Review: The Suffering (Microsoft Xbox)

Developer: Surreal Software
Publisher: Midway
Genre: Survival Horror
Systems Released on: PS2, Xbox

There are good survival horror games. And there are bad ones. Sadly the bad games get the attention; games like Dino Crisis, Resident Evil, and The Ring: Terror’s Realm. The great ones, like the original Clock Tower, Koudelka, Fatal Frame and Hell Night are over looked by an overwhelming majority of gamers and are sadly only known to hardcore fans of the genre or those lucky enough to have friends that picked the games and then displayed their brilliance off. And sometimes there are games that buck the odds and manage to be incredible and sell well, like Eternal Darkness and the original Alone in the Dark. With a little luck, The Suffering will be one of those games that sells well, but also shall be remembered for being one of the best games ever in the genre.

It takes a lot to creep me out. I’ve gotten to spend the night in some of the most haunted places in the world, and thought nothing of it. Horror movies do nothing to me, save for VERY rare exceptions like Ringu. And video games? Whenever I hear Scissorsman music start up, my adrenaline and heart beat increase. But I’m not scared. I’m just loving the game and being chased by one of the best bad guys in the history of gaming. Fatal Frame? Not scary. Freaky games that I love to play, but not scary. Silent Hill? Snore. But the Suffering? It gave me nightmares. The game itself didn’t scare me, but the imagery and incredible story lodged in my subconscious after each session of playing it, and gave me some funky ass dreams. That alone deserves major props to Surreal, because if there is one thing I know I can take without the slightest flinch, it’s horror.

When we first did the Game Cube feature, I wanted this on the list, but then we decided not to do ports, and the Cube version was cancelled. Dammit all. I was literally salivating over the game. Even though no one else had heard about the Suffering, Chuck was tempted enough to eagerly await this game’s release just because I had this instinct it was going to be something special. And NO game had triggered that in me for a couple of years. Like with Disgaea, with Dark Alliance 2, and Pokemon Channel, I said, “OMGWTF!!!!11!! This game is incredible” and members of the Kliq hesitantly trusted me, and found themselves loving the games big time. Just ask Bebito after finally getting to own Lunar Legends what game is his current crack pipe. So trust me when I say, this game is just amazing. You won’t regret it for a second.

Hard to believe just a few months ago I was dismayed with the massive amount of crap coming out. And now look at me! 2004 has been an incredible year for gaming. And it’s not even April yet. Now, how about I review that game, yes?

Let’s Review

1. Story

It’s modern day. And you play as Torque, a man sentenced to death by lethal injection after eviscerating his wife and two children. He is brought to Abbot State Penitentiary on Carnate Island in Maryland. An island with a terrible history that curses the very soil and all those dwelling within it to this day.

Almost immediately after Torque is locked up, strange things begin to occur on the island. The power goes out and one by one Torque watches as a strange host of creatures begin to slaughter the other prisoners and guards. But for some reason. Torque is left untouched. But why? Why is he spared? Both Torque and yourself will come to learn the truths of not only Abbot, but Torque himself as you play through the game.

The plot is hands down one of the best I have ever seen in a video game. Although Torque does not talk, he doesn’t need to. His actions dictate his personality. And Torque can be as good or sadistic as you want him to be. You can save the few survivors that remain alive on the island with you, or you can butcher them like hogs. Do you want to portray Torque as a wrongly accused man who not only had his family murdered but now pays for the deeds instead of the one who committed them? Or is Torque a powder keg of hate and wrath, truly deserving of a sentence of death? It’s your call. But just remember, the path you force Torque to take says something about your own hidden psyche.

With three endings, each distinct and unnerving, one can play the game multiple times and view the happenings on Abbott in completely different ways. The characters are memorable; even though the best ones never reveal their name. The doctor straight out of House on Haunted Hill, the people who Torque can befriend and help on his journey, Even the wife and children are portrayed very well. And they’re dead. You can’t beat that.

It’s right up there with Eternal Darkness and Koudelka in terms of plot, and up there with Clock Tower and Fatal Frame with the creepy aspects of the tale. If you play your games for plot, this is a game that’s going to immediately come to mind years later when people are discussing the best stories every in games.

Whether you need your hand held through a story, or like having to piece things together in order to understand the entirety of a tale, The Suffering is the game for you.

Plot Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

The graphics of The Suffering aren’t the most incredible ever, but they are still impressive. Although I don’t find the monsters frightening, the design and originality behind each one deserves a lot of respect. Each creature is based on a specific form of torture and/or death and you can see the original muse that fueled the designers from House on Haunted Hill to Hellraiser to Lovecraft.

One thing I feel should be brought up is that the graphics add a blur or slowdown effect at certain times in the game. And it’s completely intentional. I am very impressed by how it is done and how it never occurs at any other point in the game.

The backgrounds are stunning. The Prison holds so many interesting hidden things to see and interact with. Flushing the toilet, reading insane gibberish on walls, seeing old celluloid style footage interact with the rest of the game. And a lot of the game takes place in areas just as beautiful to look at. The Victorian Insane Asylum is fantastic. In fact, everything but the actual characters themselves are wonderfully detailed in every way. But the monsters and humans? They’re good, but not great. We’ve seen better, but the plot and everything else about the game is so wonderful, it’s hard to quibble on this tiniest of details.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

The sound makes this game. No matter what I type onto my screen, the words just can’t convey how incredible the game is in regards to this aspect.

Let’s start with voice acting. By far some of the best I have heard in gaming hands down. Clem’s voice is perfect. The Doctor. The Green Gas Ghost. Torque’s wife and Kids. EVERYONE is perfect and I can’t imagine a better voice actor for any character. These characters are living the hell that takes place in the Suffering, and it shows with each syllable they utter.

Music and sound effects? I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the best in regards to a Survival Horror game EVER. The music is primal and simple, yet god awful in its ability to creep you out. And it’s always fitting. It never takes away from the game. Only adds to the suspense, adrenaline rush and fear factor. If I could, I would outright by the soundtrack because it’s that sublime in the eeriness.

The things they do with simple instruments. A few piano keys, a jug of water, a steady rhythmic drum beat. It’s shows the people at Surreal have either imaginations far and above those of the average person, or they’re just completely mad.

The sound effects are crisp and precise. You can hear Torque pop the lid of his Xombium containers and pour them out before eating them. Each weapon has their own individual sound. The screeches, the footsteps, the breathing and screams of unholy agony. It’s frightening how good this game is in terms of what you hear. Even if you were blind and stuck in a room where someone was playing this game, it would un-nerve you. It’s that good.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control

Guess what? Another BEST EVER for this genre. The controls in the Suffering on the Xbox are flawless. I never once had a camera angle problem. That’s right! A 3-D game where there’s no bitching and moaning about controlling the view or how hard it is to align the sight angles. The Suffering is quick and painless in letting you see whatever you need to.

Little things: You can play in first or third person mode, although I advise a switching between the two frequently. I do prefer third person mode if only because I like the wider vision that comes with it. And I can watch Torque’s back.

The designers of the game paid specific attention to the physics of blood splattering. How ingenious is that. Depending on where Torque is while he fires away on monsters, he could become coated in gore and ichor, or stay relatively clean. I was amazed while they talked about this in the “Making Of” extra that came with this game.

I’m mainly a Fighter/2-D shooter/RPG gamer that is still anachronistic in his dislike of 99% of 3-D games. But The Suffering? Wow I still can’t believe how wonderful the controls are. They don’t make me want to have seizure like the god awful controls Capcom came up with for Resident evil and that have sadly been copied by games like Curse. Whether you’re solving a puzzle like the fires in the break room, or having to gun down half a dozen monsters coming at you from all sides, the controls and thus Torque are seamless in their brilliance. Every other game in the genre just needs to outright copy this engine, because this is going to be the standard bearer from now on.

Control Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

Not only do you have to play the game three times to get the different endings, but it’s also the only way to unlock every page in both Clem and Consuela’s journals. And they are by far worth listening to and reading.

And because how you play the game affects the endings, you can do numerous things, from killing every character you come across, to being an angel of mercy for the people unlucky enough to survive the horror of Carnate Island.

You will want to unlock everything possible in this game. Even if you have to play something else in between takes, you will find yourself wanting those last few pages of the journals so you can know everything there is to know about Abbott and Carnate.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Again, the game is wonderful here. The learning curve is smooth, and you will be introduced to a new type of monster which will dominate what you encounter for a while. Then as soon as you become adept at blowing them away with little to know damage, something else comes up for you to deal with. The puzzles get progressively harder as well and everytime you start to get cocky or confident, the game hands you a new curve ball. It’s sadistic and beautiful at the same time. I’ve never had a game I could feel so confident at, but yet still be paranoid in terms of what was over the next hill or behind the upcoming closed door.

Even the original monsters you fight towards the beginning like the Mainliner are still tricky and annoying as the game goes on. But hey, you’ve killed monsters before. All the zombies and vampires and boogeymen from dozens of other Survival Horror games, right?

I can’t be amazed by how this game seems to have little to now flaws in it. Surreal is a studio I’d never heard of before this game. But rest assured, I’ll pick up everything they make (until they create a stinkfest) just from how blown away I was by The Suffering.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

Although there are some obvious nods to authors, artists, and cinematic horror that came before this game, a lot of the Suffering is completely and totally unique. This is the first haunted prison game I’ve ever played. And the fact the character is someone you can make into a total psychopath or anti-hero also helps in giving the survival horror genre a facelift. In all other horror games, the plot is exceptionally linear with no real depth to them. Here with the Suffering, we see things that may or may not be real. We encounter illusion mixed with reality and the sensuality of pain. Sure HG Giger, Poe, Barker, and other great minds of terror are showcased in the Suffering, but only shadows of their work. The depth truly comes from Surreal’s vision.

Simply put, I haven’t played a game that felt this unique since the first time I popped in Persona: Be Your True Mind or the original Monkey Island. Hmm. That’s a thought. Torque on Monkey Island, or Guybrush on Carnate. Heh.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

I was unable to even think of playing another game while I still had pages of journals to unlock in this game. When I still had the final ending to see, I went away for a weekend, and even SNK vs Capcom: MOTM or Cardfighter’s Clash couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “What else could happen?”

You find yourself just wanting to play on. Even after you reach a checkpoint or a perfect place to save, the mental masochist within you beckons you onward to play a little more, to uncover just one more secret of Carnate Island.

Think of The Suffering as something you love even though it’s bad for you. Maybe it’s an extra slice of cake when you’re on a diet. Maybe it’s you put your hand as close to the flame and as long as you can without getting burned. Maybe it’s pestering your little brother or sister until they totally flip out and commit seppuku. But that’s the Suffering. Even when you know you should stop and do something a little less morbid, you can’t help but continue.

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

9. Appeal Factor

As truly amazing as this game is, it’s not for some people. Small children. Those that easily get nightmares or scared. People with heart problems or schizophrenia. If you are a schizoid or hear voices telling you to burn things, do not play The Suffering.

But other than that, if you want an incredible action game with a plot that sucks you in as if you were an inmate of the cursed Island of Carnate, sound effects and music that are simply stunning, or just looking for game that will make you look at Silent Hill with disdain, then you will need this game. Need it like no other. It truly has captured the best of all the Survival Horror games out there and made it into their own.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Personally, I have to admit the folklorist and cultural anthropologist in me was easily suckered in to loving the haunted prison documentary on this disc. It is by far the best extra feature I have ever seen on a video game, if only because if gives you a great bit of non fiction. It’s not the most professional documentary ever made, but to have them include this on a video game? INCREDIBLE! They didn’t need to film a single second of this footage. It has nothing to do with the game, and they could have easily included some other extra crap in its place. But instead, they made a documentary that I would certainly recommend watching before playing the game at all.

The two journals, the two documentaries, the constant nods to classic horror and terror icons from yesteryear, and all the other extras thrown in have easily cemented The Suffering as a game I have to consider the best overall Survival Horror game ever made. It manages to have a plot as good as Eternal Darkness, to have all the little things done right as Koudelka did, to have the fear factor inherent in Fatal Frame, and the IT factor that can not be described, only felt, that Hell Night Possessed. There are no real flaws in this game, except that it just might be too sophisticated for its target audience or overlooked for a plethora of reasons all involving and end result of the average gamer needed a clawhammer to the temple again and again and again while they scream out begging for sweet release, but you aren’t answering their prayers, but instead those of a dark and squammous thing inside you demanding you give into your most loathsome and foul desires.

So…guess who was playing through the evil path of this game recently?

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

Short Attention Span Summary
What more can I say, since the genre’s inception with games like Digital Devil Story or Slaughterhouse or even the NES Friday the 13th game, no game has gotten it all right. But now such a game exists. Once you play the Suffering, you won’t be able to go back to the crappy control schemes of Resident Evil or the second rate plot of Silent Hill Games. The Suffering contains everything you could want in a horror game, from psychological cruelty, to gore and violence, to rewarding characters that you want to learn more about. This is everything horror fans and 3D gaming fans have always longed for in game.

Bottom line people: This is only the second game I have EVER given a 9.0 rating to. The other is Ikaruga. And we all know how apeshit I am over that game. If you asked me to choose between Suffering and Dark Alliance 2, it’d be The Suffering. If you asked me to pick between PokeCol and The Suffering, I’d have a twinge of Guilt, but then hand you my Game Cube disc so I could go back to The Suffering.

I don’t think it’s going to be possible for there to be a better game this year. I really don’t. And the fact that Alexander F’N Lucard just said that about a 3D game, an action/platformer type game, and a NON RPG or game that doesn’t have Terry Bogard or Sagat in it should be enough to make you all wonder if the Apocalypse is upon us. And if it is, hope to whatever God you pray to, you’re not on Carnate Island when it occurs.