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Condemned 2: Bloodshot

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-04-25 20:19:32

Condemned 2: Bloodshot - Rank B

Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Sega
Date: 3/11/08

Also available for PlayStation 3

The original Condemned was a terrific journey into the macabre, marred by a few design flaws. It appears that Monolith took specific note of the various criticisms and addressed them all, but in the process lost a bit of what made the game great in the first place. Condemned 2 is slick and highly polished, but some of the rough and raw edges should have been left unburnished.

The core of the game returns intact and improved. I described Condemned as a first-person brawler, and the melee combat returns in the sequel with a brutal passion. You can still grab makeshift weapons with which to beat your enemies down. Nail studded two-by-fours, pipes, bowling balls, toilet seats, shovels, crutches, locker doors, you name it, are all fair game as bludgeoning implements. One of the missions takes place inside an abandoned museum, replete with medieval weaponry. Slamming war hammers and broadswords into the squidgy flesh of your assailants is as satisfyingly violent as it sounds. Condemned 2 introduces chainable combos and environmental kills. You can throw a brick at an assailant, sprint at him and deck him with a forearm, throw a jab roundhouse combo, then grab his face and shove it into a television set.

The insipid forensics segments from the first game return, greatly improved, in Condemned 2. Previously, they were rudimentary point and click affairs, but now require a modicum of interaction. For example, you have to examine a murdered police officer and, using your UV light and a bit of observational logic, figure out the details of his death. These sections aren't earth-shattering by any stretch, but do contribute to the sense of immersion and nicely break up the pace of the action. They're also integrated as part of optional side goals. The first Condemned had you randomly collecting dead birds and pieces of metal for no real purpose, but this sequel puts its optional objectives in context, and also rewards you with gear upgrades, like a taser with more charges, depending on how well you do.

The protagonist, former special agent Ethan Thomas, has hit low times since the original Condemned. The hellish torment he's had to endure has reduced him to a homeless wino. Oddly, despite his general filthiness, he looks younger and more virile. His female partner is rendered slimmer and more attractive. Condemned 2 puts more emphasis on production value, with slick cut scenes bookending each mission instead of the rough presentation of the first game. It reminds me how a big budget can cause a Hollywood film to become overproduced. This approach saps some of the soul out of the game, with the emphasis on action over horror, as opposed to the other way around.

For example, there was a sequence in the original Condemned where your retreat in a dilapidated department store is suddenly blocked off by mannequins that you know weren't there a moment ago. Possessed human-shaped malevolence? That shit freaked me out. Condemned 2 has you exploring a doll factory. Animated dolls are scary right? Not once you realize that they're little mechanized explosive robots that you can use as grenades. And there's just too much gunplay in this game. Firearms and ammunition were exceptionally rare in the first game. There are a couple of missions in Condemned 2 where you're popping off rounds from an assault rifle the entire level. This isn't anywhere near as frightening or visceral as the in-your-face blood splattering viciousness of melee combat. There's one bit where you're firing off a fully automatic nail gun with unlimited ammunition. The atmosphere broke down entirely for me there.

The franchise has its roots in supernatural horror, but the latter stages of Condemned 2 bend that formula toward the sci-fi conspiracy genre. The final level is clearly reminiscent of Half-Life 2, and the final cut scene involves the President of the United States. That certainly is an aggrandizement of the plot that originally revolved around a local serial killer. Yahtzee accuses Condemned 2 of "Indigo Prophecy Syndrome", indicating that the game has completely jumped the shark. It's not quite that extreme, but anyone who loved the original game can surely feel a sense of loss. I had to play the first game in chunks, so I could shake off the heebie jeebies in between sessions. This sequel didn't creep me out nearly as much.

Condemned 2 also tacks on a few worthless multiplayer modes. The measured and intense pace of melee combat just doesn't translate well into a battle royale.

This review might read as fairly critical, but it's only because the Condemned series features such strong individual elements that I wish the package as a whole lived up to that enormous promise. I do recommend that you take a look at this game; it's moody and disturbing, and filled with several cool "Oh shit!" moments, like being chased by a rabid bear, or the way you finish off the boss of the doll factory. The primary draw, the melee combat, is better than ever, and you're likely to never come across any other game quite like it.

Note: The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are nearly indistinguishable. If you have a choice, go with the 360 version. It's surprising how important the controller rumble is to the melee combat experience.

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