When you think of the greatest survival horrors, the first names that come to mind are usually Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and then latter-day classics like Amnesia, Alien Isolation, and Outlast. Similarly, cast your mind back to the mid ‘00s, or maybe try to think of the best games ever, and The Suffering, from Surreal Software and Midway, probably doesn’t enter your memory. A superlatively good horror shooter from 2004, despite paving the way for the likes of Dead Space, The Suffering has faded somewhat from gaming history. Bold, bloody, and with a terrific story, if you’ve never played it, or want to revisit this bona fide forgotten gem, The Suffering is now available for less than $3.
I love the setup. As the wonderfully named Torque, you’re sent to the equally wonderfully named prison, Carnate Island, for the supposed murder of your wife and child. Scheduled to be executed, everything goes awry when the island is attacked by hordes of monsters. But here’s the cool thing – in fact, here’s one of many cool things that makes The Suffering a classic horror game.
All the creatures are designed after methods of execution. One of them is made entirely from needles, and will try to stab you with a lethal injection. Another walks around with several rifles growing out from its back, and bends forward to try and kill you firing-squad style.
As you progress, you encounter numerous moral decisions. Some of them are clear. Some are more opaque – there’s a great one towards the end of the game where you find a prison guard who’s been severely mutilated by the monsters, and you have to decide how to ‘help’ him.
What I love about The Suffering is how it walks a line between quite sophisticated and substantive storytelling and visual style, but also outright schlock. This isn’t a somber, reflective journey into the soul, but nor is it a dumb, brainless shooter. There’s a wonderful effect – especially for 2004 – whereby Torque gets progressively covered in blood the more you kill. But there are also alternate endings, which reveal what happened to Torque’s family depending on your choices.
Torque also has a beast mode, where you hit a button and transform into a hulking great bear thing with giant knives on the ends of your arms. Combined with some terrific dialogue, a tight, eight-hour runtime, and its unique monster designs, The Suffering deserves a revival. And you can get it now on GOG for precisely $2.50 / £2.09, less than the price of a cup of coffee, and a serious bargain for one of the best games of the last 20 years.