Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

The Suffering II: Ties That Bind (PC, 2005): It’s About Time
August 17, 2010, 4:05 am
Filed under: The Suffering II: Ties That Bind (PC, 2005, US)

Confession time: I’ve been a fair-weather game-player. Translation: I have not consistently played videogames over the years. I had my high and low times. As an adult (or as a perceived adult, anyway), there were actually periods of time when I didn’t play videogames at all, for years. (Did I just say that out loud?) I was beginning work on my Ph.D. (yeah, I finished it), moving around the country getting an education and trying to look for a position as a professor (yeah, I found one), living out of boxes. You know, like last week.

This led to some weirdness. “The Suffering II: Ties That Bind” falls into the incoherent category. What I mean is this: While I managed to finish the original “The Suffering” in a normal run on PS2 several years back (and enjoyed its gritty, serious, bizarre, wicked nature), I haphazardly played the sequel intermittently over a period of years and in different formats. I bought and played part of “The Suffering II” on an old PS2. The game–as well as my memory card with several corrupted gamesaves–got lost in the shuffle of life. Then I’d see used copies in stores and wondered what happened to mine. Feeling guilty at never having completed it, I finally bought a beat-up PC version for like a buck with the intention of finishing it. Even then, it took a long time for me to get around to it; it stretched for maybe 3 years (longest-game-ever?). My experience with this title is…fractured, at best. This is not because I did not feel compelled to play it—it was just always interrupted by…something else.

But I’m a superfool for a serious horror game, and I knew I’d be burning my way through it eventually. Let me trot out my pedigree, please: Siren? Played it. (And who the hell actually played through this?) Siren II: Going to play it. Siren: Blood Curse? On the shelf, waiting. Silent Hill 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—played them. Rule of Rose? On its way. Haunting ground? Yup. All the F.E.A.R games? Check. The Darkness? Ditto. Condemned 1 and 2? Yessir. Cryostasis? Yup. All 3 Fatal Frame games? Uh-huh. Obscure 1 and 2. Check. (Wait, do I actually want to admit that?) I’ll stop there for brevity’s sake, err.

But I can now add the long-awaited “The Suffering II” to the list. Reviews of the game exist all over the net, and generally speaking the game was not as well received as the original one. I agree with those sentiments, but I earnestly enjoyed the game. An anything-but-brief narrative follows: You play as Torque. In the first game, you are in prison on Carnate Island (what a name!) for possibly having killed your wife and kids (gruesome). Supernatural shenanigans at said prison literally tear the prison apart, freeing you. In the course of the game, you slowly make your way off the island, coming face-to-face with all sorts of demons and creatures—many of whom are seriously warped and mutated reincarnations of prisoners who have been executed over the years. Your nemesis is a whacko prison psychiatrist Dr. Killjoy (who happens to enjoy experimenting on inmates). “The Suffering II” picks up right as you exit Carnate Island  on a boat and enter the much more horrifying town of…get this crazy name…Baltimore. (Where do they come up with these?) By the way, in the game, Baltimore has been ripped to shreds by the same supernatural phenomena as Carnate Island and abandoned by most folks (you know, just like in reality). You travel back to your homestead, besieged by some secret government organization and creatures of all types, including the chiding ghosts of your wife and two sons (and your ghost-wife Carmine can be a real bitch, too). This is one of the earliest games that included a “moral meter” that would be pushed to the good or bad side depending on choices you make during the game (who you kill, who you save, who you ignore, etc.) which would affect one of several different endings you may see. Ultimately, you are looking for the once-real-world character, Blackmore, who may have killed your family and framed you and who may now be a supermonster of some kind, but none of this is ever totally clear. The game can be played in first- or third-person, which was neat (but not entirely effective). The ending was all crazy gobbeldy-gook I could make little sense of, ultimately. But you do confront Blackmore.

Oh yeah, and you can transform into a hideous monster that kills everything on screen with a swipe of your hand. Forgot that part.

Other than boasting a title that sounds like a fetish porn flick, the game’s blocky graphics and crude textures (it is from 2005 after all) belies its seriousness. The story confronts drug addiction and alcoholism, poverty, the murder of children, conspiracy, issues of class and race; the language is raw (for the time); the characters are ugly (meaning they are generally distasteful, unlikeable). Not for the kiddies. Similar to the first game, the tone is over-the-top serious—I don’t think there is a joke to be found anywhere here, which is fine by me. I don’t need my horror balanced out by kindness or humor.

If anything, the weakness of the game may be in the absence of anyone who is truly likeable; it is a difficult prospect playing a game that does not seem to include anyone you can relate to, or only offers you characters that are challenging to care about. Even the character you play, Torque, can be exceedingly ugly (especially if you go the evil-moral-route), and the world around him seems already hopelessly lost in the bowels of hell. Even the people you may choose to help or save in the game are not particularly attractive—in more than one instance, the game asks if you are interested in accompanying this or that junkie or thug to safety, or if you want to help this killer or rapist dispatch some monsters on the street. It’s gray, but not head-scratching; it’s all terribly ugly. And this is clearly the tone the developers wanted; it’s all very deliberate.

One last note: Unlike many of the games I mentioned earlier (most of which come from Japanese developers), “The Suffering” series seems to have a distinct American flavor to it; I’m not sure how to expound on or support that notion, other than to say the game’s horror is visceral and big. The horror is not hinted at like a Japanese ghost-shadow lurking around a corner; the horror is screamed at you. The game is not dark and creepy per se, like many Asian horrors; it instead splashes itself across the screen in vivid colors. The horror in this game is not wistful or romantic by any stretch; it’s just nasty and loud. Yeah, like most Americans (me included).


2 Comments so far
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Have you read “Game Design: Theory & Practice” by Richard Rouse III? He was project lead, lead designer and writer on the original “The Suffering”, and in this 700-page tome (second edition), he goes into detail on how “The Suffering” was created, including the full design document for that game.

Thanks for not using spoilers in your review. While I have played (and loved) the original, I have not finished the sequel. I have both in PC versions, and I thought the ports were pretty good. I personally played the entire first game in first-person, and I really appreciated that they allowed that.

Comment by Mark L

there’s a handful of of games that that belong in the all time classic ‘s section and The Suffering deserves its place among them.

Comment by ray

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