Okay, so the title of this game may turn away some people?it does sound kinky, if you?re in that sort of mindset. Believe me, though, when I say that you shouldn?t judge a game by its title, for The Suffering: Ties that Bind isn?t nearly as brainless (and not anywhere near as S&M-implying) as some people might believe. In fact, The Suffering: Ties that Bind is one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, and, dare I say it, one of the scariest games of 2005. Although appearing in the traditional trappings of third-person shooters and survival horror games, The Suffering: Ties that Bind is smart, stylish, action-packed, and most certainly spooky enough to scare you on all levels of your gaming psyche. Sure, it?s not perfect, with issues such as inconsistent difficulty, sometimes repetitive gameplay, and lack of significant changes since the last game, but The Suffering: Ties that Bind is designed to frighten you, in both the physiological and psychological ways, and despite its flaws, it does just that.
As is the usual trend with games these days, The Suffering: Ties that Bind is a sequel, this one being a sequel to the 2004 sleeper action hit The Suffering. What made The Suffering good back in its day wasn?t its third-person action running and gunning. Although it was fun, it didn?t really bring anything new in basic third-person action. What really made The Suffering stand out from other third-person action titles was its story and its subject matter. From the advertising tagline of ?prison is hell,? it gets the message across that this wasn?t just going to be some random brainless romp through the zombie playfield ? in fact, all of the horror and action in this game revolved around commentary on prison, crime, and punishment. The Suffering?s horror theme was a horror theme that got you to think, as it touched on such real world issues as the fairness of the death penalty and the American justice system in general, the brutality of our prison system, and the dehumanizing of prison inmates. Some may say I?m reading too much into it, but it?s there if you look hard enough, especially since the fate of the main character, Torque, and his real guilt or innocence in respect to his accused crime ? the murder of his family ? was up in the air in the first game, left to the player to decide via the various ?morality? decisions placed through the game. Sure, one could play The Suffering purely for the blasting and the slashing action, which the game provided plenty of, but for the thinkers out there, The Suffering had so much more to enjoy. The tradition continues with The Suffering: Ties that Bind, where the commentary shifts from the evils of the prison system to the wrongs that plague everyday American society, to prove, as Consuela from the game so aptly puts, ?there is evil everywhere, if you look hard enough.? And so, fittingly, the action picks up the first game with the monsters that originally overran Carnate Island, and gave Torque a chance to break free from prison, having come to terrorize the whole city of Baltimore, Maryland.
It is in the presentation of this theme and commentary that gives me cause to give the graphics for this game a 10. The graphics probably won?t impress anyone from a technical standpoint ? while containing the usual graphical frills of today?s games (although not changed that much from the first game), it?s not going to be remembered for having an absurdly high polygon count or some other obscure graphical acronym. It doesn?t need to be. The sheer amount of style and substance surpasses any technical shortcomings in the game?s graphics. The blood and gore is truly disturbing instead of being a sight gag, like in many other blood-and-guts action games. As you kill monsters with Torque, both he and his guns become covered, literally, with red monster blood. Blood stains the walls in dark shades of red as you fight enemies, which really gives you that feeling of total disgust at seeing it. The animations for the monsters and people dying are done in a gut-wrenchingly dramatic fashion, without going over the top (and into AO territory), to elicit disgust and despair rather than laughter ? you know lives are being taken. And speaking of the monsters, although they haven?t changed much since the first game, they are just as creepy as ever. The monsters from the first game have been adapted, at least in terms of story if not look, to reflect, instead of prison life, the worst aspects of everyday American society that often drive people to commit the crimes that get them thrown into prison. Some might consider the lack of changes to the monsters to be a cop-out, but in a sense, it fits perfectly, because the crimes that people commit to get themselves into Carnate Island don?t come from a vacuum ?the evil has to come from somewhere. At certain occasions in the game, the action halts and you are treated to a slow motion scene (where you still retain some control of your movement) that depicts such atrocities in Baltimore?s history as race riots, lynching, the brutal hunting of runaway slaves from the South, and many other such historic acts of horrific violence that give the monsters the right context to overrun Baltimore. Some may say I?m stretching it when I call this game socio-critical, but I don?t think it?s a stretch to say that The Suffering: Ties that Bind is meant for more than mere entertainment when there?s such material present.
For straight up scares related to the Insanity meter (when it?s full), the graphics are used to great effect here, too, much more so than the first game. In the first Suffering, when your Insanity meter was full, you just got a random grotesque image and high-pitched squeal?at a predictable interval. Needless to say this got to be more annoying than scary. In The Suffering: Ties that Bind, however, this is fixed and enhanced ? the random grotesque image interval only occurs intermittently this time when the Insanity meter is full, making it much scarier when it happens since you aren?t desensitized. Sometimes something more elaborate happens to wrack your brain ? instead of a random flash of a grotesque image, you?ll get a vision, audio or visual, of one of Torque?s dead family members lamenting the situation. The new Insanity effects do a much better job of getting across Torque?s wrecked psyche. The audio does, for the most part, a superb job of backing up the intense visuals, with ambient sounds from the scrapings of blades on the floor, to the voices clouding your mind from both inside and out. The voice acting is mostly top notch, with such heavy hitters as Michael Clarke Duncan and Rachel Griffiths adding their talents, but there is the occasional poorly timed-and-delivered line.
The gameplay is where things start to get a bit dicey. The gameplay isn?t bad, and it?s pretty fun, but it?s not that different from the first Suffering. It?s still straight-up third-person action, still lots of running and gunning, and with the same monsters as before, it?s the same strategies. There are some new monsters (like the awful Triggerman), some monster ?captains? (steel-plated versions of familiar favorites that can only be killed by your Insanity mode), and even some human soldiers to fight, but they don?t fight, or get killed, much differently than their predecessors. For the most part, it?s kill stuff, then when your Insanity meter gets filled, go Incredible Hulk on even more monsters, or use it to break down weak walls a la Kool-Aid man. That?s not to say there haven?t been changes between the first Suffering and Ties that Bind ? such changes include tweaks to the weapons, especially how many you can carry at one time, and an expanded-upon Insanity mode. It seems the developers of Ties that Bind really want you to use Insanity mode more often in this game, as they?ve been severely downgraded. Pretty much the only guns that are truly effective against monsters are the regular and sawn-off shotguns, the revolvers, and heavy weapons like the M60, but with each of those, ammo is hard to come by. With the others, even against the regular human soldiers you can empty entire clips into them and they?d still be standing?especially unbelievable against the human soldiers.
All of this points to greater use of the Insanity mode, which has been tweaked to have some new aspects to it. For example, the ending-altering moral decisions that exist in this game just like the last one, instead of just altering the ending, can change which form your Insanity mode takes ? either good, evil, or neutral forms, depending on your decisions. They don?t look that different ? yeah, you?re still a grotesque monster even when your morality is all good ? but they differ in terms of the new special attacks they receive. Yes, the Insanity form has ultra-spiffy new special attacks that you can execute by holding down the jump button ? they damage everything around you within a certain radius, and cause the Insanity meter to deplete faster. In terms of sheer killing power, the higher-level Insanity special attacks, which you get by going to either extreme of the morality scale, come across as overpowered, and are usually able to kill most any monster in the room. However, against the aforementioned steel-plated monster captains, although they appear to do damage, it?s not enough to stop them from spawning more of their kind for them to take pot shots at you, making using it a liability against them. The third person shooting control has also been tweaked somewhat, but not in a very good way ? the camera seems to be situated further back behind Torque this time, so it gets more easily hung up on walls. Also, looking with the right analog stick has been altered in a weird way ? when you mash the stick towards left or right for turning, it starts off going slow, and then suddenly picks up speed so you?re turning really fast. It?s really awkward as it can cause one to overshoot targets pretty often. Thankfully, the game?s auto-aim option counters this, so keep it on. Ultimately, these tweaks to The Suffering?s third-person shooter formula can sometimes be detractions, as it can add to the repetitiveness of the action. The tweaks to gun power and the Insanity mode can cause some segments of the game to become frustrating. Because of the repetitiveness, after getting one of three endings for the game (depending on which morality path you chose ? good, evil, or neutral), getting the other two may seem like drudgery. At least the moral decisions you make during the game add some much needed spice to the shooting action, requiring a bit more thought and planning to go into acting on them, at least if you want to be a good guy. Sometimes, however, being the good guy is harder than being the bad guy. During moral decision missions, if they involve guarding someone until they reach their destination, the AI guiding the helpless human in question can be downright stupid, especially the unarmed ones, as they often just stand there and do nothing when monsters are swarming around them, instead of running like they should.
The core gameplay surrounding The Suffering: Ties that Bind isn?t awful, it?s still fun, but it does have its glaring flaws. Then again, this game isn?t about the blasting or the slashing ? it?s about the scares. Let me tell you, it?ll scare you good. If you?re looking to jump out of your skin this holiday season (sorry, Halloween?s over), The Suffering: Ties that Bind is definitely worth picking up in order to experience its blend of intelligent and truly disturbing horror action. Just be sure your bladder is empty before you play.