The Suffering
PC Version

Review by Old Rooster
July 2004

"Bloody Hell!" —Comment by Mrs. Old Rooster

It takes a good deal for my proper British wife to utter such an expletive. However, when she gingerly peeked over my gameplaying shoulder to view a particularly graphic scene from The Suffering, she just couldn't help herself. And my response was: "Exactly, my dear."

I love a pleasant surprise, especially since I've been a bit bored lately with copycat games. Picking up The Suffering "on spec" (as the Mrs. would say), I hoped it was more than a Resident Evil-type gore fest or a prison break-out. The nasty box cover hints at an electrocuted convict, perhaps coming back to life to wreak havoc. Ignore that. The Suffering is a wonderful, immersive "haunted prison island" thriller driven by an involving story with open paths, good and evil choices, and three different endings. Sure, there are plenty of monsters to dispatch (this is a "shooter" by category, after all), but the entire project is so richly embellished by the overarching storyline that the monster bashing seems quite secondary to the chilling exploration and desire to see the next cutscene.

A Nice Place to Visit (Not!)

How about a little flight or boat ride to Carnate Island? Hey, you could then be "in Carnate"—little religious play on words there; sorry. Only 10 miles off the coast of Maryland, this fictional vacation haven has a rich history, worthy of your consideration. Puritans, among my favorite folks, first settled there in the 17th century, had a few fun witch burnings, but then encountered an unexplained problem several decades later leading to the disbanding of the group. Not to be discouraged, a wealthy family purchased this garden spot in the late 19th century, enjoying the occasional trauma and strange incident until moving away 20 years later. Within the next few years, the good Dr. Killjoy founded the Carnate Institution for the Alienated (C.I.A.), using the mansion and its grounds. This was abandoned in the late 1920s, with unpleasant rumors remaining about Killjoy's methodology. But I'm sure they're exaggerated—barbarism and depravity, indeed. How could that be? He was a doctor, took the Hippocratic Oath, and must have been a caring man.

In the 1930s, the Feds stepped in, likely appreciating the scenic value of Carnate during Maryland springtime. They didn't get out much, though, using the grounds as a secure POW site, with rumors of numerous executions abounding. Finally, the State of Maryland couldn't resist the opportunity to use Carnate for its own purposes. Employing the real estate maxim of "location, location, location," they not only created a maximum security prison for the very worst offenders of society, but also used several methods of execution—ranging from the formalities of electric chair and lethal injection to informal allowing of prisoners to have at each other. As we said, wouldn't you like to make a little visit, do some exploring? Talk to the "natives?" Lots of history. You can take notes, perhaps write a nice article. C'mon along.

"My First Day on the Island, I Knew My Life Was Over" —Torque

We join and play as Torque, a newly arrived prisoner, who has been convicted of the grisly murder of his wife and children. Our "hero" has no sooner settled in than an earthquake hits, shaking loose not only mortar and electrical workings, but also some most unpleasant denizens not officially enrolled in our holiday retreat. In a fashion reminiscent of the Half-Life story, but much, much, more grisly, unnatural spider-like creatures with deadly spikes drop from the ceilings and spring out from darkened alcoves. Playing Torque from a third-person perspective (first-person also an option), you attempt to work your way through and out of Abbott Prison. Not only is there the challenge of the monsters, guards and other prisoners, but also there's an underlying mystery to be resolved, not only about Abbott and Carnate, but also about yourself. You receive messages from your dead wife and have occasions to make "good" or "evil" choices, thereby affecting your character and the game outcome. This has been done before, but not as smoothly and effectively as with The Suffering.

Even though The Suffering is technically a "port" from the console version, it plays as if it was designed for the PC from the beginning. WASD or arrow keys control Torque, with complete mouse-look and mouse button control. Key controls are minimal (map, inventory, open), with the screen very uncluttered (health, flashlight and insanity meters). You begin the game, after the earthquake shakes open your cell door, by exploring your cell wing and finding a knife and other soon-to-be-needed items—batteries, map, ammunition, Xombium, shotgun, etc.

"Look at That! Oh, My Goodness, These Are Terribly Frightening!" —Prisoner (Sanitized Comment)

The Suffering has some very foul (or do we say "fowl" around FFC?) language and is rated "M." Right out of the gate, you'll hear the "f word" and the kind of rough sexual and other comments you might expect in this kind of "vacation" facility. So be warned.

Relatedly, the voice acting is outstanding and professional, aided by a terrific script. When you hear the kind of audio work done in The Suffering, you have more of an appreciation for the importance of this facet of a game, something we sometimes do not experience with other titles, especially within the adventure genre.

Accompanying this voice work are superb sound effects. Although the graphics are only moderately good (a likely carryover from console roots), the full 3D sounds are compelling. While exploring, turning on switches, gathering items, you'll suddenly hear the nearby scream of a man who has died horribly. Scraping noises (spider blades on the floor) approach menacingly from your right speaker, moving closer and closer, more toward the center—and you! A ringing phone, overheard exclamations ("Everything's under control—aargh ..."), doors closing, wiring shorting out, your own hallucinations (or are they?)—all of these build tension between your confrontations with the specters of Abbott Prison.

The Hulk Returns

Depending on choices made throughout the game, Torque has the option of building up his Insanity Meter. This allows a frightening transformation to the "bad" Torque, producing a Hulk-like personage capable of wreaking damage and havoc that's effective but almost out of control. Sometimes the Hulk, or Mr. Hyde, just needs to come to the fore. Contributing to the overall delusional setting are three spirits following our hero, sort of like the Ghosts of Christmas Past from Dickens, but very twisted and nightmarish.

There are a number of "key-door" puzzles throughout the game, but the most interesting and thought-provoking dilemmas come when you need to make the kind of good versus evil choice indicated above—a choice of your behavior, realizing this may have permanent effects on your personality and the outcome of your attempted escape. Interestingly, these different paths also lead to replayability. I'm currently in my second run-through of the game, on a different difficulty setting (four are offered), making "nice guy" choices, taking alternate routes, and finding a contrasting experience.

In terms of choices, and to be a bit more prosaic, I should comment that The Suffering installs and runs beautifully on my very moderate system (P4, 1.8, 512 RAM, nVidia 3 video card). There are sufficient options on the menu available to allow it to be playable on an even lesser system. Further, although there are console-like checkpoints for auto saving, you also have the option of saving anywhere, an important feature for many of us with short attention spans.

"Bollocks, I'm Outta Here!" —British Guard

The Suffering comes together as a remarkable survival-horror game. I used to write reviews with a breakdown of components in the game (graphics, audio, interface, etc.). But The Suffering integrates all elements so well into the final product that I hardly thought about that sort of analysis. With satisfactory graphics, outstanding audio and acting, involving mystery-like story, smooth gameplay mechanics, The Suffering moves to the top ranks, joining such titles as Clive Barker's Undying and Eternal Darkness. If you can deal with (or maybe enjoy?) the grisly setting, monster bashing and rough language, the game comes as highly recommended—an essential purchase, Gold Star level.

What I Like Most About The Suffering

  • Overarching story is compelling;
  • Script and audio effects are first class;
  • Controls and mechanics are very PC friendly;
  • Choices lead to different outcomes.

What I Like Least About The Suffering

  • Monsters can get a bit tiresome;
  • Rough language may offend some. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Surreal Software
Publisher: Encore Software
Release Date: June 2004

Available for: PlayStation 2 Windows Xbox

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System Requirements

PIII 1.0 (P4 2.0 recommended)
128 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB video card (64 MB recommended)
2 GB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

GoGamer 24.90 (PC version) (on backorder as of 7/21/04)
PS2 version 45.90
Xbox version 49.99

Prices/links current as of 07/21/04
Links provided for informational purposes only. FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into by any party(ies).

Copyright © Electric Eye Productions. All rights reserved.
No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.