Reviewed: Novmeber 13, 2005
Released: September 30, 2005
Midway is easily one of the top companies when it comes to gore and violence. And while this wonít have the boys in Stockholm knocking on their doors with a Nobel Prize in hand, it does afford them a certain respect commensurate with their experience and Ė more importantly - notoriety. So itís no surprise that they made a game, now a burgeoning franchise, that involves the horrors of incarceration and the nature of evil in the criminal mind.
The Suffering games chronicle the life and (hard) times of a man named Torque, who is introduced to us while on death row in a maximum security island prison. Apparently things took a turn into Silent Hill territory around the time of his execution with the assault of a sickening cadre of ghoulish prisoners that were literally manifestations of their own dark crimes and personalities. Weíre talking junkies that had hypodermic needles for legs and whatnot. Weird stuff.
Anyway, The Suffering: Ties That Bind picks up where the first game left off, as Torque struggles to deal with his inner demons and to find out what happened to the family he doesn't remember killing (for which he was condemned). And anyone whoís played the first game knows all about Torque's inner demon.
Like the aforementioned Silent Hill, youíre dealing with a popular genre that seems to show no signs of waning in the publicís hearts. Not hard to believe when every other movie seems to be a horror movie like The Ring or The Grudge. Come to think of it, The Suffering makes for a great title, eh? Games like these rely on the unsettling nature of the locations and the horrifying visage of each nightmarish creature around every dark corner for their blood and butter. I mean bread and Ė oh, never mind.
Naturally, Midway wanted to keep what worked in the original game while adding new elements based on whatever feedback one assumes they solicited. So, the question is, did they avoid the sophomore jinx? Not really, Iím sorry to say. The interesting parts of the first story are overwrought in this sequel, making for a game thatís scary to play in all of the wrong ways.
One of the primary scare tactics of the first game was the use of Torqueís hallucinations which happened at the perfect moment, making you wonder if what you were seeing was real or Torqueís guilt plaguing him. In Ties That Bind, the hallucinations seem to come every time you enter a new room, which causes a lot more confusion than should be happening. There are times when it actually interferes with you defending yourself, and Iím not talking about something thatís part of the gameís design. Iím talking about a problem with the PC loading up the event and playing it while youíre getting attacked from out of nowhere by an enemy you canít locate, since the areaís so dark and grungy.
Near the beginning of the game itís especially bad as nearly every hallway triggers ominous voices and visions that are supposed to be clues to Torqueís past and ultimately his future, but for the life of me I couldnít make heads or tails of a lot of it. Itís like a perverse version of the Itís A Small World ride at Disneyland. You just sit and watch and listen but donít participate, and ultimately it feels like a waste of time.
Thankfully, thereís a nice variety of weapons to choose from - something every game of this type needs - which always makes for an interesting time when youíre on the run from evil. Just about every kind of nasty explosive and blunt object you can think of makes an appearance at some point or another for the liberal destruction of your eerie locality.
Each weapon satisfies well enough in this game, but the distinct lack of available ammo is frustrating. All too often you end up running for cover as your life drains away from enemy attacks while hoping you'll pop into demon mode. Certainly the demon mode is fun, but when it becomes the only way to get through certain areas not related to pivotal events in the game, it gets kind of silly if somewhat exhilarating.
The enemy AI is bit dodgy as well, with attacks that come from too many places at once, causing you to have to whip around constantly to get your bearings as shot after shot eats away at your life bar. In part this is due to the overly dark and grimy textures. I mean, I know it's a dirty part of Baltimore, with sewers and run-down tenements, but when everything washes together with the monsters scuttling about, it gets disorienting in a way that doesn't help game play.
The graphics are suitably dreary, but even on a good PC, the textures seem a little too muddy and repetitive. Of course, this shouldn't be a problem when you're in a large laboratory facility or prison sewer system where halls and rooms look largely similar, but even the flashlight that Torque wears doesn't seem to help lead you around when the way isn't clearly laid out.
In places like T's old apartment, it was blind luck that let me find the light switch on the wall of the kitchen, which sadly had no effect on the constant chattering of T's apparently dead wife, Carmen. And that's indicative of a larger problem: for a modern PC game where clues have to be sought out in settings that resemble real-life places or events, you need clear, sharp graphics.
Granted, the game looks nice, but there are younger, hotter games out there and all things being equal, I want to feel like I'm getting a return on my investment, know what I mean? At least the character models - particularly the monsters designed by Stan Winston's special effects studio - look pretty cool in terms of detail and animations. It's pretty damned creepy when they appear out of nowhere and come scurrying towards you in the dark.
I will say this however; the cut scenes are well done with a great deal of cinematic flair. It's easy to see how this game sparked interest in Hollywood and the impending flick should be well worth a look see.
At least the audio is pretty good for a title like this where it is integral to the mood of the game, and just a great factor in the enjoyment thereof. The audio hallucinations (or are they?) of Torque as he runs through Baltimore in search of answers provide an unsettling backdrop for all of the expected sounds of inner city strife Ė though I did get tired of hearing that invisible dog every five seconds. Which brings up an interesting point: how do you go running through places like urban Baltimore and not run into pedestrians or even the odd wino? The streets, while aurally teeming with life, are noticeably bare.
The weapons as well as enemies all have their own visual cues and benefit from the sound department's hard work as itís all pulled together. Most gamers are familiar by now with the sound of a revolver or a shotgun, so while the game would be rather silly without those sounds itís not like thereís a great variety to a sampled .357 Magnum; I mean itís either there or itís not. Bottom line, good audio.
The music however seems practically nonexistent except during intros and menus and boss battles where it doesn't distract, but it doesn't draw you in like the developers surely wanted to. At least the soundtrack didnít get saddled with the latest top 20 nu-metal wannabes. Hear that, developers? Itís time to move on.
If you're the type of person that has to see all of the alternate endings of a game in order to come to a fuller understanding (and ultimately appreciation) of the game at large, then you'll probably get a few extra hours out of running around and playing the game as either a goody-two shoes or a man [literally] possessed. Thatís right, the developers saw fit to up the ante on you by tracking how you react to conflicts. After all, this is a game about crime, punishment, redemption, good, evil, et cetera.
So, based on how you treat non-threatening civilians for instance, the game follows a different path. Naturally, most gamers will simply delight in killing everything in sight just to see the blood flow, but cíest la vie.
The Suffering was something of a sleeper hit for Midway. Figuring that they should leverage the current trend for horror, theyíve produced the inexorable sequel. But, as is all too often the case, the sequel only tries to deliver more of the same in terms of blood and gore. Torque tries to figure out his past while running from the demons of the present. It all gets kind of boring about halfway through, especially after those hallucinations make you a little too dizzy.
But the game looks good enough by current standards and plays well enough too. If you liked the first one, youíll probably like the sequel. But if youíve never played either, you might want to just rent this one to play after watching The Ring 2 or something.