Review: The Suffering: Ties That Bind (XB)




Title: The Suffering – Ties That Bind
Genre: First/Third Person Action, Survival Horror
Platform: Xbox (also available on PS2 and PC)
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs)
Developer: Surreal Software
Publisher: Midway
Release Date: 9/26/2005 (10/2/2005 on PC)
Official Website: Suffering: Ties That Bind

About a year and a half ago, in early 2004, a young development studio called Surreal Software released their best game at the time, The Suffering. Telling the story of an inmate trapped on a supernatural breeding ground called Carnate Island, we control Torque and have the ability to decide whether or not he’s a good guy or a bad guy. Those moral decisions play a part in how you play the game and on which ending you get when you complete the game.

Not long after the release of the original Suffering, Surreal was purchased by Midway, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary. And not long after the release of the first Suffering, a sequel was fast tracked, and a year and a half later, we are given The Suffering: Ties That Bind.

Now, it brings us to the question: is this game just a standard sequel, or is it going to evolve the series? While I normally like to look at sequels on their own, I’m going to have to do plenty of comparisons. When considering the original subject matter, I don’t think anybody would have a problem with comparisons to The Suffering.


Story
Just a quick recap of the story in The Suffering for those who didn’t play it. You are Torque and you are on death row for killing your wife and children, but as is commonplace with people in the slammer, you claim that you are innocent. Not long after you are locked into your cell on death row, some nasty monsters attack the prison and start killing everyone in sight. Your cell becomes unlocked in the ensuing chaos, and since almost everyone else is dead or dying, your self appointed mission is to get the hell out of the prison. But the problem isn’t just the prison. All of Carnate Island is infested with these horrible monsters (called “malefactors”, though I don’t remember if that name was originally coined in the original or the sequel). So, it’s your mission, as Torque, to get your ass off the island (hopefully intact), and as a bonus, you get to find out what happened in your past, as well as the tragic history of the island. Or at least you THINK you found out about your past.

The game ends with you taking on your inner demon, and then (un-surprisingly) getting off the island. There are multiple endings though, so depending on how you played, you ended up being either guilty of your original crimes, or innocent. And that’s how you are thrown into Ties That Bind.

When you hit new game, if you have a saved game from after winning the original, you are given the option of what morality (good, neutral, or evil) you want to start the game as. I’m not sure if it gives you all the options from the get go, or just the endings you got in The Suffering (since I got all the endings). But the story of the sequel is different based on which morality you choose. So some aspects of my story synopsis may be different, since I chose the “Good” option at the beginning.


Ties That Bind picks up exactly where The Suffering left off. You are on the boat with the coast guard guy, and you are heading back to Baltimore and safety. When you arrive to the harbor, there are men packing major heat waiting for you. You have a mental moment and collapse, at which point they put you in restraints and cart you around on a dolly. You are introduced to Jordan, who appears to be a doctor or researcher or something who mentions something about creating the malefactors. The lights go out, so Jordan gets out of there, and your guards are killed and you’re suddenly free.

You soon realize that Baltimore is anything but safe, and as you move around the city in the early stages, it’s quite apparent that Baltimore is just as dangerous as Carnate, if not more so. The Malefactors from Carnate are all over the place, and people are getting all over the place. All the while, you are tormented by your old friend Dr. Killjoy, who guides you towards your destiny, a confrontation with the man who framed you for murder: Blackmore.

The story is really the perfect extension of the original. It picks up right where The Suffering left off, and best of all, they actually made different beginnings that correspond to how you played in The Suffering, plus they made even more multiple endings, because depending on not only how the game starts, but also how you play during the game, you can get one of several endings. So start Good, play Good, get Good ending. Start Good, play Evil, get a different ending, and so on. I even read that there is a “Best” ending you can only get on Impossible difficulty.

They did a particularly good job of introducing the character of Blackmore. He is new to us, but he’s not new to Torque. He is a man that employed Torque at one point, and insisted that Torque get rid of (probably literally) his then girlfriend, since she’d only be a distraction. Torque declined and wanted out of Blackmore’s operation. Of course, Blackmore didn’t like this one bit. And that lead us to the results of the first game. Blackmore is a character that turned Torque into what he is, so he looks to be quite an interesting villain.

Overall, this is a great story, and a great extension of the original game. There is plenty of mystery that you don’t find out the answers to at the end of the game, and of course, it all depends on your morality as to how things turn out.
Rating: 9.0

Graphics
The graphical style is the same as the original, but it seems as if the quality is a little better. Not much, since the graphics in the original were pretty good to start, but it still seems better. The models are all well designed and the animation looked pretty good too. I don’t recall seeing anything out of place. All movement seemed natural and fluid. Despite that, it’s not the best graphics I’ve seen on the system, but it comes pretty close.

Probably one of the best things about this game (and its predecessor) is the character and monster designs. All the characters look like they could be real people, and make you want to care about them (or in the case of some, hate them). But the real treat is the monsters. Wow, if you thought they were crazy on the first Suffering, they kicked it up a notch. The monsters again have a theme of how people are killed, but rather than executions like in the previous game, these Malefactors are based on urban violence and death. Some creatures, such as the Mainliner (representing drug addiction) and the Slayer (representing murders by blades) return from the original, while many of the malefactors are new, such as the Gorger, which is based on death by starvation. All of the creatures are designed specifically for what deaths they represent. And all are designed horrifically well. The Slayer has long knives for arms and legs and the Triggerman is a large arachnid with guns for its legs. All of the malefactors are terrifically awful and disturbing, and they truly help make this game what it is.

I can’t talk about graphics without talking about the environment. And what an environment it is. City streets, alleys, apartments, theaters, all of it is designed specifically to feel like it’s the real thing. I don’t know if the streets are designed just like any real Baltimore streets, but they could very well be. But it’s not just any streets. It’s the ghetto of the town. It’s the alleys where homeless lived, where drug addicts got their fix, the places where sane people wouldn’t want to go if they didn’t have to. And all are very detailed with bottles and trash strewn around. The detail is excellent and it really lends credibility to the locations. And everyplace is lighted very well. It’s usually very dark, but there are plenty of times where you walk into a building and it is lit appropriately. It’s not like Doom 3 where every room you walk into is dark.

While not much of an upgrade from the previous game, I still am convinced the graphics are improved, and certainly the addition of new, more nasty malefactors is a bonus. I’m glad they brought back the splattering of blood that appears on Torque and the environment when you kill. It’s little things like that that always stood out. There really isn’t much they could have improved on here.
Rating: 9.0

Sound
In any survival horror type game, the sound is perhaps the most effective way to scare people. Many games will use tactics like getting something to jump out at you, and while those are good for a startle, they aren’t good for scaring you. The best games use sound to make the tension in a game. That’s how it was done with The Suffering, and that’s how it is done with Ties That Bind.

First of all, the most important part is the sound effects. Every malefactor has its own sounds, like the Slayer’s blades cutting into the ground as it runs towards you, or the sound the Triggerman’s gun-feet make when he walks your way. These distinct sounds let you know not only that you have to kill baddies, they also creep you the f*ck out when you can’t see the enemy and don’t know which direction they are coming from. But they are distinctive enough that you know which enemy you will be facing, which is nice.

But the ambient sound effects are even better. The dripping of water, the creaking of doors, the crackling of electricity, all of these things play a part in raising the level of tension that the game throws at you. And often times you’ll hear a sound behind you that makes you turn around, thinking there is a baddy on your tail.

All other sound effects are great as well. All the different guns have their own unique (and authentic sounding) sound. When you pick up healing meds, it makes a sound of a pill bottle coming off. And picking up flashlight batteries sounds like you’re putting batteries in a flashlight. While these things were all in the previous game as well, it is important to mention them because they help make the game what it is.

Just like in the original as well, the voice acting is superb. From what I can tell, the characters that make a return (Dr. Killjoy, Torque’s wife and children) reprise their respective roles. There is also some star power to the sequel. Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile, Sin City) plays the super evil Blackmore and Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) plays his crony, Jordan. All voice acting in the game is superb. All is done flawlessly, and all of the actors play their roles to perfection. Blackmore is so, so very vile, and Duncan’s voice make him that much more disturbing. I can’t see a different actor pulling off the role near as effectively.

Lastly, is the music. And really, there isn’t much to say about it. There is very, very little music, and most of it is relatively generic. But in most cases, it is just set dressing. Music only plays during battle sequences and some cinemas, so there’s not much there to like or dislike, but the music is adequate for what its goals are.
Rating: 9.0

Gameplay and Control
As Lucard said in his review of The Suffering, the controls are perfect, and that is true for the sequel as well. I honestly don’t remember the EXACT controls for the original, but I remember them being great. And they are just as great here, if not better.

The main controls are basically those of a typical first person shooter game. The left thumbstick moves Torque, while the right stick moves the camera and crosshair. You can play the game in Third or First Person though, whichever your preference. You fire by pulling the Right Trigger and your Left Trigger throws whatever grenade you have selected (you can switch grenade types by hitting the Black button). You reload by pressing Down on the Directional Pad, while pressing Up switches between Third and First Person modes.

The other face buttons are pretty standard fare. The X button serves as the “Use” button, which opens doors, views security monitors, open drawers, and flips light switches. The B button does a melee attack with whatever weapon you are holding, which allows you to break boxes and stuff, as well as do some damage when out of ammo. The A button is Jump, so nothing special there. And the Y button switches weapons. You can only carry 2 weapons at a time, and if you want to pick up a new weapon, you hold down Y when you’re standing over it.

And Insanity mode returns! If you hit the White button while your Insanity meter is flashing (it fills up by killing enemies), you will turn into a monster. But things are a little different this time around. Your monster still does a standard slash attack by using the Right Trigger, but if you hit the A button, he does a special attack, and depending on what Morality you are, he does a different attack. For example, I was taking the good route, so first my monster had some sort of scythe special attack, then after my morality went higher, it was a gun attack. And they wanted the monster to play a more important role by making some enemies only be killable by the Insanity form, but all it makes me do is switch to monster, kill enemy, switch back. In monster form, your Insanity meter depletes over time, and if it runs out all the way before switching back, you lose Health.

Either way, the gameplay is pretty standard for an action, FPS or survival horror game. You must move around your environment, try not to run out of ammo or life, picking up stuff along the way, killing your enemies and hopefully striving towards some sort of goal (like killing Blackmore, in this game). But unlike survival horrors, you have ultimate control over what you see, since have control over the camera. There are a few times where it limits your field of vision, but it’s done to keep you focused on an important event, rather than trying to scare you or anything like that. And also returning is the quick “vision” scenes where you see atrocities committed in the past for a few seconds. These visions were one of the many shining points of the last game.

But perhaps the one thing that sets this game apart from all others of its type is the morality. Basically, how you play effects the story. During the course of the story, you are introduced to characters that you can either protect, or kill. Or just let die. Whatever you choose determines your morality. It rises and falls during the game. And depending on the outcome of the game, you will get a different ending depending on what morality you have (and what morality you chose at the beginning). The nice thing is that the system is so much simpler than say KOTOR. Either kill, or don’t kill, or protect. It’s also nice because Torque’s late wife Carmen plays the role of the angel on your shoulder, while Blackmore is the devil. And both are good at what they do.
Rating: 10.0

Replayability
You can play the game several times and it be a completely different story. You can choose what alignment you want to be when you start, and you can play that alignment through the rest of the game, or you can change it. I don’t have an exact count, but there are multiple endings depending on how you start and how you finish the game. That’s one of the things that made the original so cool was how different the game was depending on how you played.

And just like the original, there are “collectables” you can get in the game. There is Jordan’s Notebook, which is like the bestiary, and tells you about the malefactors after you’ve killed a few of each. Then there’s Consuela’s Scrapbook, which tells about some famous horrible events that happened at certain locations (just like the one in the previous game). And lastly is Carmen’s Notes, which talks about various things like Torque’s friend Miles who always got him into trouble, and when she told Torque she wanted a divorce. Things like these really add to the story and make it that much more fun to play. You can also pick up stuff in the game, little scraps of paper here and there that give some incidental information, but are really only saved in your inventory.
Rating: 9.0

Balance
This game is one of the better ones I’ve played recently as far as difficulty is concerned. The difficulty curve gradually slopes upward as the game progresses, and as time goes on, you either fight more difficult enemies, or more enemies at once, or are confined to a room and have to fight a great succession of enemies with limited healing ability. The game starts out nice and easy with a tutorial level, then introduces the enemies one by one. Even on Easy difficulty, the game can get fairly hard at the end, and there’s a seemingly sharp incline in the curve near the end when you have to fight several bosses near one another. But other than that, they did a good job making it balanced, all the while making it enjoyable.
Rating: 8.0

Originality
On one hand, this is a direct sequel and it picks up where the last game left off. On another hand, it takes the story from the first, and expands on it dramatically, all the while turning everything you THOUGHT you knew on its head without damaging the story. In addition, they took the game out of the prison and into an urban setting, which is a completely different environment. And although some of the game IS in a prison, it’s still a vastly different feel, making the ways they scare you much different.
Rating: 7.0

Addictiveness
The way I usually write a review is that I play a game in parts, and then work on the review based on mental notes. As I play more of a game, I flesh the review out as well. I wasn’t able to do that this time around though, because the action is so good, and the suspense is so…suspenseful, and I just wanted to know the answers to all the questions I had. So I’d keep playing and playing and playing. There were moments where I’d be able to tear myself away. And there was once or twice when I couldn’t figure out how to kill a certain enemy so I’d take a break, but other than those rare occasions, I’d be thinking about the game when not playing, and then I’d jump back in the game and not want to stop.
Rating: 8.0

Appeal Factor
Resident Evil and Silent Hill are such popular series that it saddens me that superior games in the genre (namely The Suffering and Fatal Frame) are overlooked. The same will happen this time around, I’m sure, but it shouldn’t be. This game should have everything that any GTA fan would want. It’s got guns, monsters, shooting, death, blood….LOTS AND LOTS OF BLOOD. You can call it a first person shooter OR an action game OR a survival horror, or whatever you want. It’s all that and more. It’s fun and it’s even got collectable stuff too, like the archive pages. There’s plenty in this game that people would like. And people SHOULD play it.
Rating: 8.0

Miscellaneous
The game has a section on the menu called Extras, so I opened it up. And it had some other games by Midway on the list: Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, LA Rush and Blitz: The League. I thought it was cool, but no big deal. I’ve seen tons of game trailers. It’s something that every company is starting to do. BUT, the MK option wasn’t a trailer. It was a full blown demo of the first stage in the game. THAT is sweet. I know I’ve seen some games do such a thing before, but it doesn’t happen often, and when it does happen, it’s not a fun game like MK:SM. So mad props to Midway for including such a fun demo. It’ll make people want to get the game for sure. It’s too bad they weren’t ALL demos.
Rating: 9.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 9.0
Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 9.0
Gameplay and Control: 10.0
Replayability: 9.0
Balance: 8.0
Originality: 7.0
Addictiveness: 8.0
Appeal Factor: 8.0
Miscellaneous: 9.0

Average: 8.6

Short Attention Span Summary
Personally, I found Ties That Bind to be a great sequel to the original The Suffering. It leans more towards the action side rather than horror, but that doesn’t detract from the game in any way. So if you liked the original, chances are you’ll like this one just as well, if not more. If you didn’t play the original, you may want to give it a rent first just to see, but chances are you’ll want to get it. It’s just a helluva lot of fun. Start to finish, it’s one of the best action games I’ve ever played.