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.
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