A frighteningly good, but not prefect horror experience.
If you like a good scare virtual reality (VR) offers some of the best around, from short animations like Sisters and ABE VR, to proper interactive experiences like Resident Evil 7 or Albino Lullaby. If your horror collection isn’t yet full enough, Hammerhead VR’s latest project Syren should offer a tempting prospect, taking you into a dark and dangerous world where making the slightest noise can put you in jeopardy.
Coming from the studio that created ABE VR, Syren features a classic story of science gone too far, with a deep underwater lab experimenting with eugenics. Intern the scientists have created the Syren’s, creatures that have similarities with mythical mermaids who don’t like their creators and carnage has ensued. Waking up in the medbay you have just one mission, escape with your life, although that’s easier said than done.
Syren isn’t an action title, it’s about being calm, collected and above all silent. Stealth is your most valuable skill as you wander the corridors of the research facility. You’re completely alone as you search areas for a way out, until you hear that first scream. The richly detailed environments – although not as pin sharp as the screenshots would have you believe – allow you to pick up and interact with an assortment of items, but most will make some sort of noise that’ll alert the very creatures you’re trying to avoid.
The experience doesn’t feature any inventory options whatsoever, there’s no pocket or backpack to place useful items in, just what you can hold in your hands. For the most part this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as the videogame isn’t geared towards collecting things, but it can be somewhat tedious having to constantly hold the trigger down on both controllers as you’re teleporting through the labs. As mentioned Syren uses the often used teleport mechanic to move around, which has been well worn into multiple VR titles. While it works well enough, the distance the game allows you to move is relatively short, and from time to time becomes erratic requiring a couple of attempts to work.
What Syren does extremely well is atmosphere. From the design of the gloomy labs to the wailing Syren’s, the tense feeling the experience delivers is excellent, delivering a continual sense of foreboding. That being said, the atmosphere can become somewhat unstuck due to a couple of reasons. Firstly there’s being caught. Should a Syren see or hear you then its pretty much game over, shrieking then rushing towards you for certain death. If this happens you’ll restart the area no matter how far you might have managed to sneak, becoming somewhat repetitive in the process and far less scary. The other issue relates to sound. It plays a massive part in creating the horror experience and hearing the Syren’s screams makes it even more intense. What tends to happen though is if you’re in a room with one of them the positional audio works fine, but head to an adjoining corridor and the wails still sound as if they’re right next to you, which can be disconcerting or just plain annoying.
In terms of actual gameplay it’s all about the sneaking, ducking behind tables or slowly peering around corners to get a glimpse of one is a nerve wracking experience. That’s the core and if you’re not one for stealth then there might not be enough here to entertain you. Every level requires a key card to be found unlocking the lift to the next area, so you do need to explore rather than just running to the exit.
Despite some of its flaws on the whole Syren works very well, but because of this there’s not enough. Most players will find the experience too short, easily completed within a couple of hours depending on restarts. Hammerhead VR has shown it can really do VR horror some justice, but Syren needs some more polish to be a standout experience.