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The Suffering (Xbox) artwork

The Suffering (Xbox) review

"Midway has recently taken a new direct route towards gamers: their objective is to create new, exciting games that actually play decently. With a bright 2004 line-up in check, including Mortal Kombat: Deception in the fall, Midway has delivered a striking blow with the release of The Suffering, which has been in the making so long that dinosaurs were planned as the original development team. When the meteor hit, Surreal took the project away, and ran with it. After so much time in tweaking and a..."

Midway has recently taken a new direct route towards gamers: their objective is to create new, exciting games that actually play decently. With a bright 2004 line-up in check, including Mortal Kombat: Deception in the fall, Midway has delivered a striking blow with the release of The Suffering, which has been in the making so long that dinosaurs were planned as the original development team. When the meteor hit, Surreal took the project away, and ran with it. After so much time in tweaking and adding new features, The Suffering has crash-landed. Thankfully, it breathes fresh air into a genre that was becoming stale, like corpses around a ritual bonfire. Fresh meat, anyone?

The Suffering takes place on a lone Maryland island, inside of a prison by the name of Abbott State. Your huggy bear is Torque, a man on death row in Abbott for killing his wife and children. Torque claims that he blacked out before the incident, which obviously means that there is more to this story, and the story will be based around his blackouts for the rest of the game. Hey, it’s not hard to call. As you’re getting to know your cell mates, which range from angry white man to a child molester that praises Jesus, the lights go out, and one by one, your new “friends” are the victims of invisible ghouls that go “Bump!” in the night. As you escape from your cell, you soon find that this island is more than you could’ve bargained for.

With all of this in mind, you will need to explore the entire island of excellently designed atmospheres that range from cell blocks to asylums to deserted mines to graveyards. The entire vibe of the game is dead-on creepy, but unlike a Silent Hill-creepy where you feel as if the pace is too slow, The Suffering kicks into high gear with practically non-stop action. However, how do you draw the line between “Survival Horror” and “Action” when it comes to defining a genre? Somehow, Surreal has actually balanced everything out perfectly, breaking the action in key spots to provide a tense, paranormal feeling rather than a Contra run-and-gun feel. In conclusion, if you like shooting things and being scared, this is the perfect game designed especially for you.

One of the very unique gameplay elements in The Suffering is what the actual gameplay itself is based around. The game controls like a first person shooter, and albeit there is a first person mode, it’s the third person atmosphere that blends in perfectly with the combat. If you’re a fan of games such as Deus Ex: Invisible War with the way that they handle, chances are that you will actually thoroughly enjoy your time with The Suffering. GameCube fans may be disappointed by the fact that The Suffering will not arrive on the console, but it just could not work out as smoothly as on the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox. Using either controller, you will control the direction that Torque moves using the left analog stick, and the direction that you face using the right analog stick. Needless to say, this can be highly confusing to anyone that has rarely played a first-person shooter (they still exist?), but if you’re buying a Survival Horror title, you should be expecting such nonsense. The obvious choice if you’re aiming for a comfort standpoint would be the Xbox S Controller, as it’s practically designed for such gameplay.

There are certain annoyances, however, as specific parts of the game are too bland when it comes to puzzles. Puzzle solving, which is one of the key features to the given genre, is nearly nowhere near the action in the game. There is no balance whatsoever, as everything is lopsided towards the action aspect of the game. On top of this, the puzzles that are provided are simple, and usually involve stopping the action itself rather than a nice break from the constant bullet flying approach to defeating mass amounts of enemies, such as shining spotlights of enemies respawn locations to shy the ghouls away from coming out for a party, or even using a crane to move a giant rock to save an innocent prisoner. Rarely will you find any traditional puzzles in the game, although I suppose this is one of the many redefining aspects that Surreal has brought to the genre. Regardless, it takes away from the game, overall, in the end.

Sadly, one of the key gameplay elements that everyone has featured as one of the revolutionary items in the game in the fact that Torque can transform into a monster himself, goes barely used. Of course, you can destroy everything in your path as this gigantic creature, but you will have to transform back into a human form before your “monster gauge” runs out, or you will go kaput. Collapse. Die. Or as the hippies would say, “float like a fairy in the sky, man.” Regardless, this feature goes unused for the majority of the game due to the fact that you forget it’s even in the game. You will transform back into a human when you’re hit, and to be blunt, it’s quite worthless when battling multiple enemies. The bad part about this is that is the time that you need it the most. This element takes a backseat to the action, which is likely the exact opposite than what the developers were aiming towards. Instead of unleashing fury, the move fades away as a useless addition that breaks up the action for the five seconds it takes to transform.

Another complaint that is bound to be heard amongst those that cried after playing James Bond 007: Everything Or Nothing is the fact that the targeting system in The Suffering is 100% manual. You will not have an auto-target to work with, and with how extremely fast all of the enemies are (some even disappear after striking), you will need to think fast, and shoot fast, as well. Thankfully, in a game where action is nearly everywhere, with enemies that come out like water out of a fountain, there is plenty of ammo to waste the majority of enemies, and if all else fails, the melee weapons are actually helpful.

On top of the weapon selection being diverse without going overboard, you will be able to use your melee weapons to break through blocked doors are such. You will rarely get stuck on the game by atmosphere alone, but sadly, there are a few glitches throughout the game regarding character interaction. Several times, when a character should speak important information to you, they will instead repeat nothing of importance at all. This will eventually end, given you move them from a certain spot, but it can get severely annoying as time passes by.

One of the cheap scare tactics that the game uses is the “subliminal messages” that display on the screen during gameplay. While this is an excellent way to learn about the past of the island, which is one of the most enjoyable things in the game, it can make you jump out of your seat at tense parts for no reason, as the subliminal messages are apparently random. It’s cute the first time, but it becomes a nuisance towards the end of the game. The “flashback” scenes are a wonderful aspect of the game, however, as you will relive certain parts of your life with your dead wife. Areas transform into slightly different places, and before the end of most of these “flashbacks,” several enemies will appear surrounding your wife in slow motion, giving you the heads up on an upcoming ambush. Beautifully executed. Yes, that was a pun.

When it all boils down, you actually anticipate things to come. This is one of the few games that have kept me hooked from beginning to end in the last year or so, and you get excited when you reach a new area of the disturbing island. It sort of makes you wonder why the top contenders in the genre, Capcom and Konami, did not think of taking their series’ action levels up a notch, if only for a one-time trial run. Not that it would have been as successful-—it likely wouldn’t have been, and that is what makes The Suffering so different. Without worrying about changing the direction of something previous that may upset fans, Midway has produced a new contender that packs more punch than Mike Tyson... or Russel Crowe when asked for an autograph. Regardless, it was a “what have we got to lose?” decision, and it has paid off by hooking in fans that were bored of the genre, and critics that appreciate games that are unique. Bring on the sequel.

Sound: 9.5
No complaints whatsoever, although the excessive use of the F-word and other less deadly verbal weapons may offend those that are light at heart. The sound effects from the monsters are creepy, the weapons will sound off enough noise to echo throughout the deserted prison cells, and the voice acting is top notch. Everything is to be taken seriously, that way you will be startled when the music intensifies as a creature approaches Torque. Just be sure to not get trigger happy, since those random high-pitched shrieks in the music as the subliminal messages pop up will make you bust a few rounds, thinking something has attacked. Cheap? Sure. But is the effort decent? You bet.

Graphics: 8.5
Something that not a lot of folks will enjoy is the fact that jaggies are rampant throughout the game, for the most part. It is to give off a distinctive “sharp” look and feel, which it does properly, although everyone in the gaming pool may not appreciate it. Something that can be loved, however, is how wonderfully the creatures are designed. The character models may become reused and such, but all of the monsters are designed based on their way of execution. Whether it is lethal injection, lynching, skinning, being buried alive, or even being shot to death on the line, there is a monster for every modern (and not so modern) execution. Besides weird things, like “being eaten alive by tigers.” Although I do not believe that it is a common practice of execution. Maybe in Canada?

Gameplay: 9.0
As stated, it plays just like you’re loading up a first-person shooter, only it’s in third-person. Of course, there is a first-person mode, if you’d prefer it, but the enemies are so fast that they can get behind you without your recognition of such. It’s a very unique and a great experience with tons of action, despite the shoddy “auto-targeting” that seemingly doesn’t actually target automatically. Jumping is not awkward, much like in other action titles. Everything flows together, and it’s unlike any other game in the genre. Instead of staying put and fending the demons off, it’s all about the run-and-gun action, as staying put is a death sentence in itself. Another pun, so clever. It’s Doom meets Resident Evil meets Contra, and it’s wonderfully executed.

Enjoyment: 9.5
With three different endings at your disposal, you can choose which side you wish to be on. Consider it a light version of Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic in terms of the “good and evil” aspect. Each side has advantages in terms of gameplay. Example: you find a prison guard that is still alive. He asks for your help. You can decide to kill him, or let him live. The upside to killing him is that you will receive his revolver. The downside is that you will have to take out the enemies by yourself. The opposite is vice-versa. If you do a bit of both throughout the game, expect a neutral ending. This gives the gamer indirect freedom to explore your options. But the freedom alone isn’t what makes The Suffering so great. You will encounter several classic enemies, several atmospheric environments that are clever in design, and a bunch of swearing prisoners. The balance is perfect, the experience is memorable, and you will want to get started on your journey at the start of the day. It’s not too short in length, either, clocking in at an average 10-15 hours of solid gameplay.

Overall: 9.4 (not an average)
I’ll go ahead and state it: I didn’t think this game would be anything more than a quick cash-in amongst the blood and gore fanatics that were hyped over Manhunt. I thought the same with Manhunt, and got a pleasantly surprising taste of stealth. This time, I’ve got more action than I have had in the past six months... wait, that sounded wrong. Regardless, The Suffering is the most original game in such a repetitive genre in the past four years, that it almost seems uncanny that this could actually be a reality. Survival Horror fans will go nuts over it, and fans of the Return To Castle Wolfenstein series will even find this one to be a blessing in disguise. It’s the perfect amount of suspense and fighting, and they complement each other very, very well to set the pace for the game that, minus the lack of puzzles, is flawless. The Suffering is one of the most surprising, exciting games on the year so far. Midway has the moves that has the competitors in a stranglehold for what to do next, and nobody could’ve predicted that.

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Community review by zoop (March 22, 2004)

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