Why is it that horrible things always happen to creative types in horror? Stephen King loves punishing writers, for instance. Now Suffer The Night is over here torturing a horror illustrator. You never see a postman being chased down a hallway by a monstrous anthropomorphic envelope, do you? Maybe it’s because creative people tend to be more introspective or maybe the horror is just a giant metaphor for that feeling when you sit down at a writing desk and all motivation instantly leaves you.
It’s an appropriate (if slightly rambling) topic, because Suffer The Night feels like a young artist’s portfolio: it’s a little all over the place. It’s a maelstrom of ideas, scooting from one to another without stopping. The inevitable end result is a mix of things that work and things that don’t. Suffer The Night did leave me with a positive feeling but there are definite issues that drag it down.
Get Ye Flask
Today’s spook-recipient is Stacey, the aforementioned horror illustrator. Trapped at home thanks to a heavy rainstorm, she’s visited by a tall, unnecessarily creepy man. Turns out he really wants her to play this little text adventure he’s made. Like, really wants her to. This first section is mainly a series of jumpscares, paired with a weird in-game text adventure. It’s not bad, but doesn’t sell the rest of the game well. Soon though, Stacey does something silly and is dragged away by the suspiciously pale man. When she wakes up, she’s a long way from home.
It quickly becomes apparent that we’re inside the text adventure, which is a great premise. Suffer The Night‘s atmosphere was ramped up by the knowledge that the weird bits in the text game would be thrown at me in full 3D. Not to mention that Stacey’s own work is going to be mixed in too. The first third of the game, at least, is excellent at building atmosphere. You need to explore a crypt with nothing but a lighter and a special machine that can reveal secrets. It very rapidly becomes clear that you’re not alone down here. I found it genuinely nervewracking at times, especially when you’re crawling through tight tunnels.
Let me talk about that special machine for a moment, as it’s an interesting mechanic. It’s a scanner that can reveal hidden things throughout the map. It leans heavily into the ‘game’ element, allowing you to patch in handy tools and collectibles. At times it’s the only way to see what’s ahead of you and restricting your viewpoint is used to good effect. That said, this machine is also complicit in a cardinal sin. Remember those collectibles? If you don’t patch ’em all in and collect them, you’ll get a bad ending. I hate when good/bad endings are tied to hidden objects rather than any choice on the player’s part. I learned this from the achievements too, so I knew halfway through my run that the ending was going to suck for Stacey. Kind of a downer.
Welcome To The Funhouse
Flipping back to the positives for a moment, I want to give Suffer The Night props for including combat. For quite some time now, the done thing for indie horror games is to either make you walk down a jumpscare-filled hallway or run away from some big monster and hide in a locker (thanks, Outlast). So when Suffer The Night handed me a crowbar and then a gun, I was intrigued. Combat can add to horror, I feel. It can add tension and panic. Suffer The Night doesn’t make the most of it, with half the enemies being slow-moving skeletons, but it’s a good idea for the pile.
Unfortunately, with a pile of ideas must come a feeling of inconsistency. Case in point, the second third. After going through a giant representation of the pale man’s oesophagus (trust me it’s weirder in-game), we emerge into a big funhouse, staffed by a murderous bunny rabbit, taken straight from one of Stacey’s illustrations. It suddenly becomes an obstacle course of whirring sawblades and fire traps. Horror and atmosphere are rather left at the door, to be replaced with frustration. The boss fights with the murderous robot bunny feel like they’ve been spliced in from some other game. They’re fun, don’t get me wrong, but the whole section doesn’t feel congruous with the time spent crawling on our belly through a catacomb.
Then it shifts to a forced stealth section where our weapons don’t work and we’re back to relying on our scanner. Hello again horror, so long combat. This inconsistency permeates throughout the whole of Suffer The Night. The animations are good, for example, and Stacey’s design is nice. But the camera has a weird wobble to it that was never far off from hitting my motion sickness. There’s just a general feeling of jankiness to the experience. Like bullets being stuck to the ceiling until you press a button to make them fall down. Even the voice acting has this strange level of awkwardness to it. It’s charming, in a way. It’s a chaotic, restless core surrounded by rough edges.
It’s strange, but the abiding feeling that Suffer The Night gave me was hope. I’ve played a lot of indie horror games – probably more than most – and so many of them play it safe. It’s usually a confusing mess of rooms, a single monster model and a run button. Suffer The Night doesn’t play it safe. It brings in combat, historically very difficult to pull off in a horror game, and tries to bring in puzzles and boss fights. The developers, Tainted Pact, clearly understand the fundamentals of atmosphere and they’ve written an interesting story to tie it together.
It feels like they’ve taken a bundle of ideas and thrown them at the wall. Not all of them stick. The funhouse, for example, fell straight off into the waste paper basket. But enough of them stick to leave me with a good feeling. It even managed to pull off a satisfying final boss fight, even if the bad ending spoiled that feeling somewhat. Ultimately, Suffer The Night struggles to emerge from its inconsistencies but if Tainted Pact can learn from its lessons, then they could make something truly great.