What the (expletive) is going on in this (expletive, past tense) up game? Encore's The Suffering is the first game to make me this jumpy since the first Silent Hill. Make no mistake; this is not a survival horror title, though you’ll be hard-pressed to survive. This is an action horror title with a high goosebump factor.
There’s not much here that we haven’t seen before. A town/prison/corporation is being overrun by monsters from another dimension/hell/viral infection. The only person standing in their way is a mute protagonist. In this case, the 'hero’ is a man named Torque. A killing machine in his own right, he’s been locked up in the formidable Abbott Penitentary, on an island prison off the coast of Maryland, for allegedly murdering his wife and kids.
The Suffering’s genius lies in it’s ability to build tension and keep on building it so that you never have the chance to wonder what the hell that was back in that room! Told through a combination of flashbacks, creepy visions and interaction with NPCs, the story of The Suffering unfolds slowly as you progress through the rather linear prison, yards and island grounds. Turns out Abbott Penitentary has a long and rather evil history.
An apparent earthquake, followed by the mass murder of inmates and guards, leads Torque on a desperate attempt to escape the island. Soon enough, he amasses an impressive arsenal of weapons, but mere guns are not going to be enough against the swarms of monsters that soon pour through the corridors. The first moment you realize that these aren’t the traffic cone monsters of Silent Hill or Resident Evil is when a Slayer (those with blades for limbs) races into a large foyer and proceeds to scuttle around on the ceiling above you. From this point on, you realize that your Y-axis will come in handy.
Before long Torque begins to run into clues that he may have a more intimate relationship with the hellish denizens of the island than he does with the humans. A specter of a doctor from the rather unorthodox mental institution that predated the prison begins to appear to Torque. Eventually, this spirit helps Torque to realize that he has the ability, when sufficiently stoked, to transform into a monster himself. This ability is controlled by an insanity meter that fills as you kill monsters. Once full, a single keystroke will transform Torque, with a very dramatic visual, into a lethal, one-hit-kill murder machine.
Again, this transformation into a super-being is not a new concept, but developer Riot has skillfully woven together all of these tried and true game play concepts, along with superb atmospheric effects, to create a game that could necessitate the use of adult diapers.
Kicking down a door unto a dark room, from which you hear the telltale scrape of blades on a floor, is enough to make you pit out your shirt where you sit. Though ammunition rationing is not necessary, use of your ability to transform as often as possible will be essential. Though the number of monsters in The Suffering is few, they usually have more than one attack. As a result, fighting requires quick hands and thoughtful tactics.
Taking the shape of a method of execution, these monsters will team up to attack you, but they’ll also do battle with one another if left to themselves. Legless mainliners, anthropomorphized lethal injection monsters, scuttle around legless on the floor and hurl syringes at you. Just don’t let them touch you. Noosemen will drop unannounced from the ceiling, entrails hanging from their legless torsos, to strangle any who pass by. The Suffering cashes in on the cheap scare, and it works.
Adding to the general creepiness are the voices that appear in the head of Torque whenever a potentially helpful NPC is encountered. A pleading female voice plays the role of the angel on the shoulder, while a cracked, harsh old man’s voice advises you to kill everybody you come across because they are weak, a parasite or a liar.
For a third person action title, the fast-paced gunplay is very smooth. Though there is an option to play through the game in first person, I would advise you to stick with the third person perspective. The Suffering was obviously built with that view in mind. Puzzles never get harder than having to find a few switches that are in plain sight, so this title is definitely about run and gun fun.
There are a few hiccups here and there. Camera issues sometimes arise when you’re in small rooms, and you can find yourself looking out from the inside of a concrete wall. This is most inconvenient if you’re engaged in a tussle with a monster. In addition, I ran across a few traps in the environment where I would get stuck between, say, a garbage can and a utility shelf, but these issues are small, small, small compared to all of the positives that the game has to offer.
Combining excellent atmospheric effects with creepy CG sequences and superb game play, The Suffering is easily one the best and most surprising horror titles to come along since Fatal Frame, and it’s the first game since the original Silent Hill that may cause spontaneous incontinence and liberal use of the word (expletive).