardened VR veteran who cares more about the gameplay than about just being inside a game then you might find this game to be pretty disappointing.
I started this review on Friday. It’s now Tuesday and my opinions on the game have not changed. Should my opinion on the game change with more play time I will update this review but I am not expecting it will. Not without some updates.
- Comfort Level (Variable) 50%
- Graphics 85%
- Sound 65%
- Difficulty 90%
- Fun Factor 65%
- Overall 65%
Daryle Henry | Dads And Dragons