Ever since the original Resident Evil horrified gamers on the original Playstation, companies have tried, with little success to cash in on the survivor-horror genre. It seems like developers think that dark environments, limited resources and simple puzzles are the keys to a good horror game, and the games created as a result of this line of thought have hurt the genre. Even the Resident Evil series, with its refusal to modernize its control scheme and a plot that takes itself far too seriously has grown stale. With The Suffering, Midway has decided to bring more of an action feel to survival horror, while retaining the dark story and creepy monsters you'd expect from a typical horror game.
The Suffering follows the story of a young man named Torque, who has been sentenced to death for killing his wife and young children. Torque has flashbacks to the events from his past, throbbing images that depict the events that lead up to the crime for which he was imprisoned. Torque is also subject to black outs where he becomes extremely violent and transforms into a massive monster hell-bent on destruction. Since Torque claims to have blacked out during the horrible killings, and since it was such a heinous crime, you hold out hope that somehow it wasn't him that did it, but you won't find that out until you finish the game.
The game begins in a maximum security prison where all of the sudden the building shakes, the lights go out, and a mysterious creature begins killing guards and inmates alike. For some reason, you are spared, and you're only chance at survival is to get out of the prison before you end up dead like everyone else. Along the way you'll meet up with security guards who are so scared that they don't care that you're loose, and you'll even team up with some fellow cons. What you do when you meet one of these characters is entirely up to you, and your choice will affect which one of the game's multiple endings you receive. For example, early in the game you'll encounter a guard who talks down to you, but wants your help. A voice urges you to kill him, but if you wait and do as he says, he will help you fight some bad guys that are a few rooms over. If you so choose, you can kill him and every other person you see; it's totally up to you.
When you first pick up The Suffering you'll want to play it like a normal survival horror game, exploring every nook and cranny, hording precious ammo, and inching along every hallway. However, you'll soon find that The Suffering is more about killing the droves of creatures that roam the hallways of the prison, and less about worrying about how many bullets you've got left. It's refreshing to be able to run into a room, guns blazing in a game of this style.
There are puzzles in the game but they aren't the usual "find a crest and put it in the door" nonsense that you're used to. There's one area where there's an open door and a locked door right after it. You can go into the control room and open the locked door, but as a security measure, the first door locks, and you're stuck at square one. If you take a file cabinet and push it in front of the first door, you can open the second, and the first will be unable to close, leaving you free to pass. Most of the puzzles use common sense like this, and certainly aren't revolutionary, but since they fit in with the context of the game they are a lot less tedious and a lot more enjoyable.
There must be something in the developers' handbook that says poor controls are not only appropriate for survival horror games, but they are encouraged. The Suffering utilizes both analog sticks, which is an effort to give you greater control over the camera and aiming, but the controls are often sloppy and unresponsive. It can be a chore to line your character up to interact with items, something which isn't helped by the confusion of what you can and can't use. You'll often pick up the phone on the desk two or three times, all while trying to pick up or use something that you can't.
The controls also make the game's combat far less enjoyable than it could be. Precise, close combat is near impossible as you'll find your character slow to respond to your attack command. Moving back and using your gun isn't much better because it's so tough to aim at the fast moving bad guys. There's a first person view that's available, and while it makes it easier to aim, it becomes tougher to move your character, and the speedy enemies will soon be attacking you from behind as you franticly try and turn around. There are environmental objects like gas tanks that you can use to help kill the bad guys quicker, but they aren't very useful because as soon as an enemy sees you, he's all over you, and you can never lure them close enough to blow them up without killing yourself in the explosion.
As you would expect, The Suffering's graphics are dark and dreary. A maximum security prison is a great place for a game like this, though by its very nature, there's not a whole lot of interesting stuff to look at. Since the power is out at the prison, you'll need to light your way by using a flashlight, similar to Silent Hill. This restricts your field of vision and can make even an empty room feel creepy.
The Suffering also uses a few visual effects to play tricks on your mind. At first you won't see the monster that's doing all of the killing, but slowly, as he continues to kill, he's revealed to you. When you first see him, he's dragging his knife-like arm across a wall, causing it to spark like he's sharpening it. You'll also periodically see something flash before your eyes, but just as quickly as it appears it disappears, honestly leaving you wondering if you saw anything at all. The monsters are all creepy as hell, and each one resembles a form of execution, which is fitting, being that you're on death row.
The game has a great atmosphere and it does a great job of putting you in a dark, psychotic state. Unfortunately, this mood is almost ruined by the game's pitiful voice acting. Of particular note is the opening cinema, where bad actors spout out pointless profanity to the point where it's laughable and could turn people off to the entire game. It does get better as the game progresses, which makes it all the more puzzling as to why the opening cinema is so bad.
The Suffering has a lot of good stuff going for it – scary creatures, fast-moving gameplay, and a good story. It also has enough flaws that anyone who's grown tired of the genre will likely be unable to look past its faults. However, if you're someone who's sole reason for not liking Resident Evil is that it's too slow paced then The Suffering might be right up your alley, though I'd suggest renting it first.