Created by Surreal Software, The Suffering is arguably the start of a new era for Midway. Instead of creating mass-market arcade-like action or sports games (Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, etc.) they have a game that is in the genre of Resident Evil or even the PC game Undying. To be honest, before I got the game in my hands I wasn’t too excited about it. Midway has the habit of releasing a half-assed game if it isn’t one of their tried and true franchises (RoadKill anyone?), but it looks like Midway has a bright 2004 ahead of it with this game, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (a video of which is on this disc) and Area 51; all games that go beyond Midway’s usual fare.

As you can probably tell by the above paragraph, I liked The Suffering a lot, but it is one freaky game. There is a reason I named Undying above, it’s because The Suffering is as freaky as that game.

The Suffering tells the story of Torque, a guy recently put into Abbott State Penitentiary in Maryland for killing his wife and two children. Torque’s claim is that he often blacks out for long periods of time and doesn’t remember what happens when he wakes up. There seems to be a reason he was moved from Eastern Prison to Abbott. As soon as he reaches Abbott weird creatures start killing everyone in the prison and Torque spends his time killing the creatures, finding out exactly what he is and figuring out whether he really killed his wife and children or not.

Prisons are not the most aesthetically pleasing environments to build a game around, but The Suffering does a good job with it. There are both very good and ok things about the graphics in this game. On the good side are the character graphics, especially relating to the creatures. Stan Winston Studios helped design and animate the creatures and the care taken is certainly noticed by the creators of some of the best animatronics in the film industry. Human character graphics are also pretty good, although the faces of everyone outside of Torque and his prison “buddies” are not very well detailed.

One of the coolest things about this game is as Torque is blowing away creatures the amount of blood on him increases. Pretty soon Torque’s shirt, pants and face are full of blood. It’s obvious to see this game is a Mature rated game, although the first inkling has nothing to do with the graphical assets, but with the sound.

Prisons are very dark and this whole game is very dark. In fact, before the game starts they would like you to change the brightness on your television so that it looks even darker and creepier. There is quite a bit of particle effects in the game, usually revolving around one of the many execution options that Abbott has (Electrocution, Gas Chamber, Lethal Injection). Add to it that the creatures have destroyed a good section of the prison in their initial attack at the beginning of the game and the prison feels even more confining than usual.

The okay part of the graphics is the backgrounds in the prisons (wall graphics in particular). For the most part when something is on one of the walls it isn’t a very detailed item. For instance, you have lots of switches you have to pull, but the switches in themselves are not as graphically intensive when compared to some of the “big sections” of the game where you take on bosses or even the regular creatures. Granted, prisons are boring though.

For those of you who were lucky enough to play Undying on the PC, you will know what kinds of things I am about to say in relation to The Suffering: this game might possibly give you nightmares because of the aural experience alone. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (as almost all Xbox games are), get ready for an audio extravaganza. Torque hears voices (sometimes demonic) at pretty much all times. He also hallucinates (or is it really hallucinating?) visions along with voices. He’ll hear muffled voices behind a door, but the cool thing is you will hear the direction it is coming from and when you turn to bring it front and center the sound comes out of the front speakers. Audio directionality is used to great lengths in this game.

The first clue that this game is Mature rated comes in the opening movie of Torque getting his new cell in Abbott State Penitentiary. The fellow death row prisoners love to use the F-word in many ways I haven’t heard for a long time. The beauty of course is that each line is spoken, so you’ll hear a lot of F-bombs and S-bombs along with all of their multiple uses in this game. There is also liberal use of the C-word (female anatomy). Your question at this point is whether the language is over-the-top, I say no. They’re in a prison and with what’s going on at the prison I’d probably be using a few F-bomb combos too. The story is well-written and I think it accurately portrays the prison atmosphere, especially a prison as screwed up as this one.

The weapons sounds are pretty fantastic too, but the whole hallucinations and voices in the head/behind doors thing is thoroughly creepy and very Undying-like.

The game is played from a 3rd person view initially and plays a lot like Brute Force where you shoot with the right trigger, secondary weapon with the left trigger, move with the left analog stick and turn with the right analog stick. Dummy me didn’t read the directions, but I found out there is also a first-person view as well.  With the press of the white button you go into first person mode where it is a heck of a lot easier to aim, but moving is a little more tough.  Movement isn’t as smooth as it is in say, Halo, but it does a good job.  The controls are quite good and you can change the sensitivity of each analog stick if you like to better suit your tastes. Once you get the controls down you should be able to aim and shoot at creatures as well as become adept at when to switch from 3rd person to FPS mode.

You are working in generally confining spaces and that kind of hurts the controls a bit. There is a measure of adaptability in this game that you have to undertake. The creatures can come after you from all sides and if you aren’t good with the controls you’ll lose a lot more health than you need to.

Other buttons are X for using, A for jumping, Y for insanity effect (get to that in Gameplay) and the black button to refill your health with the health tablets you pick up along the way.

There is also an item inventory and the flashlight contained within (which runs on depleting batteries) is your best friend in this game when you’re in dimly lit areas. You access the inventory with the D-pad. You start off with a shiv, which the prisoners point out they’ve heard you’re quite adept with. Later on you pick up revolvers (yes, you can have twin revolvers), a tommy gun, shotgun, etc. Ammo is nice and plentiful in this game, but I would guess it becomes less plentiful the higher up you go in difficulty. The whole control system is nicely done in my opinion, it will just take a while to get used to aiming.

The Suffering is very scary, but extremely fun to play. The story keeps things moving as you figure out why Torque was transferred to Abbott, exactly what the creatures are and why they’re taking the prison down in the first place. This is a straight forward action game with small puzzles here and there that rarely lets you get a breath in.

There are things that make this game enough of a difference from Resident Evil (a series I have no problem with ripping apart because of its awful control system) to stand out. First up is the control system, which is more move where you want to instead of the tank-like controls of the RE series (stop, turn, move). Left and right on the analog stick correspond to strafing in The Suffering and you have to use the right analog stick to turn the way you want. It’s all a very smooth control system in my opinion. Another difference is that Torque has a special ability in this game. Early on he gets a yellow bar right next to his health bar. This is his “insanity meter”. When it fills up and starts flashing you can hit the Y button and change him into a monster that can deal more powerful blows and get some of the puzzles finished more easily than Torque in his human form.

The last huge difference is also the most interesting. The Suffering has 3 different endings that depend on your choices when faced with saving or killing prison guards that have been put in deadly situations at Abbott, whether that be in the electric chair, in the gas chamber, set up in front of the firing squad creature (a creature with guns on top), etc. Torque can choose to save the character, let the character die or just kill the character himself and pick up whatever items the character leaves. Depending on your choices throughout the game it will coincide with one of the three endings. So, you can be the nicest multiple murderer around or you can keep your killing streak going. It’s always cool to have a moral subset in a game that delivers different endings to you.

I shall warn people that this is one of the scariest games I’ve played in my 20+ years of playing games. I don’t even think Undying was this freaky. The voices in your head come at times you wouldn’t expect them to and there’s just a ton of freaky stuff going on around the prison such as movie projectors just turning on and holographic images talking to you and reacting to your actions. This is a brilliant, but scary game…be ready for it.

This game is not a very long game, so that will probably scare away a few people from buying the game. The truth is you can probably rent this game and finish it within the rental period, but the beauty is that you will probably enjoy the game the whole time you play it. Either that or you’ll be scared witless…one of the two.

Most of the replay value comes from the fact that you can see 2 other endings if you’d like. There are also a few cool extras that you can see at any time. There is a behind the scenes look at how the game was made as well as a documentary that talks about the haunted prison in Philidelphia called Eastern State Penitentiary, which is actually the prison Torque is transferred from in the game.

There is also two archive books that are written and unlocked during the game.  There is Clem’s Journal and Contessa’s Journal.  The former talks about all the creatures you met and the latter talks about Abbott State Penitentiary’s history.  Both journals are read by voiceover, which is pretty cool considering these journals can be long.

I think they’re pretty cool extras for how freaky this game is and hopefully Surreal Software will continue making these types of great games and not be doing the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings type stuff in the future.