SYREN (2017) is a single-player, survival-horror game that will have you sneaking around corners, hiding under virtual desks, and flailing helplessly as you’re mauled to death by the world’s ghastly “Syrens,” a terrifying amalgamation of human/robot/awfulness. Despite some pretty distracting bugs in the game, it’s safe to say that people with high blood pressure or heart conditions need not apply.


SYREN Details:

Developer: Hammerhead VR
Available On: Oculus Touch, HTC Vive (Steam and Oculus Home)
Reviewed on: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift
Release Date: February 15th, 2017


Update 02/16/17: Hammerhead VR originally provided us with a Steam code for review purposes. After publishing the review, the studio informed us that the Steam code was actually for an older version of the game, and that many of the bugs we encountered had already been fixed. Furnished with a new Oculus Store code, we were able to verify that many of the bugs, at least for the Rift version (originally detailed in the ‘Immersion’ section of the review) including difficulty with Touch’s control scheme, virtual hand position, and shooting guns, were indeed fixed. The issue of ‘wall-hacking’ was also addressed to a large degree, as physically moving through walls will entirely black out your vision. Some architecture, like support beams and furniture can however still be used in this manner for cover.

Because we believe this was an honest mistake on the part of the studio, we’ve altered the ‘Immersion’ score to reflect the changes, which in turn has pushed the overall score up by a half-point. You’ll find the original article below with an asterix (*) appended to the few sections where bugs had either been completely fixed, or addressed in some way by the studio.

Gameplay

Much like Alien: Isolation (2014), Syren is an absolutely terrifying game of hide and seek, but this time instead of the claustrophobic world of a spaceship and an acid-spitting Xenomorph, you’re in an underwater research facility placed above an ancient lost city once populated by a species of kind-of-sexy, kind-of-horrific mermaids—at least they were supposed to be, as the creatures you meet are genetically engineered copies called Syrens.

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Created by a scientist obsessed with eugenics, your job is to escape the now damaged facility that’s become overwhelmed with the free-roaming Syren, going across a number of levels filled with deceased colleagues and all manner of interactive items that can bring you ever closer to the 5-level facility’s next pressurized door.

syren2

Each level is essentially a puzzle with a few different solutions, from nabbing a keycard off a desk and sneaking past a lonely Syren, to all-out shoot-em-up chaos with multiple baddies as you learn the mystery of the madman who created the facility.

The game has a very specific idea of how it wants you to proceed, something I found to be slightly frustrating early on. After getting killed multiple times by the same Syren and getting tossed back to the beginning of the level, I found out that when they lunge at your throat, you can’t simply whack the beast to death with an ax that you collected earlier like you naturally would if someone was coming at you and you had a melee weapon in hand. Rather, the game wants you to physically throw the ax, thereby losing it in the thing’s face so the game can leave you without a weapon for the next trial. The only way you can figure this out is either by having the original thought to toss the ax, or by failing your way to the solution like I did.

Although there’s a steep learning curve to how you interact with the Syren (mostly by staying far away from them, running and hiding for your life), eventually the game becomes a little more intuitive as you learn the rules that the AI Syren abide by. For example, if a Syren gets close enough to you, it initiates an uninterruptible attack that you have to stomach—a wailing monster screaming in your face and biting your neck—so you learn to avoid these pants-shitting moments as best you can, otherwise you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the level.

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'Alien: Isolation' is One of VR's Missed Opportunities, But There's Still Hope

syren-ax

You can get away from Syrens by hiding stealthily, teleporting quickly to find cover, or by distracting them by throwing items far away from you to take them off your track. Since the monsters react to noise (and strangely enough not your voice via the headset’s microphone), they will scream over to where the object landed, only to find no one there, giving you some time to dodge around them. There are however multiple Syrens per level, so this is where it gets tricky.

Several times I found myself hiding under a desk, or behind a dead body for cover, all the while hearing the banshee screams and heavy breathing of the genetically engineered monsters coming my way. And if it weren’t enough of a fright, no matter where they find you, cowering in a corner or halfway outside of a locker, they always grab you by the face and scream a horrifying noise into your ears.

Immersion

The Syrens make a lot of noise, which should be a good thing on principle so you can avoid them efficiently, but the noise wasn’t at all muffled by objects like walls or barriers like in real life. If you find yourself sandwiched in a side room with two Syrens slinking around and breathing all scary-like, you won’t have a good idea of realistically where they are. Instead, a Syren will sound like they’re right on top of you even though you have a concrete wall between you.

Whether you’re using Oculus Touch or the Vive’s Lighthouse controllers, hands simply aren’t centered 1:1, making them seem a full three inches away from where your hands naturally rest on the controllers. While it’s not game-breaking, it certainly hampers immersion. In the end, this isn’t something dramatic to fix, but how such a critical immersive error got through on launch, I’m just not sure.*

On the note of controllers, Oculus Touch support could be a lot better. The game requires you to push down and click on the joystick to teleport, which proves to be just about as awkward as can be. Teleporting is much more intuitive on the Vive, requiring you to simply rest your thumb on the touchpad and engage a quick click, but Rift users beware.*

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'ABE VR' is Now Available for Free, Becomes BBFC's First Rated VR Title

gun-syren

Firing guns in the game unfortunately never felt natural on either Touch or Vive controller, as your index-trigger is used to pick up and hold items and a regular button press is used to activate or fire it. This made it feel more like changing the channel on a remote control than firing a gun.*

And this is the part of the article where I make my biggest confession. I am a dirty, no good, wall-hacking cheater.*

Because the game is room-scale, it means you can teleport close to walls and actually walk through them. Some games like Budget Cuts or Onward (2016) don’t allow you to do this, either by making it impossible to see or leaving your body behind to be ravaged by enemies, but not so with Syren. When a screaming water-banshee is running you down, and you can walk straight through a wall and escape—the natural choice is to flee anyway the game will let you. While I know I’m a weak and shameful person for using this cheat to get away, it really shouldn’t even be an option in the first place.

There, I feel better now.

Comfort

While you’ll never be truly comfortable with genetically modified mermaid-beasts skulking around, nuts and bolts-wise Syren is a supremely comfortable experience because it lets you explore the world using teleportation and 45 degree snap-turning—two common locomotion schemes that most everyone shouldn’t have a problem in the nausea department.

Even though at times I honestly wish I could sit down and mash a joystick forward on a gamepad instead of frantically selecting a place to teleport—because it’s not only faster, but easier—the standing room-scale aspect of the game lends to overall comfort and immersion. And somehow it’s always scarier that way, as you’re on your hands and knees hiding behind something and hoping the monster doesn’t see you.


exemplar-2We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
7.5

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  • Brandon Smith

    Ugh.

    The paragraph of “Syren has a very specific idea of what it wants you to do” really hurts me. I HATE that in video games.

    Designing a game isn’t about FORCING the player to enact the developers fantasy of what should happen. Much like the first King’s Quest game, if something makes sense… you should be able to do it. It’s about completing the challenge of the circumstance, not acting out the developers perfectly scripted fantasy. As accomplished as they might feel in realizing their dream on screen, it only frustrates the player. Me, anyhow. And I feel like VR only magnifies the desire for the player to be able to solve problems THEIR way. It is, after all virtual REALITY. Anything that SHOULD work in that version of reality should be allowed for by the game.

    • Lucidfer

      Developing such a game is pretty hard, and there barely exists engines, apis or framework to develop multi-contextual narrative or interactive gameplays. We have generative games but they get pretty bland quick, we have sandbox/open-world but they are still tied to linear localised quest, which gets boring and repetitive quick.

      However there’s a generation of AI-back contextual narrative or interactive games on the horizon like the Bot Colony, Starship Commander, Forest of Sleep and a few others.

      • Brandon Smith

        Well, in my personal opinion, I don’t believe it’s that hard. It becomes hard when developers want to tell a very specific story. It’s all give and take. Unfortunately, developers have created a taste among gamers for fancy graphics and scripted scenes. But a lot of those gamers don’t realize what they have to sacrifice in order to get that.

        I Expect You To Die, for example, does it right. In my opinion at least. *solution spoiler* there is a part in the game where you can fill an engine with gas from a pipe. My friend did it on his playthrough of the game as I watched him. My mind was blown because it never occurred to me to do that. I, instead, took an empty soda bottle and repeated filled it up and then poured it’s contents into the tank. There’s another scene where you, as an undercover agent, have been spotted. You can “win” the scenario by simply acting your role and avoiding being suspicious… or you can use a gun and shoot the person. It’s up to you. And the beauty of it is that the other solution may never even OCCUR to you.

        This is a game in the direct lineage of the first adventure game Kings Quest 1, from the late 80s, where you could kill a dragon by using a knife, if you got it. or you could use an item that turns you invisible and sneak by. Or you can fill a bucket and douse his flames. It’s up to you and whatever solution you come up with.

        It’s all quite doable, it just has to have a development team that is more interested in empowering the player than they are in tightly scripting a specific series of events that they think are cool.

        As the review says, it really don’t make sense not to be able to fight the chimera off with the and instead HAVE to throw, and lose it. Even if the situation demanded that you throw it, not being able to pick it back up is arbitrary. Games like that make me feel like an actor trying to guess the script I failed to memorize rather than a player of a game or a character in a story.

        • Lucidfer

          I agree with your approach, although I do like well-enough designed scripted games but the vast majority fail at crafting it, in it’s gameplay, landscapes or interaction in a compelling way.

          There’s also the illusion of choice mechanics as used in Bioshock that gives you an impression of freedom, and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human or Mass Effect.

          But the underlaying reasons for devs not adopting contextual gameplay is I think because game creators except more from it’s possibilities in 2010s, mainly actually contextual physical, interactional and narrative blueprints and engines to develop games in which you are truly free, because what you are describing is non more that multi-choices games that are great in the limited context of a car as in I Expect You To Die or a linear game with multiple choices like King’s Quest.

          • Brandon Smith

            Well, I mean, you’re absolutely right that it’s impossible for a game to account for every single thing that a person might try. That’s an unreasonable expectation. But I’m merely talking about things that are logical and things that the gamer should have a reasonable expectation to have work.

            For instance, I really hate The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The main reason I hate it, although I like Zelda games, is because there was a bizarre adventure game element at the beginning of the game that tasked me, as link, with bringing a particular cat to a particular person. Finding the cat is easy. TP, as in most Zelda games, allows link to pick things up. You can pick up the Cat. So I, obviously, pick the cat up and bring it to the person’s house. I walk in the door and… the cat disappears. Okay, apparently that doesn’t work for some bizarre reason. I try it again. You can do an action to get the cat to follow you, walking right behind you as you walk through town. “Surely THIS must be the answer”, I thought. NOPE. Despite the cat following me all the way to where he needs to be, he disappears when I walk in the door.

            It turned out that the game wanted you to do some specific task to get the game to register the cat as being with Link. But that is just another case of where the developers wanted you to do a VERY SPECIFIC thing to solve the puzzle, not actually solve the problem they were presenting to you.

            If I need to cut a rope and my character is carrying a sword… I should be able to use the sword to cut the rope. I shouldn’t have to find the designated “rope cutter” just because that’s the way they want me to go.

            I feel like this is going to be more the case in VR because those limitations will feel even more arbitrary.

          • Lucidfer

            I COMPLETELY agree with you. And I’m glad some people have the right expectations in game design. In fact there’s the same problem in software design, especially interface design and development.

            If you take a step back I call that conception, a job that has completely disappeared from most companies and HR maps and become a rare oddity which if successful, people will simply lazily describe as “talent” or “genius”.

            Well Nintendo are probably some of the best game designer and crafter but indeed sometimes it doesn’t make sense. The vast majority of game producers don’t even hold a candle to them.

          • NooYawker

            wait, don’t you hate VR?

          • Lucidfer

            I don’t hate VR, I hate untalented product conceptors, and unperceptive kool-aid fanboys.

          • “Did you know that this crap VIRTUAL REALITY like the Virtual Boy, 20 YEARS AGO, sold 800K headset in less than a year. How many did the CV1 and Vive sell 4 Years after the DK1? How that’s right, not even 400k combined.
            Actually you probably don’t understand my point: I think current VR headset are NOT VR either, like 90s headset weren’t. I think they are the same unfinished crap relative to today’s technology and what a VR headset should be. But maybe you just try you first headset this christmas and your eyes are full of glittery amazement, until you take a step back, then 2, 3 and so on…

            ” <<< If you call that positive about VR then you must be one sour little muppet.

            All I read from you is negative ranting about how VR failed to sell and how it's the same as it was in the 90's.

          • He has his mobile VR surgically attached to his hi[. No other VR matters to him. Thinks PCVR is pointless.

          • Doesn’t he know that cell phones have hardly changed since the 90’s?

            :)

          • OK… Let’s try a new approach:

            Say something positive about current gen VR… If you have something positive to say… I’m genuinely interested to hear it………..

  • inket

    The steam link is for Knockout League

    • benz145

      Thanks, fixed!

  • Lucidfer

    Why doesn’t Road2VR makes giveaways alongside testing VR games?

    • Given your bitter rant about VR being a failure and not being usable for 15 years… why are you spending time here?

      • Lucidfer

        The first part of the statement true, however I never said it IS not usable for 15 years before the future. As for spending time here, pissing you off just became another incentive.

        • so you have two reasons… jealous rage about not owning VR and pissing me off. Well done. I must say that after a few years of dealing with anti-vr trolls I spotted your crap pretty quickly.

        • Failure or not, it’s good that it’s available so enthusiasts can help refine it.

          There are plenty of cool things PC can do with VR that mobile can only dream of :)

          Many of those things are fan created stuff, mods, Vr emulators, ZELDa VR, UNITY, Unreal tech demos, blah blah blah, you get it.

  • The game reviewer is a dirty, no good, wall-hacking cheater. However…. recognising that is the first step in his recovery and for that he should be applauded. This game looks nice. Anything in VR with breasts is a good thing.

  • AndyP

    Why are they still making teleportation locomotion games?! Res 7 (in particular) and other titles have shown that it’s not necessary, and ruins the experience for the majority of users. I was interested until I read “teleportation”, and now I won’t be buying.

    • Martin

      There’s an option for stick movement. :)

    • Lol. You sound like me. I tried this game last night and it has option for forward/back full locomotion… turning around is step-turn. Vive controls for this on each track-pad.

    • Sam Illingworth

      I like teleportation!

      • Well if u can’t handle full locomotion then of course. That’s why it needs to be optional.

        • Sam Illingworth

          Yep! Wish that Deux Ex experience had included teleportation. Not as much as I wish they would work on a sequel to the game proper, but still…

    • J.C.

      I think games should offer both, unless there’s a very, VERY good reason not to. Hoverboarding around doesn’t feel natural to me at all, and no more or less immersive than teleporting. It DOES help with situational awareness, but in roomscale games it feels like something’s terribly wrong with my legs.

      Anyhow, the game looks visually impressive in screenshots, are we finally seeing developers pushing the visuals into “requires a 1070 or 1080” territory?

      • NooYawker

        I don’t understand why they can’t have both. I even understand how a game could have locomotion and not teleporting because I think teleportation is additional work for developers. I could be wrong.

        • Teleporting isn’t viable for a game like star citizen with fast FPS mode… or a game like Battlefield.

          • NooYawker

            Multiplayer should definitely not have teleporting. That would be like the early days of Quake where everyone played on a modem and was teleporting all over the place because of lag. Come to think of it Syren isn’t good for teleporting either. If you’re supposed to sneak around teleporting doesn’t make much sense.

          • Teleport makes any vr game feel like a Myst adventure.

  • I’ve seen the hand not matching up in Thunderbird for steam also.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Still waiting on the official ‘DLC’ for Alien Isolation for supporting VR headsets.

    • DougP

      Re: “Still waiting on the official ‘DLC'”

      Hopefully not holding your breath. ;)

  • DougP

    Re: 7.5 vs Steam reviews

    Wow, steam reviews are nowhere near 7.5 avg.
    Will have to give this one more time, hopefully seeing an uptick in positives, before purchase.

  • I purchased this game pretty quickly last night. The set design and atmosphere are great. Controls are some hybrid locomotion (a blend of full forward/back locomotion and step turn) but the teleport mode still works (some people have complained about this).

    On the training when I was asked to use a fire extinguisher to put out the flaming bed… I dropped the extinguisher and was unable to pick it up again.

    Some of the sound effects don’t fit with the room acoustics… when I picked up a small device from a desk on the first level… and put it down again it echoed in a very unnatural way.

    I hadn’t read this game review sufficiently to grasp what I was supposed to do to kill the first syren so I ended up going insane with level restarts.

  • Jona Adams

    Meh, teleportation is for babies.

  • ITALI-LORI-MONTI

    hanno messo la possibilità di scegliere teletrasporto o normale!!