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The Suffering  
From the developers of Drakan, a worthy, strong, violent new entry in the survival horror genre.

RedpyramidheadThe Survival Horror genre seems to be starting to gain a lot of new entries onto the scene lately, broadening the horizon, scope, and even sub-genres that it touches upon. While some continually bring new innovations to the mold, others stick with what is tried and true. After all, this genre is still relatively young if you consider that only a small handful of series currently exist.

Well, a couple of months ago, I was very excited to learn for the first time that two new titles were about to enter the fold. One of them, to be released this month in North America is Siren and is being published and developed by none other than Sony. The same director behind the first Silent Hill is heading the development process, so those who know me can imagine my enthusiasm. One thing that is supposed to separate this upcoming title from the rest of the pack is an innovative system involving being able to tap into the minds of other characters or creatures nearby to give the player a whole new perspective of what horror in a videogame can be. While we are waiting for this, however, we have been given this entry with its own unique innovative aspects for the genre. Midway brings us The Suffering, which has been developed by Surreal Software for our entertainment. It is a foray away from the plodding along feel of a weak protagonist who can barely protect himself or run out of harms way, typical to most survival horror games, but instead we are given control of somebody who not only is given the strength of an all out action hero, but also has the arsenal and alter ego to end this sentence with a bang! This may help to make more types of gamers interested in the genre, as well as serve as a nice little break for even the most hardcore Survival Horror fans. In this way, the game does not as much as stay true to the flavor most fans of survival horror have come to love, but still does a great job in tiding us over until the next Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, or even Siren.

Gameplay : 8.0

The Story
Your name is Torque (I guess Vin Diesel was already taken.) You have been convicted for the crime of murdering your wife and child. You claim innocence, even though you really have no idea whether you did it or not since you are prone to blackouts, periods of time in which you cannot recall any of your actions. You have been sentenced to death by order of the state of Maryland. On top of all this, you have been sent to the worst prison in the country, Abbot State Prison, which resides on a very remote island known as Carnate, off the coast of Maryland, with its fair share of peculiar and haunting (and I do mean haunting) history. This history is not confined to the penitentiary alone, as there is not only an old condemned mansion of a family that lived on the island some two hundred years prior and then left for unknown reasons, but there are also haunted quarries, cemeteries, and to top it all off like icing on a cake, an insane asylum. Apparently, a doctor known as Dr.Killjoy once practiced his sick and twisted crimes against humanity within the walls of this very place, seeking a "cure" for the "severely deranged" criminals that came to the island. This all adds a very classic horror story with a dash of Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau to the feel of part of the game. Although most of the game is aimed at proving to you that prison is indeed hell and brings out the worst in all people, there is enough diversity to keep you interested in continuing your journey. More on that in the Replay Value section.

The psychological factor, even though it tries so hard, is not as effective because of the action/adventure orientation of much of the game. Foregoing the tried and true methods of psychologically scaring the wits out of you and not even being able to run away from it like in Silent Hill, you are very much able to keep moving as fast as you want through the levels most of the time, lessening the effect certain scare tactics the developers implemented to get to your head. They almost try too hard at times it seems, but nonetheless, if you stick with the game you eventually see more and more of a whole picture and the split second images that flash before you every minute or every time you enter a new area become less annoying and more important to the story, as they start to reveal more.

I must give this game credit for trying to get right in your head when it comes to vital decision-making that can affect the outcome of the adventure. It is said to have three different endings. You achieve a particular ending based on your "moral" choices within the game. You will come upon other prisoners or prison guards and correctional officers who will - which is up to your own judgment based on their actions - either suck you down and lessen your chance of survival, pose a direct threat to you, have a way to help you if you let them, or none of the above. Once you come upon one of these characters in the game, a lot of the time the soul of your wife will utter why you should help the person in your left speaker, while in the right a devil of some kind will tell you that they are weak or that they will only drag you down and to blow them away, etc. If you are using huge headphones like me, than this will be even scarier. The first time through, it's been my plan to do the right thing in as many as these cases as possible, but it is easier said than done, as trying to figure out what to do, especially when you are not given advice right away, can be confusing. One example (without giving anything away): I came upon a security guard whose body had mostly been removed and according to a narrator over a loudspeaker he was still alive. Obviously, the guy was in pain because what was left of him was twitching and convulsing on the floor. Not knowing what Torque's wife would think, but trusting my own instincts, I took it upon myself to put him out of his misery. Luckily, this act was followed by a quick fleeting image of Torque's wife saying I had done the right thing. Some people might consider this ambiguity in the moral decision-making innovation that this game has implemented as a fault, but in my opinion, in its own way it adds to the psychological suspense.

Ok, let's say you've decided to help somebody and escort them to safety? Well the game implements its mind tricks to try and get you to want to kill the guy you are trying to save. Things flashing on screen increase in intensity and in one example you hear a voice sounding much like the guy fighting alongside you shouting things in your head to try to confuse you into killing him. In another instance, a prison guard who is practically afraid of his own shadow keeps crying out over and over again about how he refuses to go any further without you taking care of all the monsters first. (Tip: the things don't like the spotlights.)

Now, let's get down to the very meat of the gameplay in The Suffering. I would hesitate to do this if it wasn't the best way I could think of to describe what the control scheme and how it effects the game play is like in this game, but I will describe it as an experience likened to the combination of Resident Evil with Max Payne, Doom and other FPS's. The game itself can almost stand as an FPS on its own since there is a first person view to choose from and for some gamers this may be the preferred method, but because of the speed of the action around you I would have to thank god that there is a 3rd person mode much more intuitive, at least for me, to handle these situations where monsters are surrounding Torque. The default game controls use the method where the dual joysticks are necessary to both move around and turn your character and aim all at once because by default Torque is constantly strafing. This will remind a lot of gamers of FPS's and games like Max Payne in control scheme (minus the bullet time of course.)

Most of your enemies present a sizeable challenge, not because their AI is considerably high by any means, but because they are usually just enough faster than you that you will always be on your heels trying to keep track of them. Enemies known as Slayers, especially provide hell for you because they are probably the quickest of your adversaries. They walk on long metal blades strapped to stubs for arms and legs and the clinkity clank sound of them filtering randomly out of the darkness into a room can be quite unnerving as they are moving back and forth all around you faster than you can follow them with your gun sights, a lot of the time. If their AI had been more advanced they would do this until you died of exhaustion, but instead they make dumb enough mistakes every now and then that allow you to pump them full of lead.

Another way to dispose of your enemies is by morphing into Torque's alter-ego, which is a large green monster in a feral rage with far superior melee fighting skills that uses its brute force to tear opponents (or anyone else who gets in the way) into shreds. No, it's not the Hulk, but I'm sure Marvel Comics would like to know what's going on here. Heh. Still, it is fun to morph into this creature and do damage with him. To balance the game out, though, the developers decided your health should deplete with the use of this monster so you need to use it wisely. Also, you may only transform into this beast after an "insanity meter" is filled after killing so many enemies.

On the default difficulty setting, you are almost never in short supply of what you need to get through the game. Ammo replenishes after kills, and health is always around the corner to be found. Flashlight batteries which come into play are not as common, so go easy on it, but for the most part you should have enough through most of the game on this difficulty setting. The biggest issues I have with combat are aiming, switching weapons in real time, and enemy AI. The enemy patterns are pretty predictable once you have them figured out, but the game makes up for this at least partially by swarming you with so many enemies you are likely to slip up your first few tries through a new area if you do not know the way to proceed or cannot figure it out right away. This is the most annoying combat problem here. Enemies will keep randomly generating (possibly to make up for mediocre AI) in an area until you have figured out how to move on into the next area. This is an annoying way to get killed. Also, aiming/targeting has some issues in this game. The default option is to have auto-targeting on, which is good to have compared to no auto-targeting feature at all, but the problem lies in the fact that there is no actual button to hold down to continually target a specific enemy and needless to say there are no buttons to switch targets with. What auto-targeting does do for you however is it automatically sort of aims your gun in the general direction of a random enemy (usually the closest) and as long as you don't manually override that aim with the right analog stick, the targeting reticule will hover over that enemy...more or less that is since they move so fast. So be prepared to follow them around with your target even with auto-targeting on. Also, do not forget to move around constantly as you are firing. When a lot of action is going on-screen at once it important to get into the groove of things and not loose your nerves. You will be equipped with flash bang grenades, TNT, and other throwing items with which to keep the hordes at bay while you take out what you can with gunfire. The last issue with aiming is that it is very difficult to help out somebody that you are trying to escort or save if they are being attacked directly by an enemy without shooting them, too. This leads to problems if you have chosen to be Mr. Hero for most of the game.

Finally, switching weapons (both guns and throwing items) must be done in real time outside of any pause menu. This has been done well in the past with other games and added to the suspense in a good way, but in The Suffering, the menu is so cumbersome it can easily get you killed in the most hectic moments.

Overall, despite its flaws, The Suffering's control scheme and gameplay all come together quite nicely. It is a very eclectic mix between the survival horror genre and aspects of action/adventure games that can be very exciting and refreshing. The first attempt at this is bound to be less than perfect at many levels, anyways. Ever wanted to be that guy in one of those splatter films with an unlimited supply of ammo so you could spray the walls with blood and guts of all those damn monsters who wouldn't leave anybody alone? Well, the gameplay in The Suffering makes that possible - and fun.

Page 2: Graphics, Sound, Replay Value, and Overall Opinion

Replay Value
Overall Score

Surreal Software
Dual Shock 2
8MB Memory Card
Release Date
North America
March 9th, 2004
May 14th, 2004

One can easily see that Torque is definitely no easy prey.

Nasty things.

The environments can be richly detailed.
More screenshots of The Suffering

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