Game: Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Genre: Horror Action
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed On Xbox 360)
Condemned: Criminal Origins was a launch title for the Xbox 360 way back in 2005. To many, myself included, it was the first game to show what this whole “Next-Gen” thing was all about. The combination of insane first-person melee combat and never-before-seen-on-a-console visuals dropped a lot of jaws. Sadly, the repetitive enemies and meandering story made sure that the initial wow factor didn’t last as long as many would have liked, and kept it from being regarded as a horror classic. Sega and Monolith are looking to make up for the previous title’s shortcomings with the sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot picks up where the original left off. Protagonist Ethan Thomas is a train wreck, driven to alcoholism by the events of the previous game, when the Special Crimes Unit drags him from the gutter for one last case. A massive crime wave has swept the city, and its mysterious nature necessitates bringing back a now-reviled Thomas. Ethan’s mission takes him deep into a obscure, macabre conspiracy that neither he nor the player will truly understand, and provides some of the most intense, visceral combat and genuinely creepy atmosphere in gaming this year.
Those who enjoyed the core mechanics of the first Condemned will be right at home here. Melee combat is handled in the same manner as last time, with a few new wrinkles thrown in for good measure. The triggers still control right and left-handed attacks respectively, and block when pressed together. Timing blocks correctly will result in a parry, which sends enemies reeling for a precious, opportune moment. If an enemy goes down to his knees due to a beating, you will be able to grab the woozy enemy and drag him to one of many environmental triggers and dispatch your foe in gruesome fashion. Some environmental attacks are simple, like plunging a foe’s head into a TV, while others are extraordinarily violent, like impaling an opponent on rebar. There is also a meter that builds up as you successfully attack. Once the meter is full, you’ll be able to double-tap a trigger to send you into a slow-mo finishing mode, where you’ll need to follow on-screen prompts to brutally destroy an enemy. There are plenty of weapons to choose from for melee combat; returning favorites like lead pipes, wooden 2x4s and electrical couplings are joined by new instruments of death like toilet seats and crutches. The game does a great job of making every weapon feel distinct and accurately powerful. Swinging a sledgehammer takes a lot longer than swinging a baseball bat, and has predictably lethal results. Ranged weapons are an important part of the game as well, though the action on the guns doesn’t feel quite as polished or tight as the melee weapons. Just like in the first game, the amount of gunfighting you’ll be able to engage in is severely limited by the extreme scarcity of ammunition. Ethan’s alcohol problem plays into the ranged combat in an interesting twist. Without enough alcohol, which can be found in random alleys and rooms, Ethan is unable to keep his hands steady, making aiming far more difficult. It’s a cool feature, but one that isn’t very impactful considering how rarely you even use guns, much less how rarely you’ll be aiming down the sights with them.
The many weapons you have access to will be put to good use, with tons of drug-addled enemies to lay into. Mostly, you’ll fight insane addicts who attack ferociously and without concern for their own well-being. The fights are almost always intense, highly violent affairs, and proper timing of attacks and parries is essential for victory, and, for that matter, survival. Fighting one on one is usually a challenge, but never feels cheap in its difficulty. Once the fight is joined by more than one enemy, however, the difficulty increases exponentially, and the combat engine shows its flaws. You’ll often find yourself running from these encounters, hoping to trick the enemies into attacking each other, rather than deal with cheap two-man combos that leave you with no way to defend yourself at all. It’s a pretty major problem later in the game when multiple enemies lurk around every dark corner, and it’s really a shame that this couldn’t have been better balanced.
In addition to your run-of-the-mill junkie assailants, you’ll also face a variety of demonic enemies. Some are oily, solid black little gremlins that go down with a single swing of a prosthetic arm, while others are horrifying half-corpses that grab you from their pods on the ceiling. While the bulk of the game has you fighting regular people, it’s good to see that at last some variety has been added to the enemies this time around.
Outside of combat, there are plenty of crime scenes to investigate. You’ll use a combination of detective tools, like an infrared scanner, a digital camera and a sound-detecting spectrometer to relay vital info about the many corpses and mysterious findings that you encounter. The mini-games associated with the investigations are ingenious in their design, and require a level of deductive reasoning usually reserved for adventure classics like Myst. It’s a much more developed system than the previous one, and serves as a nice break from the action instead of as an annoyance.
All of this bloody action and even bloodier detective work takes place in some of the most evocative and downright unsettling locales imaginable. The creepy, dark, madness-inducing environments from the original are back, and look better than ever. Every level you play through is absolutely packed with grimy, unpleasant details that do a great job of immersing you in the hellish world that Ethan lives in. While the last game kept you running through buildings and alleys that all looked pretty much the same, Condemned 2 does a much better job of mixing up the locales, offering such diverse settings as a doll warehouse and a magician’s theatre.
Visually, the “wow factor” from the last game is even stronger this time around. Character models are top notch, featuring excellent textures and extremely realistic facial animations. As good as the characters look, it’s not until you see them in motion that you really get the full visual impact of the game. Animations are smooth and natural, especially during the hectic fight scenes, and almost never suffer from choppiness or clipping issues. The game runs at a very solid frame rate throughout, no matter how much on-screen action you throw at it. The highly detailed environments look just as good, though the intentionally dark sections can be a bit darker than you might like.
Condemned 2 sounds as good as it looks, too. Every weapon has a distinct and appropriate sound when impacting on enemies, walls or anything else you feel lik swinging at. Without looking at the screen, it’s easy to tell what kind of weapon your using, just by listening to it being swung. Ambient sounds and enemy speech is just as impressive, making great use of Dolby 5.1 to create a genuinely creepy soundscape for players. Decent, if a bit overacted, voice work is on display as well. Ethan’s actor comes off a bit hacky, but the supporting cast is well-voiced, especially your lab tech, who also features the game’s best facial animations.
As creepy and engaging as the story mode is, the multiplayer aspects of the game leave a lot to be desired. There are 5 game types in multiplayer; Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, which are exactly what you’d expect, Bum Rush, a mode that pits respawning unarmed lunatics against single-life SCU Officers with pistols and shotguns, and Crime Scene, which adds objectives for each team to reach while fighting through the level. Sadly, none of the modes are really worth playing, as the combat is nearly broken when fighting more than one enemy. Bum Rush is an interesting concept, but in practice, it inevitably turns into the unarmed team rushing the SCU agents over and over, slowly chipping away at their health. It’s just not fun, and neither is Crime Scene, which is almost always over well before anyone finds the objective they’re supposed to be investigating. The time and resources that the developers spent on the tacked-on multiplayer modes would have been much better spent fine tuning things like gunplay and the underdeveloped story.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is a major improvement over its predecessor, and is well worth the price of admission, considering the amount of bloody fun to be had. Some of the issues from the original have held on, like the baffling, overwrought plot and some issues with repetition, and the multiplayer modes are throwaways, but overall, it’s a marked step up for the franchise and a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking for a quality horror-action title. At least to hold you over until Resident Evil 5!