Try as they might, it's hard to get real genuine scares out of a video game. It's not from a lack of effort or anything, it's just that getting the atmosphere, camera angles and tension right is a near impossible task. To accomplishment most video game developers turn to some proven techniques, such as adding in effective gimmicks (Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem) or having scary animals jump out at you when you're least expecting it (Resident Evil). But even with those proven techniques, most games can only hope to startle you for a moment; none of them get under your skin like a real effective horror movie.
But that's not true for Condemned 2: Bloodshot. This sequel to a Xbox 360 launch title proves to not only be one of the creepiest things you will ever experience, but may just be one of the first truly effective horror games. Sure it uses a few gimmicks to make the horror work (the game is constantly pitch dark, so you never know what something is sneaking up behind you), but I have never experienced a title that gets under your skin like this one. If you're the type of player who wants a cup full of tension in their game, then boy do I have the perfect game for you.
Condemned 2 takes place right after the events of the first game. You play Ethan Thomas, an ex-police officer who has descended into a life on the streets as an alcoholic homeless man. At the beginning of the game Ethan isn't looking so hot, he hasn't shaven in weeks, he smells like the garbage dump and he can barely walk straight. Surprisingly the stench isn't enough to keep Ethan's old employers from looking for his help in solving their newest case, a series of murders that resemble what Ethan went through in the first game.
Of course the crimes are related, would you expect anything less from a video game sequel? Before long Ethan is back to doing what he knows best, which just so happens to be beating the tar out of a bunch of psychotic homeless people. Through creepy city streets, creepy doll factories, a creepy (and explosive) lodge, a creepy apartment complex and pretty much everything else creepy, Ethan searches for clues, beats up attackers and does what he can to get some closure on this terrible chapter of his life.
Like the first game, the gimmick in Condemned is that practically everything is played from the first-person point of view. But this is not a first-person shooter (though there are guns found in the game), this is more of a traditional brawler (similar to Final Fight or Streets of Rage), only done from a first-person perspective and full of puzzles. The controls make sense, your fists are mapped to the left and right triggers and you can kick by using the right analog stick. On top of the fisticuffs, Ethan can (and should) pick up all sorts of weapon-like objects lying on the ground. I'm talking about everything from chunks of wood to wrenches to bed posts and so on. In total the game holds dozens of melee weapons, each with their pros and cons. Half of the fun of this game is playing around with everything in your environment.
On top of the cool melee weapons, Ethan will also be able to interact with the environments to finish his opponents off. There comes a point towards the end of a fight where the bad guy (usually a bum) has dropped to his knees and can no longer go on. At this point you run over to him, grab him and select where you want the finishing blow to take place. This means that once you have him in a neck hold you can smash his face through a TV, impale him on a pipe, crush his head in a large press and so on so forth. All of these various death moves are gruesome and look like something you would see in one of those "Saw" sequels.
But it goes beyond just being bloody and disturbing, there's a real visceral feeling to this game. Perhaps it's the first-person perspective or the fact that everything is so dark and atmospheric, but the graphic violence in this game feels a lot more realistic and harsh. And that goes for more than the finishing moves; the whole combat system is constantly in your face. It's the way the camera moves and the characters animate, the combination of these two things creates a visceral reaction from anybody playing it. It's real effective, certainly a lot more so than last year's Manhunt 2.
It's rare for a video game developer to actually listen to the critics and change the sequel, yet that's exactly what Monolith did when developing Condemned 2. Every single complaint the critics had with the original game has been addressed here, from the shallow gameplay all the way to the investigation moments. That's not to say that the game is perfect, but it's nice to see a company actually take the feedback to heart.
Don't undersell the improvements to this sequel. When people complained about the shallow combat in the first game, Monolith answered by giving us fun combos and special moves in the sequel. When we griped about the boring level designs they countered with some of the coolest locations ever seen in a survival horror game (if you can consider this a survival horror game, that is). And when we complained about the lame CSI-style stuff in the first game, they turned those boring sequences into one of the best elements of the game.
That's right; the crime scene stuff has gone from being a drag on the pace to one of the most enjoyable things to do in the game. In Condemned 2 you actually have full control over the investigation, so you will need to pay special attention to how the victim was killed, where it happened and whether or not there was any evidence left at the scene of the crime. It may sound dull on paper, but it's actually a lot of fun to pull out the UV light and follow the blood trail. These parts can also be something of most tense, since you can't hold a weapon and your UV light at the same time. My only complaint with this crime scene stuff is that I wished it would play more into the story, as it is it still feels like it's nothing more than a small mini-game stuck in the middle of a violent action game.
The game is actually quite a bit longer than I expected. All told there are eleven levels, taking you from the mean streets to the city museum all the way to a large junk barge. The first half of the game is definitely heavy with story, but for some strange reason that element kind of drops off a bit in the second half. What's more, the story we do get in the final five chapters isn't all that memorable, which is kind of a pity given the high quality of the rest of the product. But don't take my words to mean that it's not worth playing through the complete single-player game; I'm just saying that the second half of the story could have been a little stronger.
A weak story can be forgiven, especially when the levels and action are so interesting. Even after you've completely lost interest in the lame cat and mouse storyline, you'll still want to see where you are going next and what bad guys you will see. And to be fair, the game does have a satisfying conclusion, so the story could have been a lot worse. And really, the story in this game is no worse than what we saw in the first game.
The problem with a game like this is that there generally isn't much incentive to go back through the levels. Monolith tries to solve this problem by giving you extra things to do in each level. For example, all of the levels have a certain amount of these transmitter things that you need to destroy. You will also need to locate all of the televisions and radios to listen to the story elements (which include a Saw-like villain and two annoying news reporters that are giving you up-to-date accounts of what's going on downtown). And if these mundane tasks fail to make you want to go through it again, then maybe you should check out the first-person shooter mode, which effectively turns Condemned 2 into a crappy Half-Life wannabe.
On top of the single-player content is an online mode, but it's absolutely terrible. There are games that sound like they would be perfect for online play ... Condemned 2 is not one of those games. The online modes are an absolute disaster, the melee combat is boring and predictable and the various game types aren't interesting enough to take your attention away from Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. The less said about this one blemish on Condemned 2 the better.
The one thing Sega does doesn't need to apologize for are the graphics. Like the first game, Condemned 2 offers some striking visuals, especially when you're locked in combat with a drugged up bum. Of course, the big magic trick is that the game only looks good because it's so dark. If you could actually see everything clearly the game wouldn't look nearly as good, but now that it's drowning in darkness it looks fantastic.
The tone of this game is extremely dark; you can see that not only from the ultra violence, but also from the dark graphics and industrial sounds surrounding Ethan. This dark and gloomy world may not be the kind of place you want to stay for long stretches of time, but at the same time it's easy to get sucked into this character's quest. If you're looking for a dark and gloomy game experience then you can't go wrong with Condemned 2, everybody else may want to check this game out in short spurts.
With its improved combat system, fantastic graphics, cool levels and fun crime scene instigation, Condemned 2: Bloodshot is easy to recommend to anybody that enjoyed the original. The game isn't perfect, but it offers a fully realized world that is unlike anything else on the market today. If you've been looking for a video game to truly give you a scare, then I suggest giving Condemned 2 a shot.
Question: Do you want to be scared? I'm not talking about being startled when a dog jumps through the window or the lightning cracks; I'm talking about staying under the covers and never wanting to come out. Is that what you want? Then Condemned 2: Bloodshot is the only game you should have on your mind right now.