Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart represented something of a low point
in Artifex Mundi's library for me, so approaching The Siren's Call I didn't have the highest of expectations, or really any to speak of. Maybe it was the lack of enthusiasm on my part or the benefit of having a few other Artifex Mundi games pop up between its two pirate themed adventures. but Nightmares of the Deep managed to avoid the vast majority of the problems which brought down its predecessor and could easily sit as one of the developer's most polished works.
In a lot of ways, Artifex Mundi has "fixed" Nightmares of the Deep by basically retconning the entire first game. It follows a nearly identical premise, features similar puzzles, and has effectively the same structure as The Cursed Heart. In some ways this makes it feel somewhat redundant, as if you've played the prior game there's a constant feeling of deja vu following you around as Artifex Mundi mostly tries to pretend that game doesn't exist. But they've also done so much to improve the originally underwhelming experience that I still found myself enjoying their signature brand of casual adventure game HOGs (hidden object games) and appreciating the ways they'd found to streamline and subtly enhance a familiar formula. It also means that if you never played The Cursed Heart you're under no obligation to before The Siren's Call, as for all intents and purposes this is a second start for the series, and a markedly better one at that.
Siren Call's most immediate upgrade is its visuals, especially that of character faces and animations. Gone are the unnerving lip spasms, clunky walks, and convenient tricks to hide a lack of animation, replaced with actual facial movements and a significant increase in the amount and quality of animation in every area of the game. It might still be fairly tame compared to games with budgets in the multi-millions, but it goes a long way to making Siren's Call stand out among its peers as almost certainly the prettiest HOG I've ever played.
Other fixes are less overt but no less desirable, such as fast travel carried over from previous Artfiex Mundi games which cuts out all the tedious backtracking that was at its worst in Cursed Heart, helping especially in making the end game fetch quest something I actually enjoyed. Contextual puzzle solving has a much larger focus now, with logical solutions that make you feel more like an improvising scavenger than someone that just happened to stumble into a pile of junk with everything you need. They're a lot of small alterations that might not be immediately apparent, but make it hard to imagine going back to the way games of the genre have been for so long.
The one place Siren's Call failed just as much as its predecessor is its narrative, which once again borrows heavily from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. I wouldn't say I expect to find Pulitzer worthy writing in this style of game, but Artifex Mundi's prowess at delightfully cheesy plots remains nowhere to be found in Nightmares from the Deep. Plot holes abound, motives feel contrived and character reactions even more incomprehensible, and in general Siren's Call is trying so hard to be serious that it just comes across as dry and frankly pretty boring.
Compared to The Cursed Heart's list of annoyances though, that's a not insignificant step up in quality, and leaves the inevitable third game in a position to finally bring the series up to the standards Artifex Mundi has set themselves with other games. I'm still not entirely sure why Nightmares of the Deep seems to be the flagship title in their eyes, but if future games can keep in line with The Siren's Call I wouldn't be all that bothered to have a few more of them.