You can imagine the scene. Torque, the anti-hero at the centre of The Suffering: Ties That Bind, is finally talking about his emotional problems with a professional:
Doctor: "So how are you today?"
Torque: "I'm feeling kind of angry."
Doctor: "Why is that?"
Torque: "Well, I guess it... it all started when I murdered my wife and children and it has all gone downhill from there. Monsters, soldiers, scientists, they all keep trying to kill me."
Doctor: "And what do you do about this?"
Torque: "Sometimes I mutate into a massive hulk like creature with blades for arms and guns sprouting out of my back; only sometimes though."
Doctor: "How does that make you feel?"
The Suffering: Ties That Bind is the sequel to the surprise hit The Suffering and maintains a similar feel and emphasis. A pulsating 1st/3rd person action title wrapped in a well paced and involving horror storyline; fans of the original will immediately feel comfortable with Ties That Bind.
The story follows straight on from the first game and has Torque escaping from Carnate Island and returning to his old haunts in Baltimore to find out the truth about his past. It soon becomes clear that an enigmatic character named Blackmore is at the centre of much of Torque's misery and the chase is on to hunt him down. If things seem too straightforward though, then think again, because you also have to contend with the Foundation, a group led by scientist Jordan - a woman who's intent on picking your brain. Word of warning Jordan, curiosity killed the cat. The story, no doubt the game's strongest feature, develops at a beautiful pace, using a combination of events, flashbacks and journal entries to flesh out Torque's past and the ongoing mystery about why he is the way he is. As a result the game oozes atmosphere and is enhanced by the superb use of lighting and sound.
Much of the game's mechanics have remained unchanged from the original, with a choice of 1st person or 3rd person views, both of which you will use at one point or another. For the most part this is a good thing; however, it does pose its own problems. The lack of more options to customise 1st or 3rd person controls in the console versions being a particular peculiarity. For example, I prefer to play with strafe on the right stick and turn on the left - an option not provided, making the 1st person view awkward for me to use. This may not bother you, but it seems like an oversight not to allow more flexibility. As in the original you'll also be required to make moral choices to help people throughout the game. The choices you make will govern the abilities you have in Insanity (monster) mode and how Torque is perceived in the end. Is he a murderous tyrant or just a lovable rogue who's misunderstood? You decide.
'Enemies are creatively designed and AI is generally decent.'
One major change from the original game is the two-weapon limit now in place. An idea made popular by Halo, it just doesn't feel right in Ties That Bind. Granted, it supposedly adds a strategic edge to combat, but in this case it feels contrived and more like a way to make the game harder. This, coupled with the sparse amount of ammo, adds a needless distraction to what is purely an action game. It also means you'll probably miss out on most of the exotic weapons because you need at least two mainline weapons to get by. I understand the logic of this change, but in this case it just doesn't work.
Enemies are creatively designed and AI is generally decent. Human enemies will take cover intelligently when necessary and, although they will never try to flush you out with a grenade, the action is nonetheless convincing, enjoyable and satisfying. Much kudos must go to the development team for creating some truly imaginative enemy designs that all provide their own unique challenges. The only sour note comes from some truly ridiculous difficulty spikes. The first half-hour of the game is relatively straightforward, with enemies at irregular intervals and in small numbers, but then you reach a point where you'll face several waves of various enemies. With health and ammo in short supply I ended up dying and restarting numerous times trying to find the right formula to defeat the enemies. This unfortunately becomes a recurring theme and one which at times threatens to sabotage what is a very enjoyable game - you'll probably find yourself screaming obscenities in frustration at some points. I hasten to add that the two-weapon limit is a major, if not the major contributing factor to this problem. Developers take note - just because it works in Halo doesn't mean it does everywhere else!
The game is undoubtedly bolstered by some exceptional voice work, with Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile) and Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) lending their voices to Blackmore and Jordan respectively. Having put up with terrible acting in other games it's always refreshing to see some effort being made in this department. The quality of the sound is not, however, restricted to the voice acting; sound effects in general are of a good quality and, much like the lighting, are used to good effect to create atmosphere. Overall the production values are excellent and rarely disappoint.
Ultimately, however, there is little new to be found in the Ties That Bind. It remains true to its roots but fails to add anything new to a strong concept. This doesn't make it a failure and fans and newcomers alike will find plenty of enjoyment in this better than the average action game. Only Resident Evil 4 outdoes The Suffering series in this particular genre, which is high praise indeed. A good 'pick up and play' title, The Suffering: Ties That Bind ticks all the boxes, but doesn't redefine them. I look forward to seeing where the series goes next.