Midway shocked the gaming world when, in March 2004, The Suffering was unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. The game had great action moments and was more than just an average horror game. Instead of just using bizarre monsters to scare gamers, The Suffering took an approach seen in a lot of Japanese horror movies and attempted to frighten the gamer psychologically. The winning formula that produced one of the best horror games of 2004 has resurfaced in a big way with the sequel, The Suffering: Ties that Bind. Although this game lacks any major improvements over the original, it still manages to pack a punch.
Ties that Bind resumes the story of Torque, a stereotypical bad boy who finds himself in prison yet again. After getting introduced to a few of your jail buddies, all hell will break loose and you must navigate through a sort of tutorial level that teaches you the basic skills needed to survive in this game. The first level also gives you a foretaste of the fear and suspense that made the first title such a runaway hit. Once again, the developers understood that the scariest thing is not what you can see, but what you can't see. In addition, you encounter the good and evil sides of your conscience early in the game. Both play a significant role in the story in that the final outcome will depend largely on the decisions you make - such as whether or not you kill innocent people.
As far as graphics go, Ties that Bind looks by and large like the first game. The game definitely earns its Mature rating, so expect to see a terrifying amount of blood and gore. That being said, the game does sport some nice touches like fog effects and bizarre monsters. The one problem with this title is the annoyingly low lighting; we're talking darker than DOOM 3 lighting. Granted this game is a psychological thriller and the scariness factor depends on the darkness, but using a flashlight all the time can get really annoying - especially when there's a multi-bladed monster around the corner just waiting to jump on you. While the game still looks good, it doesn't look a whole lot better than the original; that alone makes it feel more like an expansion pack from a graphical standpoint.
Ties that Bind is a very frightening game and the sound is a big part of that. As there is hardly any background music, you tend to pay a lot of attention to every sound around you. Ties that Bind also delivers some top-notch voice acting that really helps to further immerse you in the game. One word of caution to those who have virgin ears: you'll find this game is filled with obscenities from beginning to end (which is fine by me, but some people may be offended).
Just like the graphics engine, the gameplay in Ties that Bind is nearly identical to the original. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing since the original was a great game - it would have just been nice to see some innovation this time around. You get a variety of weapons in this game such as revolvers, mini shotguns, machine guns, all of which can be double wielded. A nice feature in Ties that Bind is that you can switch between 1st and 3rd person modes on the fly. That gives you a bit more flexibility when deciding how to kill your enemies. You also get a great transformation move that charges up as you kill monsters. When you unleash the transformation, Torque turns into a monster himself and gains abilities such as super strength and blades for arms. That's all fine and dandy but some enemies can only be killed with this move and that can get really annoying when you're not fully charged. You do get some other abilities from the transformation - such as projectile attacks and area attacks - but those are mostly to clear a room full of weak enemies quickly. There are also areas in the game only accessible when Torque is in his transformed state.
Most of the areas in Ties that Bind have a set path that you have to follow so this is not really a free roaming RPG-type game. Even the puzzles are fairly straight-forward and usually involve turning a wheel or breaking something nearby. This is great for action fans that only care about shooting things and moving on but if you're looking for brain teasers, this game won't please you much. What you will get are plenty of weird looking monsters to kill and as much gore as your stomach can take.
I have to say there are a lot of problems with Ties that Bind. The graphics and gameplay are painfully similar to the original, so the storyline is pretty much the biggest change you will notice. In spite of this, Ties That Bind is still a great game that I had a lot of fun with. It's very much an in-your-face experience that will appeal to action/horror gamers in more ways than one. The endings are not the best and the story does fall short of spectacular after a while, but the gameplay is what won me over in the end. Rest assured that if you play this thing at night with the lights off, it will scare the hell out of you. On that basis alone, I would recommend it to fans of the original and action horror fans alike.