Last year's Midway horror game, The Suffering, took the genre in a slightly different direction by focusing more on straight-up action, sticking closer to the third-person shooter blueprint rather than adhering to any sort of standard survival horror tactics. The follow-up, Ties That Bind, makes few changes to the formula, stretches a thin story to somewhere near the breaking point, and delivers a bloody, curse-filled action game that might still please fans of the first game, though it's more likely that you'll feel like you played the same game last year.
The story takes a quick detour, flashing back to five years ago, right around the time when Torque was first incarcerated. Serving as a brief setup for the story and a bit of a tutorial, it's over fast, and you're flashed back to immediately after the conclusion of the first game. You're in a boat, speeding away from the monster-filled Carnate Island and heading right towards Baltimore.
To safety? Hardly. Baltimore has been overrun by the same sorts of evil malefactors that you just finished blasting away in the prison. And you're given a few plot-related questions to chew on. Who makes up the Foundation, and why do they want to capture you so badly? Who is Blackmoore, and why does he seem responsible for every little bad thing that's ever happened to you and your family? You'll spend the next 15 or 20 hours attempting to figure that out, but the plot barely ever comes into play. Torque will occasionally have flashbacks that fill you in on some of his past, but for the most part, the game's a little too convoluted for its own good.
At least the action's still just as straightforward as it was last time around, right? Unfortunately, the combat, which was one of the strengths of last year's game, isn't as satisfying in the sequel. You can carry two weapons at any given time, and you'll encounter a variety of pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons, blunt objects, and rocket or grenade launchers as you go. But, generally speaking, most of the weapons really lack punch. The game's lowly Colt pistol feels especially weak, but most of the automatic weapons are lame, too. You'll empty an entire magazine into an enemy, and it'll still come at you. Most of the game's corridors and other areas are too tight to make a rocket launcher or grenade launcher very useful, leaving only the shotgun, which is really only useful up close, and the M-60, which doesn't turn up all that often and comes with a pretty limited supply of ammo.
All of this seems to tie into the game wanting you to use your creature form more frequently. You have an onscreen sanity meter, and when it's full, you can press a button and turn into a large beast with a few attacks that tend to really tear through most normal enemies. The game also throws in a few variants of its existing creatures that can only be taken out when you're transformed. So the creature form is more useful, but it isn't terribly exciting. For starters, you still get gunned down pretty quickly in this form. So using the form when you go up against the crazy spider guys with guns for arms isn't the automatic win that it can be when you go up against other, melee-based bad guys. Additionally, you can only remain in your transformed state for maybe 10 seconds or so.
The creature's attacks are damaging, but not terribly exciting. Over time, the moral decisions you make throughout the game have an impact on your creature form, giving you additional attacks and changing its look a bit. Being good is tougher than being bad, but really only because the game's artificial intelligence is so awful. In one case, you have to lead a junkie around for awhile, and while you're doing so, you get attacked. Rather than run off and cower in a corner as a good junkie should, he decides to stand right next to your enemies. The creature form's attacks take nice, wide swipes, making it nearly impossible to do your job without also smoking the junkie. This sort of thing happens fairly regularly. Considering how quickly the monsters can chew through your health if you hesitate, waiting around for a safe time to attack isn't always an option on the game's default or harder difficulty settings.
The visuals in The Suffering are effective at conveying the game's bloody, gory theme. As in last year's game, Torque and his weapons get absolutely splattered with blood during the game's heavier fights. It wears off over time, but it's definitely a cool-looking effect. The game's monster design is largely recycled from last year's game, which is disappointing.
The game's sound is where most of the game's attempts to be creepy come from. You'll almost constantly be catching bits of conversation from people who lived long ago, often turning into a full-on hallucination-style cutscene. Just like last year's game, the script is teeming with curse words, including a couple that you've probably never heard in games before. Given the whole "city overrun by hellish creatures" motif, mixed with a return to a prison setting for part of the game, the script's foul mouth also works.
If you're a fan of the previous game and you're looking for more of the same, Ties That Bind fits the bill, but more expansion on the themes of the first game would have made for a much more interesting final product.
Keep up to date with the latest games news, reviews and features by signing up to CNET.com.au's free Games Spotlight weekly newsletter. Sign up now!