Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-11-20 06:38:00

The Suffering: The Ties That Bind


I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on…

When the first game in the Suffering series was released, it was to critical indifference. It was seen as trying too hard to be dark and edgy, throwing in lots of blood, gore and random swearing simply because it could. This was a Mature game for Mature gamers – read: impressionable teenagers who still think saying ‘fuck’ is the epitome of cool. First impressions, however, are never anything short of deceptive. Actually play it, and you’ll discover that, behind the swearing and the violence and the unrelenting darkness of it all, there’s actually a good game behind it. Surprising considering the lengths it goes to to prove it’s got a pair, but The Suffering actually had something to back up its posturing. The plot concerned Torque, prison for the murder of his wife and kids. He was being transferred to the brutal Abbot State Prison on Carnate Island, before an earthquake released all manner of evil monsters and freaks. Barely escaping, Torque made it to Baltimore, and is now hunting his old stomping grounds for a man known only as Blackmore.

One of the interesting things about plot of the original game was there were three different endings depending on how you played it. Along the way, there were people you could save or outright kill depending on your actions. Save people, and the story would reveal that you’d been framed for the murder of your family. Kill anyone and everyone and you’d be shown as an irredeemable monster. In the first game, all this would do is affect your ending. Here, it also acts as a sort of experience meter for your Insanity Mode, a sort of berserker mode in which you turn into a giant rampaging demon and rip everything around you a thousand new ones. It was somewhat gimped in the last game, since if you over-relied on it, you’d eventually trigger the third ending of the game, the Beast ending, which pretty much sucked if you were aiming for one of the other two. Here, it’s been fleshed out properly. Depending on your alignment, you’ll not only get a different form, but different attacks as well. And considering a whole class of enemies requires you to use it, it’s probably a good thing.

Outside of that, the game does a lot of other things right. The voice acting is a cut above, with Michael Clarke Duncan doing his best Scary Black Man voice as Blackwood, the main antagonist, and Rachel Griffiths (Brenda from Six Feet Under) as Jordan. There’s one or two bad spots, but by and large, the talent on show here is great. Unrelated, but also worthy of note, is the fact that you can switch out of first-person mode and into third person, something a lot more FPSes could stand to do. Considering the speed some enemies attack with, being able to see more around you will save your rear more than once.

Aside from that, the story is, once again, all over the place. You start off arriving in Baltimore, trying to find Blackmore. Then you’re attacked by a group trying to capture you to work out how you do that transformation thing of yours (despite it being hinted at in the last game as a mental, rather than physical thing). Then you escape only to find that the entire city has been taken over by the monsters from Carnate, as well as the spirits of a pair of notorious murderers. Then you wind up in another prison, then sewers, then a mining complex, then everything gets a bit Twilight Zone and by that point, you’ve either stopped playing or caring. Dr. Killjoy, the mad ‘experimental’ psychiatrist from the first game also makes a return which I’m somewhat split over. On the one hand, his appearance in the first game added a sort of House On Haunted Hill vibe to the proceedings. Utterly out of place, but not necessarily in a bad way, since he was arguably about the only person in the game you could say had any kind of character to him. Here, on the other hand, its harder to argue that, since he barely has any impact on the story, unlike in the last game. He shows up on a TV screen, does a kind of summing up/trial of the player at the end then… well, doesn’t do much else. Even worse, it’s not until you get to the very end and you look back on both games that you realise that not a damn thing in the story makes a blind bit of sense, even for an action game, such is the scattershot application of the events and plot. Impressive in a perverse sort of way.

Of course, any and all goodwill the game’s built up by this point will evaporate swiftly in the face of one small detail. The game glitches like you would not believe. No joke, this game is horribly programmed: I’ve had CPU-controlled characters refuse to move, blocking my path, falling through floors or failing to trigger the next section. I’ve had enemies refuse to activate at all, just standing there, seemingly taking no damage or even noticing me. I even had the game crash outright on me, twice! I honestly can’t remember the last time I played a console game with such glaring bugs. On a PC, sure, you almost expect it, but on a console… And they all happened at more or less the exact same places with worrying regularity, which, frankly begs the question: did anyone even bother to playtest this game before release?

The original Suffering was a great game, far better than it had any real right to be. Not a classic by any measure, but not a game you’d regret spending time or money on either. The sequel, on the other hand, takes all of that and squanders it, somehow winding up with a worse game in the process. If the game had actually been coded properly, it would’ve merely been below average, but with the glitches and bugs present (including one which makes the game impossible to finish, should it kick in) there’s no way to recommend this. And the ending is non-existent as well, but that should come as no surprise to absolutely anyone. Get the original, but woe betide anyone who goes looking for the sequel: all that awaits you is a litany of disappointment and NPCs glitching up to their knees in the floor.

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