No-one likes being cooped up: that’s why incarceration is such a time-honoured punishment, from medieval oubliettes to the 18th-century panopticon. But when you first meet The Suffering’s convict anti-hero Torque – a badass but slyly ironic name considering his taciturn nature – he barely seems to spend any time confined in an actual slammer, despite being jailed for murdering his wife and two kids.
That’s because shortly after Torque is frog-marched onto Death Row by a squad of caricatured prison guards, all hell literally breaks loose. This brawny brawler with Wolverine mutton chops is thus abruptly free to run amok through a fetid prison facility sited on a bleak island miles off the coast of Maryland. Navigating via feeble flashlight through the oppressive corridors of Abbott State Penitentiary requires guts and gumption, not least because Torque is tortured by unpredictable visions of his violent past accompanied by the unsettling clamour of a glass harmonium, familiar from dozens of horror movies as sonic shorthand for mental distress.
Is it really freedom if you’re surrounded by infernal monsters, most of whom seem to be the offspring of Soulcalibur’s circus-tumbling leather-daddy Voldo? You can’t say you weren’t warned. The Suffering – developed by Surreal Software and published in 2004 by Double-A Team all-stars Midway Games – did not just signal its bellicose intent with that scourging title. There were other clanging clues. The cover art, at least in the UK, featured the disturbing image of an anonymous and clearly doomed convict frantically reaching out through prison bars while an ominous hell-beast loomed behind them.