Review by Grampy_Bone

Reviewed: 03/28/08

Covenant's Condemned 2 Review

The original Condemned: Criminal Origins was a breakout game. It successfully combined tense, chilling atmosphere with brutal, first-person melee combat wrapped in a bizarre and intriguing plot. Condemned 2: Bloodshot expands and improves on the original in every practical sense, making it not just a good game but also perhaps a lesson to game developers everywhere on how to do a sequel right.

Bloodshot has you reprising your role as Ethan Thomas, the former police serial killer investigator who solved the mysterious SKX murders. If you saw the first game’s strange and ominous ending, you probably won’t be surprised at the state Ethan finds himself in. Pulling what’s known as a “Prince of Persia,” Ethan has developed a mean drinking habit and received a healthy amount of “attitude.” The game’s intro depicts him living on the street and beating the crap out of a random thug who looks at him funny. And he used to be such a nice guy. Ethan’s personality change would seem jarring and artificial at first but considering how well it fits in with the game’s dark setting and vicious nature, it really seems that this was the way the developers intended Ethan to be all along.

Bloodshot takes place in the same fictional metropolitan city as the first one, and now the roving bands of crazed, psychotic thugs has only increased, and the police force are unable to handle the growing problem. They find Ethan and ask for his help once again, to try and figure out just exactly what the hell is going on. He’s joined by his assistant Rosa (who also looks and sounds different) and a gruff police officer named Dorland. The cops make it pretty clear that they don’t like Ethan and treat him as expendable, and the feeling is mutual. Ethan’s loose ethics and pragmatism makes him the perfect man for the job. The sparse details and numerous plot threads left unresolved from the original are all addressed here; expect many startling revelations over the course of the plot. Where the first game only really hinted at the overall story with vague little clues and obscure documents, Condemned 2 almost gives away too much, eagerly heaping secret after secret onto your plate. Yet the game still withholds some answers from the player, and often delves from reality in strange and frightening ways, leaving you to wonder exactly what is real and what is not. It’s not quite the mind-job that Silent Hill is, but it’s close.

The game is still played entirely from a first person perspective, where you slowing creep along dark, dingy, decrepit buildings searching for clues and beating up murderous hobos. The game oozes atmosphere, with its well-placed light and shadows and meticulously crafted environments. It’s still damn dark, making your handy flashlight a necessity at all times. Danger lurks around every corner and every fight is deadly.

Whereas the first game was criticized for having fairly basic options for combat, Condemned 2 almost has too many options. You can still pick up and wield a large variety of improvised weapons from the surrounding detritus; from pipes and boards to stranger things like gumball machines and lollipop-painted circular saws. A handy graphic pops up with stats comparing your current weapon to one you can pick up, rating its speed, reach, and damage. This has to be only one game that makes you wonder, “Should I pick up the 2x4 with nails in it, or go for the one with bolts?” You can launch left and right swings with the left and right triggers, and block by holding both. You can also execute a hook attack (which has increased stun) by clicking the left stick before swinging; this is clumsy in practice and doesn’t really work, the developers really should have mapped the hook attack to one of the face buttons. The blocking is no longer timed as in the original, but your weapon will take more damage the longer you block, eventually breaking. Enemies still attack as fiercely as ever, with excellent, fluid, realistic animations. Your foes will feint, taunt, hide effectively, and reel in pain then suddenly counterattack, catching you off guard. Ethan must always be on his toes.

The game features a new combo system that rewards you for playing defensively; if Ethan lands several blows without getting hit, a timer will appear, giving you a chance to execute a powerful finishing move. Ethan can now also fight with his fists; punches are less damaging but there are even more opportunities to combo. The taser returns, allowing you to stun enemies and disarm them or get in a free shot. As if that all wasn’t enough, there is a “chain attack” meter that fills as you pummel your foes, allowing for some special, unblockable grappling moves, such as delivering a swift series of punches followed by a head butt, breaking an opponent’s limbs, or killing them outright. These require you to press the attack buttons in a specific order via the now-ubiquitous God of War style, but it works well enough here within the context of this game, and is totally optional anyway.

Finally, Condemned 2 features much more gunplay than its predecessor, for better or worse. You’ll find several pistols, a couple of shotguns, a devastating assault rifle, and even a crossbow. Firearms are still extremely lethal, usually killing any opponent in one or two shots. The gimmick here is that you don’t get an aiming reticule when firing from the hip, and Ethan’s alcohol withdrawals makes his hands shake, resulting in a jittery, unstable aiming mechanism. To counteract this Ethan can fall off the wagon and chug some booze, found spread throughout the game’s levels, which will steady his aim for a time. This is somewhat silly overall but in gameplay terms it’s very helpful to be on the sauce as being able to pull off precise headshots makes your limited ammo reserves go a long way. You can still only carry whatever ammo is left in the gun, but you can now actually reload a weapon from other discarded guns or ammo stashes; reloading guns! Amazing! There’s nothing wrong with the shooting aspects of the game, it’s just that beating bad guys to a pulp with a bent piece of rebar is immensely more satisfying than taking potshots at them in the dark with a .38. You never quite *have* to use guns, but there are a few sections that are damn near impossible without them.

In between all the face-smashing goodness, Ethan is expected to be solving crimes and investigating evidence, and you accomplish this with a clever new gameplay mechanic. Whenever there is something noteworthy nearby a message pops up and you go into investigation mode. Ethan has fewer tools this time around but the whole process is much more involved. You’ll need to study each piece of evidence closely and make numerous deductions to reach a correct conclusion, such as the identity of a body, how they were killed, where they came from, etc. The game gives you a rating depending on how close you come to the right answer, and gaining a perfect score is critical to unlock new upgrades after each mission. This whole system is surprisingly fun and interesting, and greatly improved over the first. The game also features secondary tasks similar to the dead bird hunts of the original, these are a bit annoying but the rewards are well worth it this time around as you’ll get permanent upgrades such as a bulletproof vest, brass knuckles, a holster to hold an extra weapon, and more.

Condemned 2 is a difficult game but it never quite feels overwhelming, and there are adjustable settings that can be changed in between every mission. Ethan’s health regenerates but only in segments, forcing you to find health kits to refill it completely (much like in The Chronicles of Riddick). It saves automatically via a checkpoint system, and it’s pretty generous so you almost never have to go back far if you die. There are also a few encounters where the game suddenly tells you “Run for your life!” and a chase scene ensues. These are tense and memorable, but can also be frustrating. There are a few boss fights; these act more as puzzles than true combat encounters, and are a bit of a letdown.

The graphics are still terrific, making good use of all the 360 has to offer. The movement and combat animations are the real standouts, showing an immense attention to detail. The audio is limited to the usual pacing and mood music; it’s good, but forgettable. The voice acting is top-notch; Ethan’s gruff, gravelly voice fits perfectly and the actor portraying him sounds natural and believable. All the other characters are similarly excellent, showing some great writing and direction.

Condemned 2 isn’t very long, clocking in at the standard-for-current-action-games eight to ten hour mark. There are a bunch of secondary game modes, like a practice arena and some challenge modes that let you play around more with the game’s combat. There are also some online multiplayer modes; these are nothing great and aren’t going to replace Halo 3 any day, but it’s something. You also have the option of playing through the game again after you beat it in FPS mode, where you always start with guns and have unlimited ammo. Considering that this is the least fun part of the game really, it’s not much of a bonus.

In the end, Bloodshot is a great sequel, with more vicious melee action, engaging and interesting characters, a deep and intriguing plot, and a compelling, realized world. It adds plenty of new content without straying too far from what made the original great, only enriching the experience. If you enjoyed the first Condemned then playing this game is a no-brainer, and anyone who likes dark and violent thrillers will love it as well.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Condemned 2: Bloodshot (US, 03/11/08)

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