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Freeware Friday: The Suffering

Welcome to Freeware Friday, a weekly column showcasing excellent games that you can play free of charge!

There's nothing quite like just going insane and murdering everyone. In a game. Not in real life. You know I meant in a game, right? The Suffering, one of Midway's best releases (and easily their best release from 2004) was recently re-released as an ad-supported free game. It's bloody, more than a little scary, and manages to merge third-person action and scares in an oddly compelling way. It was good enough to warrant a great sequel as well as a movie in production. But what makes it so good that Midway would decide to release it for free?

There's not a lot of history to the release of The Suffering, but the setting and characters have more depth than they first appear to have. You play as Torque, a newly transferred inmate to Abbott State Penitentiary. You have been sentenced to death for killing your wife and children by beating them to death with your bare hands. On your first night on death row, a powerful tremor damages the jail as a horde of monsters attacks the island you are on. As you make your way through the island's interior is attempts to escape, you run across three ghosts that encourage you to do good, evil, or simply go insane. The dialog accompanying the prisoners and guards you run across is mostly bland harsh language, but the ghosts are genuinely creepy in their appearances and dialog.

The graphics of the game are good by 2004's standards. If you have a mid-to-low range PC by today's standards, you can probably run The Suffering with little to no lag. Some interesting graphical elements of the game that weren;t common during the time period it came out in are limb dismemberment and blood splatter. You can get soaked in blood and blow off enemy arms, legs, and heads. The sound design is also phenomenal. The sounds, voice actors, and music all contribute significantly to the very creepy atmosphere. On a side note, in the menu screen, before a game session, between levels, and after the game session there are Air Force ads. These last about 15-20 seconds, so it doesn't interrupt you too much. They are thankfully absent in normal play.

The basic gameplay is rather standard third-person action fare. You run around, pick up items, and kill enemies. The combat and controls are alright, although it can be hard to hit an enemy when they are attacking you sometimes. Thankfully, the game basically throws ammo at you, so it's not much of a concern if you miss. The aforementioned dismemberment and subsequent blood spray, while awesome, doesn't actually affect anything in regards to damage (like Dead Space did with Strategic Dismemberment). In fact, enemies seem to take the same amount of damage no matter where you shoot them, making combat less about shooting the right places and more dodging around enemy attacks and picking your targets. You take a significant amount of damage from enemy hits, but you have jumps and rolls at your disposal and can carry a stock of healing pills that can be used at any time. The weapons are functional but nothing special, consisting of such standards as an assault rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a knife, among others. The shotgun is the coolest of them all, though, because it blows enemy torsos apart in a shower of gore. This is a very, very messy game and definitely not for the squeamish.

One of the big draws behind The Suffering is the usage of a morality system. In short, you will run across other characters that will be in some dilemma, such as being stuck in a gas chamber or being eaten alive by rats. You can choose several different actions to do that will influence your morality and determine the ending you get. For example, a good action would be killing the man being eaten alive, as he has no chance of survival and will die either way. A neutral act would be to ignore the pleas of a guard and let a monster kill him. An evil act would be to press the button and gas the man stuck in the chamber. Your morality is a slider, though, so you can perform a good deed and a bad deed and remain neutral in the long run.

The other big draw behind The Suffering are the monster designs. Based around specific methods of execution, they take grotesque and disturbing forms when attacking Torque. Perhaps the most memorable monster in the game is the Mainliner, which represents people that have died of lethal injection. A variety of needles sticks in his back, and he attacks by throwing them at Torque and crawling along the ground. All of the creature types have this cool factor going for them, though, not just the Mainliner. The very first monster, the Slayer, is awesome as well with its bladed prostheses and ability to climb along any surface.

The last, unexplored part of The Suffering is the ability to tap into your insanity and lose it, becoming a force to be reckoned with. When you insanity gauge is full, you can press a button to transform into a hulking behemoth that cleaves monsters in two and can send out shockwave attacks. It does have a drawback, though: the longer you stay in it, the more damage you take, and if your insanity runs out, you die. Insanity mode is more explored in the sequel, which is also an excellent game in its own right.

The Suffering is far from a game like Fatal Frame 2 that is intended to scare you out of your wits. However, for a mix of excellent third-person action with genuinely creepy characters and set pieces, it's one of the best games around. You can download the ad-supported version through our downloads section and get right to escaping the hell that is Abbott State Penitentiary. Just don't lose your mind in the process.

For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!


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