When Xbox 360 launched it had the traditional list of genres covered such as sports, shooters and racing games. What it also had was a small gem from Monolith Studios (the same guys that brought you F.E.A.R.) that combined visceral hand-to-hand combat and a creepy atmosphere reminiscent of some of your worst nightmares. Condemned: Criminal Origins was one of the most underappreciated titles available at the launch of the 360 and now, over two years later we finally get the sequel the game deserves. Keeping everything that made the original great and fixing what was wrong Monolith and Sega have defined what it means to make a sequel.
The aftermath of Condemned 2 takes place mere months after the events of the first game. You once again assume the role of Ethan Thomas, a now estranged member of SCU. This time around too much binge drinking has caught up with our protagonist, so much that he can’t even hold a gun straight without first indulging on Grandma’s cough medicine. While you will derive some satisfaction from playing the original game – as well as much more appreciation for Mr. Thomas’ “problems” – it isn’t essential to have completed the first game to jump right into the second title. This will come as a pleasant surprise for PS3 owners who never had a chance to play the original.
The story in Condemned 2 is fantastically told with a narrative that captivates the player beyond what most games even fathom. What is a bit disheartening though is that regardless of how well the game draws you into its world; it never seems to take a firm grip. What I mean is Condemned 2 is the equivalent of a huge summer blockbuster movie. The plot will keep you glued to your seat for the duration of the game, but you won’t find many a gamer discussing the plotlines at the water cooler on Monday morning. This can be looked at as both a good and bad thing. Games are meant as entertainment and as such Condemned 2 succeeds, but don’t expect anyone to conjure memories about the plotline when Xbox 720 and PS4 launches.
Gameplay in Bloodshot will feel familiar to anyone who played the first game. Melee is the weapon of choice and even with a larger focus on guns (there is even an FPS mode unlocked when you complete the game) it remains your primary way of dealing with your enemies. Much like you would expect each trigger represents a fist and toggling between these will induce different combos that slowly fill up a special meter. Once this meter is full you can double tap either trigger to initiate an on-screen button-timing event that unleashes serious damage on your foes.
Handheld weapons also play a large role. As you scour through the environments you can pick up a variety of blunt instruments such as bowling balls, conduits and even toilet seats to bash your enemies with. Each one has a unique set of values such as speed, damage, etc. and will break if you abuse them enough. For the most part the melee combat is effective and rewarding, but don’t expect to hop into the game spamming the triggers with positive results; it simply won’t happen. Instead mastering the combos as well as blocking and parrying are a must, even on casual difficulty. You can also perform what are called environmental kills. Once an enemy has sustained enough damage he will drop to his knees giving you an opportunity to slam their head into a dumpster or even impale them onto a wall, sadistically satisfying.
The other element found in this series has returned and is easily the most improved aspect from the original. I am of course referring to the investigation sessions where you collect evidence from the crime scene and determine factors about it. While the first game simply chose your tools for you and held your hand Condemned 2 gives players a more open approach without making it overly complicated. For instance early on in the game you are trying to discover the cause of death and identity of a body. By examining items of clothing strewn about and the wounds on the body you discover that it was a police officer that was shot in the chest and then dragged to the scene. Upon further investigation you discover what room he was shot in. Small additions such as these make the CSI portion of the game more enjoyable and less like a chore that they were in the first game.
If variety is the spice of life than Condemned 2 takes the cake when it comes to ways of disposing your foes, but it doesn’t end there. In addition to some of the best first-person melee Bloodshot is home to some of the most twisted and sickening environments I have ever seen. Every level is filled to the brim with gory details and frightening visuals that submerge the player into this dark and gritty world better than most survival horror titles ever dream of. Whether it’s a dank alley or a maniacal doll factory Condemned 2 is one of the most environmentally immersive games you will ever play.
In addition to having great environments the team has also put together an outstanding visual and audio package. Much like its predecessor the game is extremely dark thus forcing you to rely on your trusty flashlight (that never seems to run out of batteries) through most of the game. The lighting effects are absolutely brilliant and the level of detail found in every environment is astonishing. Some of the wall textures are still a bit blurry when viewed at close range, but it is hard to nitpick when so much of the game is so gorgeous. Character models are insanely detailed, so much in fact that I actually forget how well they look until a cut scene comes up and show their incredibly detailed facial animations.
Sound is equally impressive with a 5.1 blast that will work your surround system. I highly suggest playing this game with a great set of headphones for maximum effect. The dynamic effects are prevalent in every action causing you to feel every blow you land in a fist fight as well as making every connection between enemy face and your lead pipe that much more satisfying. Music is also very immersive offering some somber tones to accent the gritty atmosphere and ramping up the tempo just enough during encounters to get your heart racing. On the presentation side Bloodshot does very little wrong.
Unfortunately not all is bright and happy with all of Condemned 2’s new features. Monolith has added a brand new multi-player mode for up to eight combatants, and while on paper it sounds fun, in reality it simply fizzles out. The modes are standard fare with frantic action ensuing in every bout as players simply run at each other spamming triggers and eliminating what little bit of strategy there is. Once you have exhausted this mode you can take on the Crime Scene mode, which is actually entertaining. In this mode each side is split up. One side the criminals and the other the SCU. The goal is for the criminals to hide a box with a head inside by moving it and placing emitters to interfere with the SCU’s equipment. While this mode is entertaining for a few matches it ultimately grows tired and further enforces that all first-person games do not require online to be complete.
Condemned 2 is a perfect example of how to make a sequel. Sega and Monolith have fixed everything that was wrong with the original and made it an all around better game. The entertaining story and genuinely creepy atmosphere is well worth the price of admission and the substantial story mode is satisfying and challenging. The tacked on multi-player will entertain for a while, but ultimately grows stale long too quickly. Whether you have played the first game and want to continue the story or want to jump right into the sequel Condemned 2 is a must-play for fans of the horror genre. If you can come to grips with the melee combat this game will satisfy some of your darkest and most sadistic gaming needs in a very good way.