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The Suffering (PlayStation 2) artwork

The Suffering (PlayStation 2) review

"In The Suffering, the abominations you encounter are not mazes to find your way past, but obstacles to be destroyed. Like a 1970s grindhouse flick, you’ll find yourself standing amid piles of bodies, blood drenching every scrap of skin and clothing left on your body."

It has been the same dream my entire life. Standing in an endless hallway of perpetual shadows, I hear something, sickly lurching towards me. My veins throb with adrenaline and animal instincts urge me to flee. A throbbing mass of flesh seeps into view. I plead with my legs to move, but fear chains them to the floor. Just when I am ready to close my eyes and resign myself to fate, I am pulled back to the safety of reality. But what if the dream becomes so real that waking is not an option?

Carnate Island is overrun with ghostly legends. Most of the colonial inhabitants suspiciously passed away, and the rest were driven away by terrifying and unexplainable events. Since then, it has been the home of a notorious mental institution, a WWII prison camp, and now, Abbott State Penitentiary. Even in the dilapidated walls of Abbott, the sanity of the state’s most violent criminals and live-in officers hangs by a rotting thread. It seems a fitting place for the newest addition to death row, Torque – a man convicted of murdering his ex-wife and own two children.

Although Torque’s record is a testament to his explosively violent nature, he claims to remember none of it as a result of the blackouts that have plagued him since childhood. Whether or not he committed the murders matters little anymore. The prison lights stutter and fail, the sound of metal on stone echoes off the walls, and one by one, the panicked shouts of the inmates become agonizing screams. Torque’s cell door opens, beginning a journey through his own psyche and Carnate Island’s ruthless history. With blade-limbed minions, fleshy beasts melded to guns, and poison-filled gremlins roaming the grounds, Torque will need every ounce of brutality hidden in his soul.

The developer of The Suffering, Surreal Software, rejects the ‘survival-horror’ label, and for good reason. As a veteran of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series, I am accustomed to conserving ammo and choosing my battles carefully. Bypassing zombies and monsters without killing or being killed is like another puzzle to be solved. In The Suffering, the abominations you encounter are not mazes to find your way past, but obstacles to be destroyed. Like a 1970s grindhouse flick, you’ll find yourself standing amid piles of bodies, blood drenching every scrap of skin and clothing left on your body.

Instead of long-haired little girls, fog-ridden climates, and inconceivably metaphorical plots, Surreal opted for torrential bloodshed. Monsters don’t lumber towards you with an arthritic hobble. Charging down the halls, dropping from the ceilings, and rising from underfoot, they swarm like locusts. You will need all the firepower you can get, and there is a lot of it. Abbott must have some lax safety guidelines, as you’ll find plenty of revolvers, shotguns, and grenades scattered about. The vast amounts of guns and Xombium (health packs) are incredibly unrealistic, but it keeps the violence flowing relentlessly.

Utilizing one analog stick for movement and one for aiming, The Suffering plays well in both first and third-person to suit any given situation. The inventory is cycled with the D-pad, so switching weapons on the fly is a bit tricky, but it keeps the action moving better than a paused menu. The more violence Torque encounters, the more his Insanity increases, allowing him to turn into a hulking ogre. In this state, Torque can tear everything apart with his bare hands, but at the cost of agility and ranged attacks. More than just a combat tool, this form adds to the mystery of The Suffering since nobody around Torque seems to notice the transformation.

The graphics and sound design fall below the bars set for the horror genre by the Silent Hill series, but The Suffering makes up for this with intense paranoia. At any given time, you know that someone, or something, is watching, hunting, and toying with Torque. A number of ghosts, including those of Torque’s family, appear frequently to taunt, torment, and occasionally offer a few hints. Through these ghosts, it becomes abundantly clear that the apocalypse of Carnate Island has everything to do with Torque, but none of them are saying why.

Is Torque a heartless killer capable of murdering his own family, a merciful savior of the weak, or something in-between? Your actions determine the answer. Plenty of guards and inmates are struggling to survive the chaos, but their fate is in your hands. Opposing voices in Torque’s head simultaneously cry out for sympathy and blood, but both make good cases. Good/bad alignment systems are nothing new, but The Suffering is different because you never feel completely justified in your actions. It might be ‘good’ to lead a fellow inmate to safety, but can you rest easy knowing that you may be helping a convicted rapist get back to society? It’s a difficult choice, and I do feel bad about taking the life of one guard in particular. He seemed like an honest family-man, but he wouldn’t stop crying.

The Suffering is a welcome break from the restrained suspense and inane puzzles of most horror games. The action is bloody, frenzied, and incessant. There were times when I halted at doorways just to give my hands and heart a break. The only detraction is that there are few reasons to open those doors, other than to blow more creatures away. The structures of Carnate Island are filled with unsolved mysteries, and ten hours later, I still had no solutions. Without any tangible information to latch on to, it’s a little too easy to set the controller down and walk away for good. Stick it out though, because The Suffering is still a solid adventure with some gruesomely memorable moments.


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Staff review by Brian Rowe (February 19, 2006)

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