Prison can be a tough place, especially when you’ve been convicted of murdering a child. At least, that’s what our man Torque is about to find out. Torque blacked out during a crime and can’t remember what really happened, and when he awoke, he found out the police were arresting him for not only murdering one of his children, but two of them AND his wife. The jury didn’t think that was a good enough defense and sent him to Carnate Island, Maryland, where he now awaits his death. Torque will soon become a footnote in history.
Or maybe, with your help, he won’t. Well, not yet anyway. Welcome to Abbot Penitentiary, where the worst criminals are sent to either rot away for the rest of their existence in a small cage or die a quick and probably deserved death. The Abbot Penitentiary has been in existence for years and the steady hand of Captain Hermes Haight, Abbot’s executioner, has utilized many methods of execution, ranging from the primitive electric chair to the more modern lethal injection for the last twenty-eight years.
The Suffering starts off with Torque being placed in his cell, believing that his death date on December 15th is already set on his tombstone, and that there’s no way around it. You can only assume that our silent protagonist is grateful that he’s in a cell all by himself, because the other prisoners have been threatening and harassing our child killing madman since the moment he arrived.
Yes, Torque is a man of few words; in fact, he’s a man of no words. Throughout the game, he never utters even a single syllable, a technique used by the developers to let the player forge Torque’s personality on their own. You see, it turns out that Torque’s case is shrouded in mystery; tons of circumstantial evidence and no legitimate witnesses helped land him into his cell. Torque himself doesn’t even know if he killed anyone. The developers hoped that through his silence, you’d make your own decisions without anyone guiding you, and inevitably lead yourself to one of three endings which are determined based on your treatment of non-player characters during the game.
This, for the most part, works well. It isn’t perfect though — not by a long shot. Other games, such as Half-Life and Final Fantasy VII, do a lot better job with the silent protagonist angle. The whole idea is fun on paper, especially considering the game features multiple endings based on your actions as I mentioned previously, so it really does make you feel that your mind is Torque’s mind. But there are times when you want him to talk. There are times when you want Torque to say “get the **** out of my way or I’m going to shoot you, nameless non-player character” or, later in the game, you want him to get on the radio and respond to the Coast Guard, to tell them “hey, I’m here, I’ll get the lighthouse working” instead of just leaving them in the dark. Perhaps a system like the one in The Bard’s Tale, where you’re given options on what kind of response you want to make (rude or friendly) would have worked well in this game.
This is just one of a few niggling flaws that besmirches an otherwise interesting game. Anyway, that’s jumping ahead, ignoring many other little issues that crop up a lot sooner than that.
Torque eventually breaks out of his cell (I’m sure you weren’t too surprised to hear that) when what seems to be an earthquake rips apart his part of the prison. It’s soon apparent though that this was no natural phenomena; dangerous monsters have come out of nowhere and are tearing the prison (and the prisoners) apart. Torque is a man of action, so he picks up a shiv and starts slicing the demons to shreads. Pretty soon, Torque will have a powerful arsenal, ranging from shotguns to Tommy Guns to dual revolvers, all useful for killing various enemies.
The demons themselves work fine, with most being based on the prison setting itself, such as a demon composed entirely of gas. Some are also based on historical legends, like burning witches that fly around on broomsticks. Then of course, the developers hired a studio to design their own ungodly creations for the game, like the Fester whose massive size is used to throw around a giant mace that destroys almost anything on contact.
Some of the enemies suck though, like these little squirmy enemies who shoot lethal injection needles in you and explode in a cloud of green gas that damages you. They spawn in pools of blood or water and often attack you in groups, plus they move quickly. They suck because they jump on you and you have to mash buttons to get them off. Several times, I hit the “reload weapon” button during this struggle, which caused me to reload my weapon after I threw them off. Most of the weapons take a couple of seconds to reload, especially the Tommy gun, so while I was unnecessarily reloading, I had to run around the room trying to dodge their attacks.
These enemies help expose another problem I had with the game, and that’s the aiming. It feels very loose, and it’s hard to get an accurate aim on your target. Some auto aiming helps a little, but even fiddling with the sensitivities doesn’t do all that much to correct the problem, and neither does switching viewpoints. As you go about slaying your foes, you can switch on the fly between first-person and third-person gameplay. I personally didn’t feel comfortable with the first-person mode of The Suffering. It wasn’t smooth enough for my tastes; it didn’t feel as refined as the first-person shooting in dedicated FPS games.
Getting the hell out of the Abbot Penitentiary and eventually off Carnate Island itself requires some quick reflexes, backtracking, and box pushing. Yep, some good old fashioned Tome Raider box pushing. At least it’s not box pushing to get to higher heights or anything, most of the time it’s for a different purpose. One time, I was in a room that was lit on fire and the sprinklers were running, but the poorly placed sprinkler heads weren’t hitting all of the fires, including the one blocking my exit from the room. So, I pulled a crate over the drain in the floor, and soon, the room filled up with water and the fire was extinguished.
Speaking of heights, you do have to climb up things quite a bit in the game. Fortunately, as long as it’s one of the ledges you need to be on to progress (which ends up being quite a few of them), you can jump up to grab onto them and pull yourself up with the push of a button. Oh yes, Torque will jump anywhere from three to ten feet to reach the top of a ledge. He’s obviously in good shape, which doesn’t quite explain why Torque dies when he falls from five feet off the ground. I don’t know if my random deaths were glitches in the game, or just stupid collision detection, but several times I fell from heights of five to ten feet and died. I can understand taking damage, maybe even a good chunk of damage, but dying from a fall like that is just stupid and frustrating.
Here’s an anecdote: my parents wanted to put a pool in our backyard, but it was overrun by ancient pine trees that needed to be chopped down first. So, we hired a team, and they got to work, climbing up the trees, chopping off the branches, and then taking the trees down. They must have removed fifty trees so we could fit the pool in properly. Anyway, one guy was climbing up on the top of the tree, sawing off branches when his rope slipped. He fell all the way down, landing on his back, from a fall of at least twenty feet. He got back up by himself; he didn’t even act like anything happened. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. Torque dies after falling ten and landing on his feet. Now can you see why it frustrated me?
The guy chopping down the trees did have a bit of padding, so maybe that helped soften the blow. Torque only wears an undershirt, yellow pants, and during combat, lots of blood. The blood eventually washes off once you’re out of combat (though mysteriously it only disappears gradually, and is completely unaffected by rain or water), but man, you get bloody from head to toe. The game features a lot of blood and gore to say the least, which would be more satisfying if the enemies exploded into more bits and pieces. For the most part, the graphics are decent; with some nice lighting work that illuminates bland textures and pretty explosions. There are a few minor glitches with the graphics, like enemy corpses disappearing before their death animation was over and some clipping, but these are few and far between.
The hard gore of the game is more than enough to earn the title its adult rating, but the cursing definitely helps it along. Almost every four letter curse word is utilized in this game to its fullest extent, often used as nouns, pronouns, and adverbs, even in the same sentence. Each character that yells out these obscenities is given a proper voice over, but since none of the NPCs last very long, they repeat about the same ten lines over and over again. The music is your traditional survival horror tunes (loud music with sounds of metal dragging against the floor and crap like that) accompanying you along the way, picking up when the action picks up and tapering off when you’re finished devastating your foes.
Ultimately, The Suffering tries a lot of different things, but it doesn’t really do any one thing strongly enough to stand out. The multiple endings are a great way to get rid of some of the linearity typically found in action games, but the level design is so terribly linear you’ll never even have to think about where to go next, and there are a lot of scripted sequences. To alleviate some of the boredom that could stem from straight gun fighting for ten hours, Torque can transform into an all-powerful beast, but this is mostly useless and doesn’t really make the game anymore interesting at all. There was a lot of potential in The Suffering that was simply under utilized.
Will Torque survive Abbot Penitentiary, or will he suffer there for the rest of his life? Will he be pardoned, or will he be sent to hell with the rest of the lunatics out there? These are questions that you yourself are going to have to answer, if you’re willing to be frustrated a little.