You may not have heard of this game, and very few have indeed. It was a hit back in 2004 but sadly it’s legacy faded away after a less successful sequel. I bring this up as someone mentioned to me not too long ago about a game in which NPCs attacked and killed one another and how this dynamic element had not been seen before in gaming. But I had seen it, and it got me thinking about this long forgotten horror title. The Suffering is a bold and daring game bringing together a solid action/ adventure with an unsettling horror theme back at a time where gaming was criticized for it’s portrayal of violence in media. It got me thinking about this gruesome gem and whether it should be remembered as a classic.
Or is there a reason many don’t remember it?
The Suffering is what would happen if Event Horizon was in a prison, and wasn’t directed by Paul Anderson. Its an extremely violent and genuinely disturbing tale about a factious Abbot state penitentiary, an island prison with many dark secrets. Torque is the latest inmate to arrive after being sentenced to Death Row for the horrific murder of his wife and two children. He is hated, despised and indeed in the last place he wants to be. But now things go from bad to extremely bad, as Torque is stuck right in the middle of an invasion of demonic creatures and other paranormal events.
Torque’s main goal is to escape the island and along the way discover if he actually murdered his family. This is all decided by the player with various choices you make. Your obstacles range from Clive Barker inspired demons to gut retching morale choices that could mean an easy yet guilt riddled venture to a punishing route to redemption. Some are forced upon you, while others are subtle and the right choice may not be so clear. These choices all come about in the end, when you learn the true fate of Torque’s past.
There were a number of elements that made The Suffering so engaging from it’s visual style to the substance of gameplay made you invested in the world as well as it’s rich history that made it immersive, charismatic and engaging for the player to observe. The history implements itself into the form of some beautifully designed demons and having housed some of the Country’s worse inmates along with a dark history of scientific experiments, which means there are plenty of restless souls wanting revenge. Ranging from humanoid beings with needles sticking out of them to represent the lethal injection to worm like human wrapped up in sacks and barbed wired to represent those who were buried alive in a mining accident.
You’ll love hearing the audio logs and reading the diary entries of a crazy man who recorded his sightings of these foul demons and the stronger presences such as the sinister Dr. Killjoy. who comes to life from film projectors or the infamous Hermes, a former executioner gone mad, resurrected into the form of a toxic cloud from the gas chamber. I remember all this, just by thinking about it and it has stuck with me, compared to some modern titles where I hardly remember the protagonist’s name.
Gameplay was a mixture of survival and brutal combat. You pick up tommy guns, shivs and sawn off shotguns to blast your foes and even have a demonic form you could morph into for savage combat. Most interestingly, NPCs who are in different forms would attack one another. So if you come up against an NPC with no ammo yet knew another form of enemy lurking nearby, lure them to each other and make your escape while they duke it out. It didn’t happen often and yet it was an interesting dynamic that you would come across and enjoy the fact not everything had a single minded approach to just kill you. There were puzzle elements and set pieces that meant more lateral thinking with a good dose of extreme violence alongside an intensely rich atmosphere and strong horror elements that brought you an immense amount of tension. In many respects, The Suffering was visually and overall, terrifying.
Even little touches such as idol animations were clever as they depict what path you were heading on between good or bad. Torque would pull out a photo of his wife and kids and if you were being a scum bag, Torque with throw it onto the ground and regrettably pick it up. If you were the nice guy, Torque would visibly become upset and stroke the picture. It was compelling and well thought-out with these elements having a stronger presence in the sequel.
So what happened?
Well to say the least, The Suffering is pretty messed up even after a decade of being released. It came out at an interesting time where gaming became more mature in terms of visual aspects and narrative structures. It was part of the new wave of mature gaming that included Manhunt, Doom 3 and Killer 7, which all delivered graphic violence and mature themes in stories. This new wave drew in a ton of controversy and many, including Jack Thompson began their campaign of hate on gaming. Richard Rouse III may have wanted to challenge the media and present his take on an extremely disturbing game that was sure to get attention but was no more deranged than any horror film at the time. The Suffering was a success but sadly it kind of past many people by. It was often forgotten about with more focus going onto games like Manhunt, and it was never meant to be given a third sequel. The second game ended it’s story arch and left things be. Richard Rouse III moved on and Midway didn’t want to continue the series. The Suffering is bold, gruesome, brilliantly written forgotten, and yet forgotten as it didn’t strike much controversy.
So, Is It A Classic?
To be fair it is, but a cult classic. It didn’t break the mold of gaming like Manhunt or Resident Evil 4 did. It’s violence was gruesome yet bizarre and over the top, meaning many felt it to be silly. It didn’t get linked to any murders or horrific events so many didn’t pay it much attention unlike Doom. It was a very well made game, yet had some issues in it’s overall design making it less than perfect. However, The Suffering was a great survival horror / action that was unique in many ways, but it was forgotten about thanks to Resident Evil 4, F.E.A.R and Condemned, which all came out not too long after. It’s easy to see why many forgot about this and frankly, it’s a shame.