í¢â‚¬Â¦and Hell followed with him.
Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ve doubtless heard the expression about having í¢â‚¬Å“one of those days.í¢â‚¬? Torque, the hard-case, hard-time-serving í¢â‚¬Å“heroí¢â‚¬? of The Suffering: Ties that Bind, is having, like, one of those lives.
He started the last game on Carnate Islandí¢â‚¬â„¢s Abbott Penitentiary death row for a family massacre he may or may not have committed, depending on how you played the game. After an utter bloodbath of an escape, heí¢â‚¬â„¢s back in his native Baltimore, on the lam from both his vicious tormenter Blackmore and a shadow/muscle organization investigating í¢â‚¬Â¦well, whatever happened on Carnate Island. Now, Torque may be out of the original frying pan, but the supernatural crap-storm that obliterated Carnate has made landfall right in his old urban stomping grounds.
For a game series that splattered onto the scene with such an edgy debut, ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a little surprising that the sequel takes rather a safe route (a blood-drenched one crawling with the monstrous incarnations of inner-city evil, perhaps, but safe nonetheless). New setting or no, Ties that Bind is damn near functionally identical to its predecessor, with third-person, follow-cam action red with blood, blue with profanity, and ultra-black with dismal environs and intruding, nightmarish visions.
Torqueí¢â‚¬â„¢s mind isní¢â‚¬â„¢t in such good shape these days. As he kills his way through the game, he is guided by spectral visions of past events as well as the apparent honest-to-goth specter of his late, murdered wife. As in the first game, Torque is faced with a constant parade of moral choices – say, whether to aid or butcher a bound, helpless guard – urged all the while by opposing voices in his head to do acts of evil or, well, less evil. The results of these choices actually affect the ultimate outcome of the game. This was employed to brilliant effect in The Suffering, where the í¢â‚¬Ëœretroactive moralityí¢â‚¬â„¢ ultimately decided whether or not Torque was responsible for the crime for which he was originally imprisoned.
In fact, such fluctuations of the moral compass directly affect the immediate progress of Ties that Bind as well, insofar as they shape the abilities of the inner monster Torque must occasionally become. And weí¢â‚¬â„¢re not talking judgmental metaphor, here; weí¢â‚¬â„¢re talking actual, rip-your-head-off-and-paint-the-walls-with-it monster. When Torque changes form, with malice or in self-defense, he literally becomes a creature, clutching his head in agony and suddenly “Hulking out” into a massive, inhuman thing that can easily kill a roomful of attackers or smash through some otherwise unbreachable barrier.
Perhaps ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a blessing in ghastly disguise, too, because although Torque has at his disposal a pretty serious range of armaments, theyí¢â‚¬â„¢re not so impressive. In fact, some of them are pretty much useless. We all want our survival-horror heroes to feel at risk, but in spite of their weapons, not actually because of them. The pistols seem to be throwing Mentos instead of real rounds for all the good they do, the automatic weapons arení¢â‚¬â„¢t much better, and there are many situations where use of the big guns (rocket launcher, grenade launcher, etc.) is, thanks to constricted environments, tantamount to suicide. And Torque is already halfway to Hell, thank you very much.
He’s also a tad more active than before, running, crouching and even occasionally jumping. He can only pack two weapons at any given time, however, forcing the player to think in a slightly more strategic (read: paranoid) way. Just to add to the insecurity, Torque must take his health-restoring happy pills as he finds them rather than carting a supply of those around as well.
Save for these minor changes, the gameplay is essentially unchanged, and with visits later in the game to í¢â‚¬Ëœold haunts,í¢â‚¬â„¢ the casual observer would be hard-pressed to say if any given minute of gameplay was from the first or second game, icky, intrusive visions and all. Surreal Software certainly knows which side its bread is bloodied on.
And ití¢â‚¬â„¢s clear pretty quickly that thereí¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot of familiar territory here. The most obvious example is found in the bestiary of monstrous enemies. In the first game, different creatures took the forms of various methods of prison execution (a noxious, needle-hurling freak to represent lethal injection, for example). It was low-level symbolic cleverness verging on low-level brilliance. Here, youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll find the old monsters repurposed, to personify the badness of the urban experience (needle-freak is, surprise, the incarnation of drug addiction). Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s not a bad approach in itself, but it takes away from the messed up originality of the first game. Even the Baltimore environments themselves doní¢â‚¬â„¢t have quite the isolated, gothic-punk impact, instead a case of more of the same.
One rather less intentionally hellish aspect is the difficulty level, which is all over the place. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s one thing to surprise the player occasionally, but Ties that Bind seems to have been designed under the influence of two completely clashing yet equally mind-altering drugs. Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll go from a series of breezy victories over foes you almost feel sorry for, then suddenly walk into a room and get served like crappy peanuts in coach. Also, this time around youí¢â‚¬â„¢re essentially forced to resort to Torqueí¢â‚¬â„¢s monstrous form more often. Maybe it makes the game í¢â‚¬Ëœdarkerí¢â‚¬â„¢ or maybe it doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t, but part of the last gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s unspoken challenge was intentionally laying off that transformation as much as possible. It was certainly easier, with that gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s more liberal weapon-toting scheme.
The game does a good job conveying the carnage, as Torqueí¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes, skin and weapons steadily accumulate layers of spattered gore, a great visual touch. Differences between the two console versions are slight; both look a lot like their respective predecessors, and both look good now.
Ties that Bind isní¢â‚¬â„¢t a high-art skin-crawler in the same sense as, say, the Fatal Frame games, but it doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t intend to be. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a bloody, action-based spooker where youí¢â‚¬â„¢re justifiably afraid of the boogeymen, but theyí¢â‚¬â„¢d be well-advised to be afraid of your gunned-up, ex-con, maximum-security ass, too, and the action does not disappoint. There are some truly eerie, sick-out moments here. Any game that lets you enter a room mere moments after some poor shlub has obviously Cobained himself all over the wall (ragged stump still gouting red) must be given some nervous props. Even with the help of intrusive visions, the story is stretched pretty thinly over a skeleton of violent action.
But take heart, horror-inclined gamers. Any random two minutes of Ties that Bindí¢â‚¬â„¢s blood-soaked gameplay is likely to give your parents, stuffy friends or sensitive authority figures of your choice the dribbling shiznits, and pretty much all the first gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s good stuff has remained intact. Whether ití¢â‚¬â„¢s too í¢â‚¬Ëœintactí¢â‚¬â„¢í¢â‚¬Â¦well, thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s a demon youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to wrestle with on your own.