This sequel to Surreal Software's well-received action-horror game, The Suffering, finds its protagonist Torque free from the morbid penitentiary that once held him, yet imprisoned still by the sadistic demons that haunt his waking hours. Like the original game, Ties That Bind features plenty of violent combat action, strung on a storyline of macabre mystery. As he quests to learn more of the strange figure responsible for his imprisonment and torture, the hero finds himself in slums of Baltimore, where the demons that now follow him unleash their depravity and delight in the darkness they bring. Once again, Torque will face moral dilemmas that force him to risk his sanity and delve into his own gruesome past, if he ever hopes to learn the secrets that will lead him to a future of redemption.
The PC plays host to a great many horror games, and if you're over the age of about 8, it's pretty tough to really scare yourself anyway-which means that games like The Suffering: Ties That Bind are probably at something of a disadvantage to begin with. Ties That Bind did give me a shiver or two when played under circumstances designed to induce that effect (late at night, alone in my apartment with the lights dimmed, and the surround sound cranked)...but unless you found the original Suffering especially captivating, you can probably find better ways to get your creep on.
It's not that Ties That Bind falls flat-but not much about it really stands out. The plot works OK, as long as you aren't expecting anything original: Picking up exactly where the last game ends, Ties That Bind follows Torque, a death row escapee who's been accused of brutally murdering his wife and two sons. Here, he makes his way through a monster-infested Baltimore, staving off various grotesque horrors via a typical third-person action interface while trying to uncover exactly what happened to his family (whose untimely deaths may or may not have actually been his fault).
The game confronts you with marginally interesting "moral" choices as you progress-basically, do you kill people, or don't you?-but considering the fact that you've got hordes of undead goons after you, is it really that tough to decide not to kill the few humans you actually happen upon? You won't find anything notably gory about the monsters, and the environments sport suitable levels of dark and dank...but nothing dares to break the status quo (warehouse infested with bloody bad guys-check; sewers-check; creepy abandoned movie theater-check). The gameplay is functional; the puzzles, solvable; the enemies, tough without being impossible-but again, nothing stands out. The strange pacing had me easily handling bad guys and moving through checkpoints at a rapid tick...then suddenly encountering scores of unrelenting enemies.
Ties That Bind's linearity adds to the frustration, requiring unnatural movement in order to keep you on the rails-such as forcing you to enter a specific space which does nothing to move the plot forward or convey crucial information or items, and exists purely to "complete" a section and thus open up the next checkpoint.
Although the horror element here suffers from one-trick-pony-itis, I was, over time, compelled enough by the story to keep going-not just because I had to, but because I was kinda interested to see how things turned out. Ties That Bind isn't the best horror game I've spent time with, but it does have its share of mildly redeeming qualities.
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