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Review: 'Suffering' sequel worth the pain

By Sid Lipsey
CNN

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You play Torque: a former death row inmate trying to rid Baltimore of its inner demons.

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(CNN) -- Come to lovely Baltimore, Maryland. Reflect on the patriotic history of Fort McHenry, birthplace of the "Star-Spangled Banner" ... and while you're here, battle a limitless army of hideous monsters amid the squalor of our slums.

That may sound like an entry from the world's worst-ever travel brochure. But it's really an apt description of "The Suffering: Ties That Bind," the new, Baltimore-set sequel to Midway's 2004 action-horror game "The Suffering."

The original game featured a morally ambiguous hero named Torque who, while on death row at a Maryland prison, battled an army of gory monsters that would have scared the pants off of even the surliest prisoners on the old HBO show "Oz."

"The Suffering" won widespread critical praise, sold about 1.5 million copies, and even spawned plans for a live-action movie from MTV Films.

The game's sequel, "Ties That Bind," takes place right where its predecessor left off: with Torque on a Coast Guard cutter heading toward Baltimore. But there's no rest for the dreary; Torque's ashore for barely five minutes before he finds himself once again battling deadly monsters that have now overrun his city. All the while, Torque's tormented by images of his dead wife and children as he tries to unravel the mystery of the man who may have played a part in their murders: the evil mastermind Blackmore.

"Ties That Bind" sends you and Torque through the eerie side streets, apartments and vacant stores of the Baltimore slums, which are rendered in expansive graphical detail (be sure to explore your surroundings carefully; maps are scattered all over the place and can be essential to maneuvering through each level).

But be warned: bloodthirsty demons lurk around every dark corner. Borrowing a page from the original "Suffering," the makers of this game make each creature a sort of "monsterification" of a real-life societal ill that plagues America's cities.

For instance, the demon depicting gun violence is a Volkswagen-sized spider creature bristling with more firepower than an army platoon. Other demons depict street crimes and riots.

You can fight these creatures with an array of standard-issue action game weapons: pistols, shotguns, machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers or more unconventional weapons such as a pipe and a baseball bat.

But Torque isn't just a user of weapons -- he is one. Taking out baddies increases his "Insanity Meter" which, once it fills up completely, allows you to transform Torque into a highly destructive monster whose claws can wreak havoc on a horde of attacking creatures. Be sure to change back quickly; staying in monster mode for too long can kill Torque.

"Ties That Bind's" controller layout is straightforward and easy-to-learn. It allows you to switch seamlessly between third-person and first-person views. And Torque is highly maneuverable; you can dive and roll him in almost any direction.

The game's weapons targeting function lacks a zoom option, making it that much harder to get those all-important head shots you'll need to quickly take out enemies.

"Ties That Bind's" combination of explosives-fueled violence, creepy monsters, disturbing images of murdered humans and extremely rough language more than earns the game's "M: For Mature Audiences" rating.

Still, "Ties That Bind" is bound to satisfy "Suffering" fans who crave alternately spooky and gory action games that are best played at night with the lights down low, volume up high and earplugs stuffed securely in the ears of any sleeping housemates.

Plus, it certainly is an added thrill to see an action game that doesn't take place in Los Angeles or New York.

"The Suffering: Ties That Bind" is available on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and the PC.

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