The Suffering: Ties That Bind Preview
We spend some time getting to know Midway and Surreal's dysfunctional family.
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Midway and Seattle-based Surreal Software pulled off quite a coup with 2004's The Suffering. The original third-person action game managed to add a new branch to the time-honored horror genre, which ultimately made it one of the most unique horror entries in quite some time. Whereas the genre has been dominated by Japanese-developed games for the past few years, The Suffering offered a nicely unsettling experience, with nary a schoolgirl, talking cat, mutated animal, spooky mansion, or zombie in sight. Instead, the game offered foulmouthed prisoners, a generous helping of seriously unhappy ghosts, twisted abominations based on executions, buckets of gore, and an antihero who may very well have been a psychotic killer. Good stuff all around. However, the disturbed individuals at Surreal weren't satisfied with the franchise's creepy debut, so they set out to top the first game with The Suffering: Ties That Bind, a sequel that continues the story of the main character Torque in new and even-more-disturbing ways. We recently clocked in some quality time with a work-in-progress version of Torque's latest adventure to see if Surreal can continue the promising franchise in a suitably disturbing direction.
The game's story picks up right where the first game left off, so it will get you started with one of three openings based on which ending you got in the original. If you don't have a clear save, you'll get a default beginning that uses the neutral ending as its jumping-off point. Though the main thrust of the narrative focuses on Torque finding out more about the death of his family and how his nemesis, Caleb Blackmore, is involved, there are some complicated roadblocks you'll hit along the way. First and foremost is a paramilitary organization known as the Marbas Foundation. The mysterious shadow agency has been tasked with cleaning up Carnate Island, the setting for the original game that's still pretty thick with evil creatures. The foundation takes what is potentially an unhealthy interest in Torque and his unique rage-fueled shape-shifting abilities. The borderline-sane antihero is conked on the head and taken into custody at the start of the game's default beginning, thus kicking off his unique relationship with the group. Its leader, a mysterious hottie named Jordan, pops up quite often during your adventure. However, so far, we're not totally clear on just where her allegiances lie. As for Torque, while he's not much saner than when we last saw him, you'll discover more about who he is and what he's about: for better or worse.
The gameplay in Ties That Bind hasn't strayed too far from the first entry in the series. All the same mechanics return but have been modified or expanded from the original. You'll still be able to play in either third- or first-person perspective, although for some of the more advanced climbing and exploring, you'll want to stick to third-person perspective. Running and gunning has been tweaked some by a two-weapon limit that's been imposed on your inventory system. Your options when wielding your hard-earned arms have been beefed up. You'll be able to dual-wield weapons, as well as hit boxes or people with your weapons. A new crouch attack gives you one more way to tussle with your foes. The most significant addition to The Suffering's gameplay is Torque's rage transformations. The Hulk-like transformations will now differ based on your moral path through the game, and they'll feature powerful special attacks that are uncomfortably close to those of the foes you're fighting against. This naturally calls into question just what's going on with Torque these days and makes for a compelling reason to stick with the rich story. Besides offering you more-gruesome ways to take out your foes, your rage forms are now an integral part of progressing. You'll find places where you'll need the extra power afforded by the rage forms to punch your way into new areas or to take on boss creatures that can only be harmed by a little anger-fueled mutation. Another addition to gameplay are rail shooting sequences which put you behind the sights of a large gun on a moving vehicle and let you blow up anything that moves.
Anger Management Is for SuckersThe presentation in the game tops its predecessor handily thanks to a more polished approached and a new setting. Though you'll once again wind up snooping about the confines of a prison during the adventure, Ties That Bind also throws you into an unholy version of Baltimore that's pretty messed up (being overrun by the kind of unholy monstrosities Torque faced in prison will do that). The city looks like a cross between hell and a postapocalyptic wasteland that's heavy on demolished buildings and fire. A robust lighting engine helps sell the creepy and unsettling environments you'll be going through. Detail has been refined over the first game, which benefits the characters and environments.
The new creatures you'll face are just as bizarre as in the original game, and they'll have unique "themes" to their madness. Torque's different rage-mode forms are in line with the biology-experiment-gone-wrong look of the other critters in the game, and the forms even sport their own weird touches. As with the previous series entry, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions are comparable. The performance on both platforms, in terms of frame rate, is practically identical at this point. The action is fast and basically smooth, with a bit of the expected work-in-progress frame-rate issues. The only rough spot to the action is the camera, which can be problematic in the thick of things. As far as audio goes, it sounds as though the game will feature music and voice that's at least on par with its predecessor, which was quite good.
All told, our time with The Suffering: Ties That Bind left us feeling disturbed but satisfied, which is pretty much exactly what you'd want out of a Suffering sequel. The story is pretty strong out of the gate, and it raises a bunch of issues that we're very curious to see sorted. The expanded gameplay is deeper and varied, which will make for a better overall experience. We're digging Torque's distinct rage forms and the gameplay tied to them, as it's always good to have some options when morphing into an adrenaline-fueled killing machine. The narrative is strong and in line with the quality of the first game. At this point, our only spot of concern is the camera, which is touchier than we'd like. Still, if you were a fan of the original game and are hankering for some additional scary, bloody, profanity-fueled action, then you should be more than pleased by what the second Suffering is offering. If you're new to the series you may as well take a gander at this unique horror action, since odds are, it's going to be around for a while. The Suffering: Ties That Bind is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC.