We’ve all been guilty of some mistake, a minor or major sin that we wind up having to atone for at some point. That’s simply being human, and whether it’s a mental correction or a painful lesson learned, we grow from the situation and have our conscience somewhat cleansed. But there are some people who are so tainted that their moral lapses will stick with them forever. Torque, the “hero” of the Suffering series, is one such example: a man whose crimes constantly haunt him no matter where he goes. But his problems have become much larger than the tight confines of a prison. Torque takes his twisted reality to the streets of Baltimore in the latest installment of The Suffering: Ties That Bind.
Ties That Bind picks up where the previous game left off, with Torque speeding away from Carnate Island and its supernaturally infested Abbott Penitentiary towards his hometown of Baltimore. Shooting, hacking and bludgeoning his way through an assortment of nightmarish monsters (and I'm not speaking about the inmates), Torque struggled to stay alive. Unfortunately for the escaped convict, the city isn't any safer than the island he's fled from. Apparently the same beasts that appeared on the island have managed to make their way to the mainland and are wreaking havoc on the townsfolk. It's up to Torque to discover why these creatures have been released, but also seek some closure with parts of his life that constantly haunt him.
Fortunately, Torque will have a number of different ways to take down the things that are stalking the streets. These range from pistols and shotguns to fully automatic machineguns and rocket launchers. While you won't be able to wield large weapons like the grenade launcher in both hands, you will be able to double your firepower with smaller firearms. This is important because you'll be restricted to only two weapons this time around, making your choice of protection extremely important. You'll also be able to get your things like axes and pipes to defend yourself if your ammo runs out. Torque will also be able to throw a number of explosives, such as hand grenades or Molotov cocktails, to take out groups of monsters. Every creature you eliminate boosts your insanity meter, which you'll be able to use to unleash the monster inside your anti-hero.
Nietzsche once said, "He who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." Well, whether it's because of all the sins he's committed, some special ability to harness his anger or another factor of the madness gripping the areas Torque walks through, he can morph into a fiend wielding chains out of his back and a scythe for an arm. Much more than a cosmetic change, Torque’s alter ego can use his size to knock down weakened walls or eviscerate groups of opponents. He’ll also need to “unleash the beast” to take out certain monsters that can deflect projectiles and blunt attacks. Somewhat of a change this time around is how your moral choices affect your inner creature. The previous Suffering game let you determine how good, neutral or evil Torque was as he fought his way through Abbott by saving or murdering innocents and bystanders; this time around, these choices change his attacks and the look of the inner creature itself, which makes every choice important.
Apart from some of the combat tweaks, Ties That Bind goes quite a ways into the personal story of Torque. You’ll wind up at a number of his old haunts, including his apartment, the gazebo where he met his conscience, Carmen, and other neighborhood acquaintances. You’ll also get a sense of what happened to his kids, how (or rather why) they were killed, and how the appearance of a manipulator named Blackmore set Torque on his criminal path. What’s more, you’ll also wind up running into both people (or at least Carmen’s ghost here and there) as you try to find out why Baltimore is suffering the same fate that Carnate Island had. Often, Carmen and Blackmore’s voices will echo in your head as you try to determine how Torque will respond to a moral dilemma, pointing out just how influential these two people are in his life.
While the sequel is a great expansion of Torque’s story, it takes a number of steps backward in other ways. First of all, the restriction of weapons to only two hand or firearms doesn’t make the game more strategic; in fact, it makes it somewhat more infuriating. Many of the guns lack significant power to take out monsters or even human opponents, with many of them shrugging off numerous shots to still inflict damage on you. The more powerful items aren’t much better, either packing too much explosive force in close quarters (in the case of the bazookas or grenade launchers) or not enough ammunition to be effective, such as the shotgun and the M60. What’s more, the lack of available bullet stores means that you’re better off with hand-to-hand weapons with a long reach, such as the pipe or a baseball bat, saving your bullets until you need to clear out a room. You’re going to have to get somewhat skilled with these tools, because you won’t be able to stockpile first aid medicine either.
This makes things somewhat complicated when you realize just how many times you’ll get swarmed or outnumbered by creatures. It’s not uncommon to be attacked by 4 or more creatures, and often you’ll find yourself taking down one or two only to discover them replaced by even more threats. While there is a certain level of intelligence and tactics that they employ during combat, including evading attacks and going for cover at times, the majority of attacks are relatively straightforward and patterned, meaning that players of the first title shouldn’t have much difficulty getting around some of these creatures.
Speaking of some of these monsters, it seems just a little too convenient to simply transfer over creatures from the first title to the second, making part of the game come across somewhat as a port. It’s not a major sin, but it limits the scare factor and believability somewhat when you know you’ve seen these things before. For instance, the beasts in the first game were all designed around different methods of capital punishment: beheadings, lethal injection, firing squads and the like. It makes it somewhat dubious to find these same creatures becoming crimes spawned from muggings, heroin addiction, gun violence and other societal ills. In fact, by the time you get to some of the newer addictions to the Suffering pantheon, including those meant to represent arsonists and rapists, you’re somewhat unimpressed by their design and more shocked by their actions.
You’ll also discover that much of the game is extremely linear, like its predecessor. However, it made more sense in the first title, when you were literally trying to make your way from one cellblock to another and your environments were constructed to specifically be more restrictive to your freedom (it was a prison, after all). With the game taking place in a city, you’d hope that there were at least two ways to reach a location. Instead, you are continually funneled towards certain points via locked doors, destroyed areas or other obstacles. This isn’t realistic, practical or believable. It also makes it somewhat difficult to accomplish some of the numerous “escort” missions that you’ll get tasked with without accidentally killing your charge. Obviously, this makes it more difficult to achieve these tasks or remain morally good, which can be extremely infuriating.
Fortunately, there are enough technical merits within the game to make Ties That Bind significantly appealing to action players. The game takes advantage of the previous title’s engine, depicting much of the game violence in graphic, gory detail. This means that you see body parts and blood spurting everywhere, whether it’s from people who’ve been butchered by monsters, suicide or other nasty ends. Many of the monsters from the first title have been ported over from the first title, and have received a little graphical touch up to make them look a bit scarier. Similarly, you’ll find that the number of flashes, cinematics and other spiritually disconcerting visuals are still around and just as frequent, meaning that you’ll literally walk you way in and out of nightmares as you explore the city.
Even stronger are the sound effects. All of the voice acting that’s found in the game is extremely well done, including the massive amounts of profanity scattered throughout the title. The actor providing Carmen’s voice manages to strike a nice balance between anger and support during many of her appearances. Michael Clarke Duncan and Rachel Griffiths lend their voices to Blackmore and Jordan (a scientist in Baltimore), and provide good performances, although many of Blackmore’s lines are somewhat laughable. The true standout, however, has to be the creepy dialogue from the misogynistic monster, which will send shivers up and down your spine with his comments about how much he hates women.
Ties That Bind is one of those games that you wish went farther than it actually does. Sure, it expands on the story of the previous game, and as an expansion pack would be somewhat adequate, but it doesn’t innovate or redesign anything to make it stand out from its predecessor’s shadow. It’s a great chapter to Torque’s story, but some of the restrictions with the combat and linearity make it a good action title instead of a great sequel.