The Suffering: Ties That Bind
In The Suffering, players were set into the boots of Torque, a man on death row because one day he accidentally killed his wife and two sons. Granted, he didnít remember any of it, but ignorance is no excuse. Torque was sent to Carnate Island, Maryland, the worst penitentiary imaginable, to die a death worthy of a convicted murderer. Abbot Penitentiary was a place where unspeakable evils had been committed for hundreds of years, but through a bizarre set of circumstances involving ghosts, demons, and lots of ammunition, Torque escaped his hopeless situation and when we last saw him, he was on a boat leaving the island for good.
But as it turns out, the island was just a warm-up. The mainland is a lot worse.
Welcome to The Suffering: Ties That Bind. The nightmarish life of Torque continues in much the same way as it did before, except instead of wandering through endless prison corridors, you now have to wander through the streets of the City of Baltimore. Baltimore has been overrun by an endless supply of vicious demons that are systematically destroying the city and the local law enforcement agencies are helpless to stop it. Thankfully for Baltimore, their savior just floated ashore.
But first, Ties That Bind opens up with a prequel level that sets up the game which shows you Torque sitting in a prison but itís not Abbot, itís one in Baltimore. If you’ve played the first game, you’ll realize that it is the prison that Torque was first sent to before Abbot; the prison he was in when his wife served him with divorce papers (if you haven’t, it’s explained in a few cutscenes later). Itís here that you find out (for the first time) that Torqueís wife may have left him because she was pressured to by a mysterious man only known as ďBlackmore.Ē
Of course, in traditional Suffering fashion, you find this out because youíre told by a group of thugs that are about to kick Torque and his buddyís ass. The Suffering never messed around with lengthy, drawn out explanations of crap that could have been explained in about a sentence, and thankfully Ties That Bind resists the urge to make us suffer through Metal Gear Solid 2 length cutscenes and simply cuts to the chase. In all, Ties That Bind actually hasnít changed much from the original formula and Iím pretty glad that it didnít. I might not have loved The Suffering completely, but it had some good ideas.
If you played The Suffering, you loved the enemies because they were designed well and they always fit the situation. I mean, would you expect anything but a needle-throwing demon in a lethal injection room (not that they were all that fun to fight at times)? Ties That Bind is no different. Maryland was a slave-state way back in the day. So, the developers took a look at the history and created mutated dogs to represent the dogs used to track runaway slaves. A lot of old enemies also make appearances, but now they have different backgrounds. For example, the needle-throwing demons have made a comeback, but now youíll find them around drug users that are shooting up.
Strangely enough, there seems to be more of a problem with balance in this game than in the original. In some sequences, I kicked ass with no problem, but in a couple of them (where I was a clear favorite for victory), I got killed several times. This was a bit irritating to say the least. This is offset by a better checkpoint system and a save-anywhere feature, which puts you right back in the action if you die, but still, dying with just a few enemies to go is never very fun.
But that isnít to say that they didnít change anything. One change that I wasnít particularly fond of was the way the health system was reworked. In The Suffering, you could carry a few bottles of painkillers to help you out when you needed them, but that feature has been removed in Ties That Bind. When youíre in battles now, you need to hunt for randomly scattered bottles. This really isnít any different than most games, but I think it removes some of the realism in this type of game. Raiding a medicine cabinet or a locker room in the first game and finding a few bottles made sense, but wandering through an abandoned movie theater and finding scattered pill bottles lying around aimlessly is a little less realistic.
Even if I hated the revamped health system, I did like the adaptation of a Halo style weapons system. Instead of having an arsenal of weapons that youíll never use, you can only carry two weapons at a time in Ties That Bind. Not only is this a more believable inclusion, but it also creates more tension. As you run low on ammo in your shotgun and have to rely on your melee and dodge abilities to survive situations, youíll find yourself hunched over and on the edge of your seat, which is perfect for this type of game. Youíll also find yourself utilizing your rage mode (essentially turning Torque into his enemies for a brief period of time) a lot more than you did in the last game and in some cases enemies canít be killed without it. Itís nice that they actually made more use of it in this game because I felt that it was pretty underutilized in The Suffering.
If youíve actually read all of my review so far, youíll notice that I havenít mentioned the storyline much or really at all. Sadly, I didnít like the storyline as much in Ties That Bind. I thought that the first game had a pretty good storyline which included a lot of interesting mythology about Carnate Island and the prison there, but I just wasnít feeling it as much in Ties That Bind. I donít know if it was the presentation or if it just wasnít as emphasized or what, but it just didnít click with me and even worse, I wasnít particularly fearful of the enemies like I was in the first game. The game took me just under eight hours to beat, which may seem a little short, but there are three different endings that are based on your actions throughout the entire game, so if you shoot for all of them youíre looking at a twenty hour romp.
Ties That Bind feels like a much more refined sequel and it is. Effort was put into making this game better and for the most part, it paid off. The story might be lacking a bit and there are a few irritating objectives, but the whole game feels like it was cleaned up and rethought. There are a lot less box moving puzzles, a lot fewer stupid deaths, and at times itís a lot tenser. This is a rare sequel that actually manages to surpass the original. Donít hesitate on picking this one up if youíve played the first one already, and if you havenít played The Suffering, it just might be time to jump on board.
Eight out of ten