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The Suffering
System: multiple :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 08 March 2004

By Morphine Jim
Horror games. We all know about horror games. Bunch of bizarre creatures mewl about in the dark and creep you out, while you, being armed with very little and gifted with very little ammunition for that very little armament, avoid them while solving puzzles and creeping around. I love survival horrors. They work. The subtlety of the gameplay amplifies the scariness and thus achieves its goal. The typical lack of defense and weediness of your character usually does a good job of cranking up the tension levels. That's how horror games work. How then do you pull off a legitimate horror shooter where you play a badass with an abundance of firepower? You resort to some cheap stunts, inspired enemies and a rich and eerily beautiful setting for your game then you make it work. Hell, do you make it work.

Midway's The Suffering is, in terms of gameplay, a bog standard third-person/first-person shooter. You collect a bunch of guns and then blast away at incoming waves of monsters. However, The Suffering isn't just a bog standard shooter, despite me saying just then that it is. See, The Suffering is a legitimately creepy game, with a great engaging plot and some beautiful kitsch scares that totally transports it out of the usual shooty genre, if only aesthetically.

You take on the role of Torque, a man on death row after being found guilty of the murder of his wife and two children. Torque claims to have no memory of the event and silently accepts his fate as he enters the dark and grim prison of Abbott, located on the remote Carnate Island. It's then that things start to go a little bit nutty. As the place is plunged into darkness the sounds of painful, eviscerating slaughter are heard echoing through Abbott's hallways. Torque's cell door opens up, allowing him into the dark depths of Abbott and the bloodstained Carnate Island in a quest to both escape and find out what kind of man he really is. The whole thing's dark, gruesome and utterly drenched in swears. Utterly, completely drenched.

"Fuck", "Shit", "Motherfuck", "Baby-raping", even a nice hearty "Cunt" is thrown in right at the beginning. This has been a bone of contention, it seems, with many people, but oddly, I found the flagrant overuse of the swearing didn't seem overused at all. It felt natural, proper. In fact, if you're staring into the blank eyes of a screeching monstrosity with swords for arms, I think "Holy fucking mothershit" would be one of the first sentences my brain would input for me. I never found myself thinking This is too much, at least once I adjusted to the onslaught of cussing fun at the beginning. Still, that's prison talk for you. Besides which, this is a guns n' guts type of game, and if guns n' guts movies can constantly drop the F-bomb and get away with it, why can't a video game?

The game plays predominantly like most shooters/actioners, and the controls and style should seem familiar to anyone who's played games like BloodRayne and Metal Arms. Though on the most part successful, there are some minor problems with controlling Torque that leave a little to be desired. The main bone of contention lies in the selection of weapons, bombs and items. You use the D-Pad to select all these things in real time, hitting left and right to scroll through weapons, hitting down to move from weapons to bombs and then scrolling left and right to select those, and a third time for other items, such as turning your Silent Hill-esque flashlight on and off. Naturally, this is a very inconvenient scheme that lends itself to all sorts of accidental selections, not helped by rather generic icons in the selection list and tiny words telling you what they are. I found it pretty tricky getting the right weapon at the right time thanks to these hang-ups. Another thing I noticed is that Torque just doesn't seem to handle very well, being somewhat clunky. It worked in Metal Arms you were a big rusty robot but here it just comes off as lacking a certain finesse. By all means, it's easy to get used to and I didn't think about it at all when halfway through the game, but in the first few chapters, it didn't seem natural.

Much of the game involves the standard routine of shooting stuff up real good, as yer do, and it certainly gives you stuff to shoot up. The monsters on display come courtesy of a certain Stan Winston studios (yes, the Aliens guy) and are each works of art in their own way. Each monster is based on a method of execution, something that The Suffering seems overly proud of and smug about with its cleverness. Up its own arse it may be, but that doesn't detract from how good the creatures are. Slayers, for example, are based on beheading and come complete with dismembered noggins re-attached by arcane machinery and skitter about with swords replacing their limbs. It certainly has a psychological effect on the player, hearing the Slayer's blades scraping along the floors and walls in the darkness as they hunt you down. Then there are Mainliners, atrophied little buggers covered with glowing syringes and representation lethal injection. All of them are utterly unique but remain in keeping with a distinct style and look to have come right out of a Geiger painting.

When situations don't call for shooting stuff up real good, they usually call for a few environmental puzzles. These are mostly all simple but pretty logical, even if logical means bloody obscure. For example, at one point, in order to progress, you have to use a jack on a truck, causing it to topple over into a ravine. Of course, if you don't know that straight away, you won't necessarily go close enough to the front of the car to see the little action icon appear. Even then you might miss it, because as I said earlier, text is ridiculously small. Even so, the logic in the puzzles is pretty neat and usually with enough wandering aimlessly about, you'll crack them.

The more you kill, the more you build up an insanity meter. This meter, when filled, allows you to transform into a meaty beast at the press of a button which, I suppose, is meant to be good. Though it's supposed to not actually be a transformation, more a representation of Torque's anger, it really doesn't fit in with the rest of the game and isn't all that useful anyway, since the monster is difficult to control properly and you risk dying in that form a lot more easily.

During your odyssey ("adventure" just doesn't sound right) you'll come across a host of other characters that present a series of moral choices for the player. Actually, they're just there to let you decide whether to be a vicious bastard and kill the saps, or help them out and turn Torque into a right goody bastard. The way you play has an effect of the game's outcome and ultimately serve as his judgment. [Editor's note: This also alters the opening cinematic during replay, and, should the player use the same memory card, will determine the opening to The Suffering 2.] You'll be helped with your decision thanks to the voices in your head, that being your dead wife urging you to do the right thing, and a hissing demonic voice telling you to kill the parasites. Very cool.

Though of a highly scripted nature, it's these meetings with NPCs plus a use of storyline progression taking place mostly through real time that gives The Suffering the edge and lends a unique feel to the game. In many meetings with characters, be they human or not, you can choose to walk away or stop and listen as events unfold around you. Add in many neat little blink-and-you'll-miss-them moments and cheap shocks, such as a body hanging out of an air duct being dragged inside as you walk past, and you've got what can only be likened to a console-based ghost train. In case things weren't creepy enough, you also get nasty images flickering up on the screen during random moments of gameplay, portraying some obscured scene of brutality, which of course is also very cool.

The game borrows from the best elements of well known horror movies to add to that authentic horror experience. You'll get that Aliens vibe when beset on all sides by beasties crawling up the walls and dropping from ceilings and the whole part set on Carnate's mental institute appears taken right out of House On Haunted Hill, complete with its own ghostly and camp mad doctor.

Graphically, things are pretty good. Not ball blowingly fantastic but solid and decent. Obviously, the majority of work has gone into the creatures and it shows, plus the gorier scenes have had a worrying amount of care put into them. The use of lighting borrows from Silent Hill to get that claustrophobic feeling and also takes their flashlight gimmick and uses it to the desired effect. There are other nice effects as well, such as Torque becoming more blood soaked as he fights more and more enemies. Though the stains disappear after a while, it's cool to exit a hectic battle as a crimson mass. When you shoot an enemy, their blood usually splatters onto anything it hits, also adding to that sense of interacting with the world around you.

As anyone who's played a good scary game knows, sound is important, and The Suffering doesn't disappoint. A lot of it works with the real time events to give you that sense of chaos happening around you. Public announce systems spring to life, letting us hear prison wardens trying to warn any listeners of the dangers ahead or where they are. You might walk past a door to hear someone inside begging to be let out. Telephones ring and you can pick them up to hear your dead wife berating you on the other line. A lot of it is shallow gimmickry, of course, but I'll be buggered if it doesn't work.

Though Torque doesn't Torq... I mean, talk, the large cast of other characters do, and the voice acting, I'm pleased to report, is top notch. Everyone sounds natural in their roles and give credence to the swear-heavy language. Voices of main characters such as Hermes and Dr. Killjoy stand out as really enjoyable performances. Music, though sparse, is used to great effect, mostly made up of unearthly noises set in rhythm and kicking up when you're in the midst of battle. My only major gripe with the sound is that bullet sounds are unnaturally loud, creating an imbalance with the rest of the sound effects. It's difficult playing a game like this at night amongst the sleeping masses.

The Good
Regular action game that manages to be so much more with a great sense of atmosphere and real-time thrills.
Inspired creature design and characters with a unique take on storytelling.
Moral choices and different endings promote replay value, if somewhat limited.
Features some great gore effects that give a feeling of interactivity.

The Bad
Clunky controls.
Dodgy weapon/item selection.

And The Stanley (Winston, that is)
Midway's The Suffering manages to be aesthetically unique while playing in a traditional action shooter mould. It may have seemed impossible to create a genuine horror game in the genre, but it definitely paid off with this game. This is ideal for people that like horror without the survival part in their games, not wanting to piss about with very little in the way of personal protection and having to solve endless block and key puzzles while watching their ink ribbon supplies. Indeed, this is horror action and it works surprisingly well, with its moody atmosphere, gritty and brooding plot and ghost train-esque shocks. It's good at what it does, and what it does is be good. It also swears.

I fucking score this fucking fuckfest of a fucking game: 80%

"There are those who feel safest in the light and those who feel safest in the dark. Which are you, Torque?" Hermes

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