Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks? This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.
Survival Horror is a genre which has had more than its share of ups and downs, be it from the very high in cases like Silent Hill 2 to the very low in the cases of games like Amy. Aside from Silent Hill and early Resident Evil, the list of games that modern players could remember off the top of the head is positively minuscule. Over the years, however, there have been several exciting and, most importantly, terrifying experiences which seem to have fallen by the wayside. That brings us to The Suffering, a 2004 Survival Horror game by Midway Games which deserves to be played by Horror junkies everywhere as one of the truly under-appreciated games of the genre.
You are Torque, a freshly convicted prisoner on Carnate Island who has been charged with the murder of his two children and ex-wife. However, Carnate Island is a place with a dark past and it seems that Torque may just be the catalyst the island needed to unleash hell on earth and soon monsters from your deepest, darkest nightmares have overrun the island. You must try to survive in the slim hope that you might just be able to find out the truth about what happened to your family, with survival possibly being a nice added bonus. The game starts off extremely dark in tone and only gets worse from there and as a whole is an extremely bleak experience for gamers and one that they won’t be forgetting anytime soon after playing.
The Suffering is very effective in creating a world which brims with history and stories which are revealed via visual clues such as experiencing flashbacks in the former dungeons used by servicemen in World War Two or records of the monsters and locations on the island, documented in scrapbooks kept by a prisoner and the wife of a guard. In fact, the most memorable aspects of the game no doubt belong to the various characters and monsters that inhabit the island each of which are unforgettable and will be seared in your mind forever once you’ve completed the game. Each monster represents the sins of the past that haunt the island such as the mainliner, a twisted, skeletal abomination that’s pumped full of needles and is symbolic of the rampant drug abuse that ran supreme on the island or the Marksmen which have enormous guns made out of flesh attached to their backs, which are the reincarnation of the soldiers in World War Two who killed falsely accused spies on the command of their insane commander. Indeed, part of the appeal of the game is that no stone is left unturned when it comes to the inhabitants of the island which are all fully fleshed out and makes the player feel that they truly are going through a terrifying experience that may make them want to think twice about the history of where they currently live and hope that it’s relatively bloodless lest they want the reincarnations of the sins of the past popping up.
Aside from the monsters, the main characters are memorable and the voice acting is superb (aside from Torque, who is a mute hero). Hermes, a former executioner and all round sadist who took his own life in the gas chamber; Horace, a former prisoner who died In the electric chair and is a benevolent force and finally Dr Killjoy, a Vincent Price homage who used to run an asylum on the island, are all characters who deserve to be remembered alongside the classics of the genre due to just how unique they are with their own distinct personalities and design. Within the game there is also a moral system which dictates what kind of ending you’ll receive with just how far you are to the dark side being revealed in a photo Torque has of his family which will become either cleaner or bloodier depending on your choices. Most choices depend upon interactions with various side characters encountered on journeys, with two different voices prompting you to either kill or try to help them out or even do nothing if you so wish. Be warned, however, that choosing to kill results in an extremely disturbing flashing image along with a voiceover that sounds like it came from the darkest depths of hell, so you may just find yourself sticking to the good path just to avoid such terrifying imagery.
Gameplay wise, The Suffering is easy to pick up with an intuitive interface that’ll have the player steering Torque through his troubles in no time. In fact, it seems that the controls were designed specifically simple so that the story wasn’t distracted by frustrating button arrangements often prevalent within the genre. Surprisingly, the graphics have held up well over time despite the game being nearly a decade old with several segments looking like they could come from a low end current generation game. One downside, however, are its extremely long loading times between areas which distract from the action and take so long that it’s almost as if the game wants the player to take a break in between levels. This issue is alleviated somewhat by the fact that the levels are largely devoid of loading in-game and thus the aforementioned wait in between levels are somewhat justified. It would also be nice to have been able to zoom in on the various documents you collect, which are often bloodied and have to be read at arm’s length often making them impossible to read, which is frustrating for a game so heavy on story.
Despite these minor issues however, The Suffering stands alongside the best of Survival Horror as a game that is worthy of your time even if it’s just to see the enormous amount of effort that went into its world. Once released as freeware for a limited period by the United States Airforce,that seems to have passed and its legal status is somewhat confused at the moment (although you can find the free copies online with a bit of snooping around and are probably legal to download). However, with its great story, atmosphere and voice acting, there really is no excuse not to go the extra mile to find a copy of The Suffering and believe us when we say that you certainly won’t regret it, aside from the occasional nightmare.
Dig deeper into The Bin. Head here for more guilty pleasures in gaming.