Reviewed: June 22, 2004
Released: June 9, 2004
Survival horror has never been as brutal or terrifying as depicted in Midway’s latest blood-fest known as The Suffering. Not known for releasing games on the PC, Midway turned Surreal's fright-fest over to Encore for the PC port, and now the game that had Xbox and PS2 players shaking harder than their vibrating gamepads is now ready to scare a whole new PC crowd.
I’m a huge fan of all things “scary”, which has ultimately led me to a place where nothing much scares me these days…or at least so I thought. The Suffering is truly terrifying, both in atmosphere, monster creations, and violent bloody gameplay. It's terror at the most obvious levels, but it also digs into your subconscious and preys upon your inner most fears. The Suffering is more than scary – it’s downright disturbing.
The Suffering tells the tale of Torque, a man sentenced to deathrow for the murder of his wife and kids. Whether he did the crime is for you to find out, but the fact is you are in prison and the guards and your fellow cellmates aren’t too happy about it. Even less friendly are the denizens of hell that are about to be unleashed during a violent earthquake.
One by one, prisoners and guards are brutally slaughtered, spraying the floors, ceiling, walls, and even Torque with countless gallons blood. Bodies are mutilated or displayed in various poses of religious or ritualistic sacrifice. You’ll quickly forget the story, why you are here, or anything else other than the primitive need for survival and escape. If you live long enough you might just find some answers to questions better left unasked.
The Suffering does a fantastic job of creating a horrific atmosphere and keeping you immersed for the duration of the game and quite possibly for a few hours after your turn off your computer. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself flipping a few extra light switches on your way to bed or possibly taking a quick peek in the closet. The Suffering will inflict severe horrors on your psyche that will stay with you long after you stop playing.
After the obligatory opening movie you are introduced to what would normally become a group of allies for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, there is little left that is identifiable after the initial attack of creatures so evil and so hideous that words can hardly describe them. The monsters in The Suffering are all demented creatures modeled after various styles of execution then twisted further by the creative minds at Stan Winston studios.
Each creature has a distinct look, which also affects their style of attack and even their AI. Monsters are numerous in variety so you are constantly forced to keep changing your tactics. Some creatures can climb walls or ceilings while others appear from puddles of water pooled on the floor. They attack with weapons, body parts, or weapons used as body parts.
As you make your way through the prison you will encounter several characters, most of which will die grisly deaths before your very eyes. Sometimes you get to team-up with characters, go on fetch quests, or fight side by side. There is a clever mix of exploration and minor puzzle solving combined with intense fighting.
With a press of a key you can change the view from first-person to third-person. While you can play the entire game in either mode, most gamers will prefer the third-person for exploration and fighting multiple opponents. This view offers a traditional gameplay experience along the lines of Max Payne. You move around with the WADS keys and control the camera with the mouse. Everything is totally configurable and considering its console roots, the game plays exceptionally well with a mouse and keyboard.
To go against the awesome forces of evil Torque has a splendid arsenal of weapons at his command ranging from handguns, shotguns, and machineguns to grenades and explosives. Even more devastating is when Torque goes into his “rage mode”, morphing into a powerful beast that can rip demons into bite-sized chunks.
Despite the simple mechanics of the gameplay there is a complex story, or rather set of stories, going on in the background. While you are trying to escape with your life you will learn through cutscenes, flashbacks, hallucinations, and in-game narrative the source of the demonic infestation and even some useful information about your own personal situation.
The pacing of The Suffering is handled nicely with an intentional unbalanced mix of tense exploration followed by periods of frenzied combat. This offset balancing is just another tool to keep you on your toes and generally uncomfortable.
One particularly nice feature is the opened-ended gameplay where you are allowed to dictate your own future and ultimately arrive at one of multiple endings based on your actions during the game. At any time during the game you have free will to kill or torture almost anyone, friend or foe. These choices crop up all over the game and the culmination of these decisions will determine your fate.
Provided your system meets the required specs you are going to get a game that looks much better than it's PS2 and even Xbox counterparts. I was able to run the game at 1600x1200 and the graphics popped off the screen with bloody detail. The overall visual impact of The Suffering is stunning and terrifying. By far the creatures in this game are the most horrible things you have ever seen in a video game, perhaps even in a movie. The overall mood is made even more sinister by dark environments with singular light sources that cast long flickering shadows.
The Suffering definitely favors indoor locales. The prison levels are nicely modeled and detailed, but once you make it outside things aren’t quite as nice. Textures are generally excellent with a wonderful blood-splatter effect that is treated as a secondary render pass so blood sprays and sticks to existing models. This means that if you hit a monster with a shotgun blast the blood that shoots from the back will realistically splatter the wall. Don’t be surprised when Torque, himself becomes literally drenched in blood.
Special effects are not only visually impressive but they are also artistic in their cinematic value. You will actually start experiencing "virtual hallucinations" as ghosts and phantoms will subliminally flash on the screen and you start experiencing odd visions from the facility's sinister and haunted past.
Even at ultra-high resolutions I was managing some really good framerates with only some minor slowdown when multiple enemies populate the screen and the blood starts spraying the walls. The game is totally scalable so you can tweak dozens of options to get the perfect mix of quality versus performance. You're virtually guaranteed to get a better looking game than the console version - how much better is based on your system.
The visuals dictate that much of what you encounter in The Suffering is heard long before it is seen. There are events taking place in the game in real-time that will transpire whether you are there to witness them or not, so expect to hear plenty of horrific screams through doors, wall, or air vents. Monsters have their own signature sounds that will warn you when they are near.
The music is rather limited, which actually enhances the gameplay by either keeping things eerily quiet or auspiciously loud with chilling audio effects. Environmental effects create their own haunting soundtrack, but when music is required it is there to enhance the moment. There is a superb 3D audio mix that will literally surround you in a spine-tingling mix.
Voice acting is also quite good starting with convincing hardened criminals reciting their scripted lines featuring more profanities than any two R-rated movies. Some of the acting is a little rough but so are these characters. The guards are surly with plenty of attitude and you can tell they don’t like their jobs or our hero. The deeper you go into the game the better the acting gets, and John Armstrong turns in a memorable performance as Dr. Killjoy.
The Suffering is unique in that if offers you multiple endings but the paths to those endings are not always clearly defined. They are more the culmination of the choices you make throughout the game, a morality reward system if you will. This will certainly encourage at least a second pass through the game, and for those that do, you will be surprised with an alternate “beginning” that is unlocked after you complete the game the first time.
Expect each pass to take anywhere from 10-12 hours, which seems to be the norm for most action game these days, at least ones with a story. It’s definitely worth purchasing for anyone who enjoys a good scare. If you played Clive Barker's Undying and liked it then you must get this game.
In a world full of survival horror games it’s hard to make another one stand out, but the PC is actually a bit light when it comes to this genre. Other than the aforementioned Undying I can't remember the last good scare I had on my PC that didn't involve a virus or a hard drive crash.
The Suffering obliterates the rules of terror and even common decency to deliver a delightfully twisted horror game that will scare the fearless and chill the spine of the bravest soul. It was a great ride on the consoles and it's just as good on the PC. Play it…I dare you.