The Suffering is a 3rd Person Horror/Action game set in a prison on Carnate Island, a place that has housed repeated tragedies and is now used to hold prisoners. We play as a mute protagonist called Torque who was convicted for murdering his wife and two children. No sooner does his cell close than all hell breaks loose as an earthquake violently shakes the prison and unleashes a horde of monstrous creatures. Our first weapon is a shank which may as well be a spork against these morbid looking creatures and is the only time The Suffering feels like a horror game as you truly feel helpless. Pretty soon you will run into a pistol and a multitude of other weapons to fight back with killing any sense of dread. This could have been offset by having ammo being scarce and making you worry about conserving some but you will always be carrying enough to gun down a small country. It also makes using melee weapons completely useless since most of your enemies excel when it comes to closed range combat.
You can carry every weapon in the game at once and have a real time inventory system where you can also access flares, various explosives and your flashlight. This island is a very dark place and your flashlight will a vital piece of equipment to make your way through the darkness. It’s never necessary but the game features no option to crank up the gamma meaning you will be squinting at your screen unless you either have the flashlight on or mess with your TV’s settings. The flashlight requires batteries to stay powered and they drain very quickly so it is important to keep on the move before you are left to wander around near blind. If you run out of all batteries your flashlight will still work but to a much lesser degree. You can either set the game to first person or third person mode at the press of a button though I would highly suggest that you stick with 3rd person since it is much less clunky and offers a wider field of view. The view in first person is just too narrow to be viable and with the game occasionally dipping into 20 frames per second it can feel nauseating.
Environments in this game are really well done and creepy. Everything is creaky, there is the occasional scattering sound and feels unwelcoming. Sadly the level design can be confusing at times like very early in the game when you are supposed to walk through a column of fire. It was very weird and the rest of the fires killed you automatically even later in the game. That was the first time you could safely go through a fire and also the last which is very weird and inconsistent game design. You are given a very bare-bones map for each area though it is not detailed enough to guide you, just point you in the general direction as well as tell you where you are. Most of the times the level design is solid and it will never be as bad as that early section, just remember that the world is very interactive meaning you may have to shoot a rope or something to move past an area. It is quite neat how much useless interactivity there is in the game. You can flush toilets, open sinks, use phones and even turn on light switches that can really help you conserve batteries. It is impressive stuff and with the addition of being able to climb onto objects it really gives you the feeling that you are exploring and not just going from point a to point b.
Levels are usually pretty open and offers multiple places to explore which can lead to more ammo or Xombium pills to restore your health. At times you will also find friendly NPCs that you can either help or murder that will determine which ending of the game you’ll receive but I found there to be no reason to murder people other than for the sake of it. You’d think there would be something in it for murdering people like ammo (plentiful already), reputation so people don’t mess with you or something but there is really no point and not worth the ammo to kill random people. The game makes it sound like some kind of moral dilemma though it just comes off as an underdeveloped mechanic that felt thrown in at the last minute. One appreciated feature is that you can save anytime and anyplace meaning if you lose a lot of progress due to death then it’s on you. Unfortunately it does take quite a while for it to save to your memory card so it does break up the flow if you use it too often. The Suffering is not set in the prison all the time and eventually you will explore a variety of locations as you learn about the secrets and past of Carnate Island.
The history of the island is far more interesting than Torque’s inner demons as he constantly hallucinates about his wife and children. We know nothing about them nor will ever find out anything, they are just random people constantly nagging you and even Torque could give less of a damn since he is a blank slate character with no voice or emotions. Luckily the rest of the characters on the island are usually an interesting bunch and features people like an insane doctor, a murderous guard and vengeful spirits with their own backgrounds. The hideous enemies you will face are by far the stars of this game. They are just so freaky to look at and watch move around. The sounds they make as they scuttle around the floors or ceilings clanging their metallic limbs makes me want to take off running as they are just so disturbing. So we have great intractable environments and sound effects as well as decently open levels to explore, so you’d be forgiven for thinking this game sounds awesome because it does but it has one major flaw the combat. No one expects the combat for a horror game to be good and fluid but there is just so much of it. You can’t take more than a couple of steps before the games throws another wave of enemies at you.
It just makes The Suffering lose any semblance of horror it builds up. Having one creature in just out of reach, stalking you while you hope that you have enough ammo to take it down would have made this game a total gem but instead opts to go the action game route. You will be mowing down wave after wave of creatures that they just lose any sense of threat they may have once had as you are equipped with tons of weapons and tons of ammo making it feel like Painkiller or Serious Sam in third person. That’s why I hesitate to call it a horror game, it is much more of an action game with horror elements at that point. Combat itself is sluggish, enemies are bullet spongey and the auto aiming is really aggressive. You aim near an enemy it will snap the camera and lock on to him making it more difficult than it should be to pick your targets as you will loss time fighting the auto-aims as you hover toward the target you want. At your disposal are shotguns, machine guns, dual revolvers, TNT, grenades, Molotov cocktails and much more making you far more fearsome than any foe. As long as you keep moving most enemies won’t be able to lay a hand on you so expecting us to feel horror is impossible.
The game never plays with your mind or goes for psychological horror so it could put the environments and sound design to good use. At most we will randomly get a “grotesque” picture pop up on the screen accompanied by a loud noise. It is very ineffective and gets annoying is it is overused to oblivion and even pops up during combat, completely blocking your view for a few seconds. Why they thought this was a good idea is beyond me. As you explore more of the island you will discover new enemies that are equally as cool looking as the first one you see but much more annoying to fight. One is a fat fella called Fester that upon dying unleashes a horde of rats that is nearly impossible to destroy them all before they reach you and will quickly whittle down your health. Another monster tunnels underground and only briefly pops up to attack you. These don’t sound so bad but the amount of times you will be facing them really gets to you and I had to force myself to finish the game as the combat has just gotten too tedious for a game of this length. They do try to vary it up by having turrets or spotlights scattered around to kill them off though they usually spawn way more monsters than usual making it just as annoying.
One of the most unique things about The Suffering is that you can turn yourself into a monster after you have killed enough to go into a rage and can activate it whenever you chose. In the monster form you are much bigger and faster but cannot take any of the pills you happen to have on you to restore some health. It is a lot cooler than it sounds but turning into a giant hulking beast is pretty useless sadly enough. In that form you can only attack in melee with your claws or blade meaning that your enemies that also excel at close range will really drain your health as you take the same amount of damage you would if you were human. That means that there is no reason to transform into a monster unless you are out of ammo somehow since fighting as a human makes it far easier to avoid taking damage and conserve your valuable pills. Late towards the game you get a flamethrower and are never given ammo for it again strangely enough. Not a big deal but it feels very odd having a dead-weight weapon in your inventory that you will never get to use again and once again feels like they are just adding things in without real thought.
I have gone through a few freezes in the dozen or so hours it took to beat this game and they usually occurred during a flashback that would play and throw you back to a completely dark screen once it finished forcing you to restart your PS2. Other than playing the game you have an bonus material menu where you can view a documentary of a haunted prison, behind the scene footage of making this game and a trailer for Psi Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. You also have an archive menu where you can view the history and lore behind characters, monsters and locations which was a rather nice addition to the game. The truth of the matter is The Suffering had a ton of potential and did everything but the combat right. Or to be more specific it’s the absolute overabundance of fighting you will be doing. Fans of horror games are usually more than willing to put up with crummy combat or even the lack of a way to fight back but the sheer amount of it that you’ll be doing here is just too much. If you are looking for a mediocre third person shooter with an interesting environments and enemies you may want to take a look at this title but for those seeking a horror game I would not recommend it