The Suffering Preview

We check out Midway’s unsettling action horror game.

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The Suffering is the unique action game from Midway and Surreal Software that puts you in the role of a prison inmate named Torque who is on death row for apparently killing his family. Before his death sentence can be carried out, the prison is overrun by inmates in a fortuitous turn of events that finds him freed from his cell. Unfortunately, the inmate uprising has a rather nasty twist to it: The individuals who bring about Torque's liberation aren't exactly your garden-variety prisoners. The convicts responsible for the prison coup are the spirits of the previously executed, and, wouldn't you know it, they're not very friendly. As a result, Torque and the other currently living inmates' freedom is a bit of a mixed blessing, as the less-than-pleasant spirits of their fellow prisoners are on a bit of a tear, indiscriminately killing whoever they encounter. So, as fellow inmates and security guards drop like flies around him, Torque must find a way to get the hell out of the prison before joining the swelling ranks of headless corpses in the prison. We had the opportunity to try out demos of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the "M" rated game to see just how messed-up Midway and Surreal are in the head.

The Suffering has some seriously creepy atmosphere.
The Suffering has some seriously creepy atmosphere.

The game's basic premise, as summarized above, is quite serviceable. However, there's another level to it that adds to the unsettling tension. While Torque is the hero of the piece, and you'll have to use the term extremely loosely when talking about him, he is on death row for allegedly killing his family. The interesting wrinkle to this setup is that, while most games would try to establish their hero as being virtuous in some way (perhaps, in this case, making it clear that poor old Torque is the victim of a frame-up or some such unfortunate circumstance), The Suffering doesn't. When you begin the game you're not entirely sure just how sane old Torque is and whether or not he's really a monster. Part of the game's story will revolve around your piecing together Torque's past and discovering whether he's been framed in some way or if the myriad of unsettling voices you hear as ambient noise may all be the psychotic chatter of a troubled mind. The case for Torque having a heart of gold isn't exactly helped by the fact that you can kill anyone you encounter in your travels through the prison--even characters who are trying to help you. We will say the argument for Torque as an insane person is pretty convincing from what we played, as he is prone to bouts of rage and doesn't seem to be too concerned with the welfare of anyone he encounters.

The gameplay follows a standard third-person action game structure, although you'll have the option of going through the game in a first-person style mode, which proves to be pretty disturbing. You'll find an assortment of weapons--that range from the prison-favorite shiv to a submachine gun and grenades--to use on whomever and whatever you encounter.

You won't find many games with a plot and setting like the one here.
You won't find many games with a plot and setting like the one here.

The visuals are dark and disturbing despite being a bit blocky. At the moment, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox games don't look dramatically different, save for a slightly smoother performance on the Xbox--which is expected these days. The game's unsettling story is perfectly complemented by a truly excellent atmosphere which messes with your head via creepy imagery and the aforementioned ambient sound. The Suffering's tone is set by a dramatic mix of very graphic imagery: The ghostly inmates who are causing trouble have returned from the afterlife with makeovers that have them reflecting the execution methods that sent them speeding toward the light. Additionally, there's a healthy dose of good old-fashioned psychological terror.

While the gruesome murders and other assorted unholy acts are pretty creepy, the game gets an awful lot of mileage out of using your own imagination against you. You'll catch fleeting glimpses of things moving just outside your vision. Unnerving touches, like blood trails or the sight of a body being dragged just around a corner, out of your sight, as you make your way through the halls of the prison, are also anything but comforting. The creep factor in the game is given a serious boost by the design work of Stan Winston, a Hollywood veteran who knows creepy.

The visuals are given a hefty amount of weight, thanks to some pretty stellar audio work. You'll hear bloodcurling screams from the dying or the growls of creatures who sound anything but human echoing in the halls. Sound effects, like gunfire and the sounds of people struggling to stay alive, certainly start to get to you after a few minutes of trying to get around the dimly lit prison. Naturally, the game is also set at night.

Our two-level demo certainly made us jump more than a few times and looks as though the game could shape up to be an extremely promising new entry in the horror genre. While the horror genre is pretty crowded, there's always room for a newcomer with some interesting ideas. Hopefully, Surreal can build on the interesting start we've seen and craft something unique. The Suffering is currently slated to ship next year for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Check out some disturbing movies to celebrate Halloween, and find out what all the fuss is about here.

Note: Screens are from the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

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