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The Suffering. It didn't take much for this game to live up to its name. In fact, I've been putting off this review for as long as possible. I just didn't want to face it. The first night I played for some two and a half hours, but didn't get very far because I had to keep pausing to go turn on more lights in the house -- in rooms I wasn't even using!
You have to understand the kind of gamer I am. My favorite games are Gauntlet - Dark Legacy for the Xbox, Kingdom Hearts for the PlayStation 2 and Animal Crossing for the GameCube [though Muppet Party Cruise comes in a close second]. I don't do scary games. I don't understand people who do. I consider it a public service that I keep my spouse, who seriously digs that kinda thing, off the streets at night.
After just one session this game was responsible for a change in my status quo. I have no more beegeezus, and far too many Wiggins. The sound of silverware clinking makes me fight a perfectly reasonable impulse to crouch in a defensive position.
But my beloved editor could not be put off forever. People wanted to hear about what I thought of the game, so I hit upon a plan. I made my significant other play the game while I hid under a blanket next to him. He loved the game, even the added realism of cold pumping out of the air conditioner while he played [hey, it was hot under the blanket!] added to the overwhelmingly creepy ambiance.
The setup is what you would expect from the box art. You got sent to jail for some horrible murders you don't remember if you committed. While you are newly incarcerated in the hell-hole of a prison, things [literally from hell] start dropping by [they also drop other inmates, guards...]
A thing that caught my hubby's fancy was it was not like a typical horror game where you are some weak punk victim in the beginning and end up running away most of the time. Relatively soon you find that yay though you walk in the valley of the shadow of death, you don't have to fear so much evil, because it turns out you can transform into the meanest mo-fo in the valley. I have to admit that appeals to me too.
As you make your way in the game you meet people and have the opportunity to help them or just kill them, and depending on what you choose gives you a little piece of your memory that helps you uncover if you did or did not commit the murders you were sent to prison for. Since I was directing this exercise I made him be a do-gooder. It always adds to the pathos if you are convicted of a crime you didn't commit and it was really a one armed man all along.
It's a good thing I was there too, because there were parts he wouldn't have been able to get thru without my superior figuring-it-out skills. Talk about interactive! First person shooter environments are usually static, OK, sure, sometimes you have to move a lever to open a door, but in The Suffering the environment is part of the puzzles that have to be solved to reach the next part of the game. Things like moving statues to keep doors open, breaking through walls, shooting electrical boxes and using objects around you like spotlights to help defeat the creatures. Like I needed more realism.
I can't believe a PS2 game could look this good with all the shadow and lighting effects. The character models are really done well and the animations are fluid. My spouse, a man who is notoriously snobby about graphics, was the first to point out how gritty and real everything looked. That was about when I had to make him pause so I could get my stuffed dinosaur from the other room. Every little piece of comfort helps.
When I first played I tried to alleviate some of the creepy game jitters by turning down the sound and listening instead to a nice Brandenburg concerto, I quickly found that though it cuts down on the scariness it's better to play with the sound so the nimble blade-legged spider things can't sneak up behind you and slice you into coleslaw. Any Poe fan can tell you the constant lub-lub of a heartbeat in the background can drive you mad.
Overall it is a Freaking Nightmare of a game, but in a good we-didn't-want-you-to-have-clean-underwear-anyway sort of way. It gives an adrenaline rush like no other game I've played or almost watched being played from under bedding. Maybe if I'm super nice my editor can find some nice calm non-horrific game for me to review. Like solitaire or something.