The Suffering: Ties That Bind Hands-On

We get up close and personal with demonic creatures on the streets of Baltimore.

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LAS VEGAS--Following its demo of The Suffering: Ties That Bind, Midway actually had a playable work-in-progress version of the game running on PC, PlayStation 2, and the Xbox. The atmospheric sequel follows the continued adventures of Torque, the troubled antihero who made it through the first game with his sanity intact--well mostly, but he survived, right? The follow-up finds our boy facing off against hellish creatures in an urban setting as he sets out in search of the villainous Caleb Blackmore. The demo let us check out a sample of gameplay taken from various segments of a single level in the game, which is set on the streets of Baltimore.

The level begins with Torque, everyone's favorite "maybe he's crazy, maybe he's not" hero, setting out with a buddy, who is a non-player character. The tough-talking pal packs a shotgun that he uses to back you up in a fight. You can initiate a battle fairly quickly when faced with one of your first moral choices, whether or not to help a civilian who's being terrorized by some thugs. Your gun-toting pal urges you to ignore the harassment. You can choose to just move on, or if you choose to wade into a brawl, your buddy will be there to bust some caps. Your friend is handy in a fight, and he can help you through a later portion of the level, provided he makes it there.

The first inhuman enemies you come across are the blade-wielding slayers you faced in the first game. The old foes have gotten a face-lift and look considerably more menacing. A more heavily armored slayer was also on hand to cause trouble. During the battle you'll also have the option to shift to Torque's more powerful insanity-fueled form, which has also been beefed up. The shift is accompanied by some slick color shifting and bullet-time-style sequences that do a nice job of complementing the combat. A new twist to shifting forms is the tweaking of the penalty for not reverting to Torque before your insanity meter runs down. Whereas not shifting before the meter runs out was originally fatal, the penalty is now being tweaked to leave you dazed and vulnerable--although that's practically as fatal as the original mechanic. Later on, a blast from the past, Dr. Killjoy, appears to taunt Torque and draw him further into the level. We also got to hear from Torque's dearly departed wife Carmen, who offered some direction as we explored another section of the city streets.

The gameplay mechanics are coming along well. We tried out a good sampling of the arsenal you'll have access to, such as shotguns, pistols, flashbang grenades, Molotov cocktails, as well as bats and pipes for melee. While we didn't really need it, the game already had the new crouch feature. The first-person mode seemed to work out a bit better than the one from the first game, which leaves us anxious to see how this all works in the final game. The only rough spot right now is the game's camera, which had some trouble keeping up with all the onscreen action. The graphics in the game are looking much improved, even in the early state in which it was shown for all the platforms. The level of detail has been markedly improved over the original game. The environments look crisper and feature more detail, the distressed city streets look suitably messed up, and the character models look much better as well. The game also features an impressive use of special effects. While you'll see the expected lighting and glow effects seen in recent games, such as Mercenaries, this game also uses an unsettling array of filters that superimpose disturbing imagery over the gameplay at key moments, which is a great new touch. As far as how it looks on the different platforms, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox looked similar, although the Xbox version had a slight edge over the others. The PC version was on par with the consoles, although it looked a bit rougher in a few spots. Performance across the board was pretty smooth, though there were the frame rate inconsistencies you'd expect from an early version of a game.

It's almost too early in the game to say how the audio will be, but it seems to be heading down the same positive road as its predecessor. The voice acting is coming along well. We managed to make out Killjoy's unsettling voice during an in-game cutscene. The unsettling groans from the abominations will blow you away. The effects for explosions and weapon fire are as satisfying as those heard in the original game, and they get the job done quite well so far.

Based on what we played, there appears to be a lot of potential in The Suffering: Ties That Bind. The improved visuals and the additions to the gameplay are looking like a solid next step for the burgeoning franchise. If development continues in this direction The Suffering 2 will likely top its predecessor and serve up another winning dose of horror action. The Suffering: Ties That Bind is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, PC, and Xbox.

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