Reviewed by Plagiarize
Developed by Monolith Productions
Published by Sega of America
It’s nice when a game hands you a metaphor to describe it minutes into the experience. Since we last saw Ethan he’s lost his job at the Serial Crimes Unit and is a down and out drunk. It’s a brick to the face from the presumed dead Serial Killer X that restarts Ethan’s misadventures and it’s that moment that quite nicely sums up Condemned 2: Bloodshot.
It’s every bit as brutal and visceral, and it will leave you shaken.
Sure, the story goes off the rails towards the end, the multiplayer and extra modes aren’t that good and the sections of the game that focus more on combat with firearms than exploring, investigating and beating the crap out of things with whatever you can find, aren’t nearly as good as the rest of the experience, but the rest of the experience is frankly so good as to make that just seem like nitpicking.
The original Condemned was a great game despite lacking all that extra fluff, and it seems foolish to criticize an awesome single player game for having the gall to give you a few unpolished extras. Still better to have them than not so long as the single player game is up to snuff…
And boy is it ever. For those that skipped the first Condemned, you missed a dark oppressive game that is about as in your face as any other horror title. Few horror titles have made such great use of the first person perspective. See, in most games the enemies are generally things to keep away from you. In Condemned, regularly armed with only a pipe, you had to get within swinging distance.
Condemned 2 looks to, and for the most part succeeds in, addressing every criticism leveled at the first game, while improving on the basic fundamentals that made it stand out in the first place.
The claustrophobic visuals are back, with improved lighting and some of the best texture work I’ve seen in years to make up for any rough edges. The atmosphere is every bit as choking as the first game, and while Condemned 2 arguably lets up on the tension a bit more than the first game, nothing in the original comes close to the claustrophobia you’ll feel stagger around the smoke filled burning doll factory, your vision and hearing hindered by a gas mask.
It’s a much smarter game, too. A big complaint of the original was that the investigating you did consisted of you basically following a linear set of directions, with the game always choosing the right forensic tool for the job. While you might occasionally have to follow a trail of chemicals or blood with your equipment, usually it was about as exciting and mentally stimulating as stock taking.
Now, you can access any of your four forensic tools whenever you want, and while the game still tells you when you’ve entered a forensic area, now you’ll have to actually do some investigating, making deductions about bullet wounds and blood splatter patterns to figure out how the crime scene came to be a crime scene.
You won’t fail the game if you suck at the investigations, but it does impact on what kind of upgraded kit you get at the end of the mission, and it’s very rewarding to see the word “Perfect” flash up on the screen when you nail an investigation.
Similarly, in conversations you might be called upon to make deductions or to ask the right questions. These often require you to have been paying attention to the plot of the game and it’s a great device that makes you feel much more involved in the world, like you’re actually solving the mysteries yourself.
The first Condemned had you wandering around looking for bits of strange metal and dead birds as a sort of scavenger hunt side quest. Condemned 2 fortunately replaces those with optional quests that make sense for the area you’re in. For example, it might ask you to destroy a number of meth labs, or photograph a certain number of pieces of evidence.
Your ranking for each mission is drawn from how well you’ve done with the forensics and the responses and the sidequests and at the end of each mission you’re awarded a piece of equipment. So for example, early on you will be awarded with a stun gun. How good that stun gun is depends on your rank.
You can certainly finish the game without getting good ranks, but in terms of encouraging replays it’s a devious little system that I really hope a hypothetical Condemned 3 sticks with.
Combat has seen large improvements, as well. You can now fight with your bare fists and instead of just having an attack and a block you have a number of different types of attacks. Left and right jabs, upper cuts and such when you’re empty handed, and fore hands and back hands when you’ve got a blunt object. You can throw things now, as well as performing special combos that might lead an enemy to be disarmed or stunned. Stunned opponents can be grabbed and finished off by slamming their faces through a TV or into some nasty looking industrial equipment.
As improved as the fighting is, Ethan does seem to do a lot better fighting one person at a time, as none of the melee moves seem designed to cope with being surrounded. Not a big criticism, more just something to bear in mind when you’re playing.
Weapon combat is another improvment from the original; a few hours in you pick up a holster which at worst will let you holster a pistol, and at best let you holster any weapon you have. If you get the best holster, that means you can essentially carry two guns at once and easily switch between them, holstering one and pulling out the other.
You still can’t carry extra clips of ammo, but now at least you can reload your gun from the rare ammo box, or from any other guns lying around.
One neat touch is that when you pull up a weapon to take aim, unless you’ve just downed some alcohol your aim is going to be all over the place, and when head shots are as lethal and messy as they are, you’re going to be drinking a lot of alcohol. Given that Ethan has hit the bottle pretty hard it’s a clever gameplay mechanic that further makes you really feel like you’re Ethan.
Unfortunately gunplay is more emphasized than before and a bit more than I’d have liked. Sure it’s improved, but given that Ethan is relatively slow and incapable of jumping and crouching, the gunplay just can’t stand up to the gunplay in other games, and you don’t really buy a Condemned game because you want to shoot things.
Still, the sections that emphasize the gunplay aren’t overly long and before you know it you’ll be beating someone’s face in with a bowling pin or getting close up photos of someone’s torn open ribcage as the game moves at quite a nice clip.
Condemned 2 is certainly more varied than the first, mixing in the supernatural elements more often and overtly than the slow build they had in the original. The levels aren’t quite so repetitive either which certainly helps, and you won’t feel quite so isolated as you’ll actually get to interact with a few different characters using more than just your radio.
The story does get a bit silly for a game that starts off so gritty, but the dialogue and voice acting is all top notch, and Ethan and Rosa are both very nicely rounded characters; Ethan especially making for a really interesting protagonist. When’s the last time you could say that?
Actually, sound wise, Condemned 2 is a master class in design. Everything sounds destructive, apart from some of the guns. It’s one thing to see a crowbar bouncing off someone’s head, but really it’s the sound effect that sell it. The music is there, but subtle, letting you make your own soundtrack by slamming the seemingly hundreds of different blunt objects into your foes. The sounds echoing around the empty derelict locations.
Ultimately Condemned 2 is a smarter, prettier (in a gory blood kinda drenched way), scarier and more satisfying experience than the first, with some take it or leave it extras and a patchy story but really, when you’re alone in the tight dark corridors of an abandoned apartment building armed with only a pipe and a psychotic bum comes out of nowhere swinging a baseball bat into your face, you won’t be thinking about the story. Instead you’ll be feeling the one thing that every horror fan wants to feel.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that really all that matters?
4 1/2 out of 5
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