Oh yeah. It’s 1989 in Suffer The Night. You’ve got a floppy disc drive and a boombox with some kicking tunes. Your house is splashed in lurid 80s imagery. This first-person survival horror experience is steeped deeply in nostalgia that will hit home with both 80s and 90s babies, but is all that colour and flavour just window dressing to disguise an overcooked series of spooks?
There’s a storm rolling in, and Stacy Liden is home alone. The graphic designer occupies a fairly luxurious yet isolated space, complete with stylish loft bedroom and her very own boathouse. The power goes out, the phone lines mysteriously drop out too, and a mysterious floppy disk is posted through the front door. Naturally, as a complete and total idiot, Stacy decides that the best thing to do in these terrifying circumstances is load up that floppy disk.
The main problem with Suffer The Night is that the monster just isn’t that scary. He looks vaguely like the frontman of Swedish metal band Avatar. He can contort his body in cartoonish ways and pops up unexpectedly in places, but honestly his presence is mostly a bunch of cheap jump scares. And perhaps most unfortunately of all, the opening sequence where he is most present is probably as horrifying as Suffer The Night gets. What really broke my immersion was realising that you’re never really in any danger when he appears.
There’s a button to look back while you’re sitting at the computer, which obviously exists purely for jump scares. But if you hear a cue that he’s appeared behind you and stand up from the computer rather than looking back, Mr. Tops just… isn’t there. It really makes you feel detached from the tension, and as a result it’s hard to stay invested in the story. Especially with his fairly well-spoken English accent, which might be eerie and old fashioned to American players, but just a standard everyday occurence for someone living on the south coast of this troubled isle.
But wait… there’s more!
So after playing through the floppy disk’s content for a little while Mr. Tops begins to disrupt play – he’ll break windows, turn the radio on, or just scurry around behind you in a vaguely comical way. He makes you a deal – finish the game, and he’ll leave you alone. In a shocking turn of events, Mr. Tops wasn’t being entirely upfront with you, and his game ‘truly’ begins when the floppy disk game ends.
Stacy finds herself physically inside the game we just played, but now the horror is all too real. Despite the fact the monsters are all now real and capable of actualling killing Stacey, she’s lucky enough to find a device capable of rewriting the game’s code as soon as she wakes up, which gives her a considerable edge over the environment. It’s hard to say if this is actually subverting Mr. Tops, plan, because there are times where it would be literally impossible to progress without it. What we end up playing after the 80’s slasher flick homage is actually something very different.
Think Amnesia-lite mixed with Saw and you’ve got something close to how the rest of Suffer The Night plays out. The gloomy catacombs and endless corridors of its dungeon don’t hold nearly as much appeal as the stormy neon-splashed halls of the house, however, and walking from one place to the next to collect items just becomes a dreary affair after very little time. Even with the added elements of combat and scanning the environment for rewritable code.
Stacy is forced to do horrible things to the corpses of Mr. Tops’ previous victims to progress, but there isn’t really any emotional weight to this. An early puzzle involves chucking bits of corpse into a meat grinder until a gate opens, and Stacy just does it without comment. It’s a disconnect that falls in line with Mr. Tops’ lack of any real threat in the prologue. There is no grounding in the horror itself. I’m sure you could argue that based on the game’s plot, Stacy was obviously not in any real danger until she enters the true game, but that doesn’t explain away her casual attitude to everything that happens next.
It is worth noting, however, that Suffer The Night is the work of a solo developer – Tainted Pact, to be precise – and it’s a fairly impressive endeavour for one person. The game certainly has its merits, the combination of traditional game and text-based adventure is initially very creative and it can get pretty tense playing the game whilst Mr. Tops is trying to get into the house. This is Suffer The Night’s best idea, and it discards it so quickly. ‘Well, now that clever little concept is out the way, let’s get to our average survival horror experience.’
Suffer The Night overall thoughts
I would love to see Suffer The Night reach its full potential. There was definitely a time I thought the entire game was going to be set in and around Stacy’s house, having to flip between solving problems in the real world and progressing in the floppy disk. And to be totally honest, I was on board with that concept. Suffer The Night is 80s slasher flick inspired, sure – it’s just really unfortunate that it seems to be taking inspiration from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors instead of basically, well… anything else.
As soon as you go into that game and start finding weapons, the tension snaps like an overloaded plastic shopping bag and we’re just playing an average adventure game with very little personality. A relatively strong start does not carry Suffer The Night through to the end, and although it’s very impressive considering it was made by just one man, it’s not a game I’d recommend for horror fans.