XBOX 360/PLAYSTATION 3
If the recent Manhunt 2 debacle says anything about the current videogame climate, it’s that upcoming developers need to exercise extreme caution when approaching violent content. That game was made an example of, not simply due to its explicit content, but rather its unforgiving tone in which there seemed to be no explanation for the horrific acts of brutality the player is forced to commit.
You’d have been excused for foreseeing a similar fate for Condemned 2 based on early previews and screenshots. In actual fact, Monolith developed the game in close contact with the ESRB, and as such were able to release the game uncut and with an 18 certificate, on time and in full. No one wants to see their game made unavailable to the public in the pursuit of making an artistic or rebellious statement.
Condemned was a superb title and arguably the most terrifying videogame of all time. Monolith successfully blended psychological horror with the first person shooter format, toying with the senses in a torturous fashion that made the game at times almost unbearable to play. Footsteps were heard popping across the floors above, UV lights revealed the sinister scrawling of a serial killer, lipless bodies in lockers muttered and shop floor mannequins creaked to life. It was a real step forward for the genre, a new form of horror in which the player was placed at ground level, pushed reluctantly around some genuinely macabre and isolated environments and forced to engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Anticipation is understandably rife for the sequel; the player again returning to the mind of Ethan Thomas, now a hallucination plagued drunk forced back into work in order to save the city.
Aesthetically, Condemned 2 has taken a notable step-up from its predecessor. The rankness of the game’s opening environments is palpable if a little constrained, employing a sublime motion blur and swaying, bumpy camera to effectively evoke its first person viewpoint. The in-game audio is tuned to an astonishing degree; the city’s inhabitants have a lot more abuse to throw at you this time round; the game’s otherworldly creatures providing an unsettling soundtrack to their grotesque appearance. Crime solving is another area where the game excels, forcing you not only to accurately evaluate crime scenes, but also tuning you in to both the story and your own common sense.
As such, you’ll be deciding whether that bloody mess came as a result of an entry or exit wound, whether the body is male/female or police/SCU/civilian or even alive/dead, whether the deceased jumped or were pushed; it’s certainly an involving process for which Monolith must be applauded. There are a plethora of new weapons at your disposal, from bowling balls to medieval swords, foosball rails and the iconic electric conduit. The mechanics of combat have also been significantly enhanced. You’re now able to perform combos, QTE induced chain attacks, parries and counters, and of course the all-new environmental kills. Your skills can now either be taken online or into the Bloodshot Fight Club, in which you fend off waves of possessed bums in the hope of making it onto the game’s leaderboards.
Unfortunately, the game falls flat in the atmosphere department. Anyone hoping to return to the state of mind induced by Bart’s Department Store in the first game will be bitterly disappointed. Although there are a few jumpy and unsettling moments, there is a greater emphasis on gunplay in Condemned 2; Ethan’s dependency on booze to maintain a straight shot becoming a frustrating hindrance to the otherwise smooth flowing gameplay. As the nonsensical plot careers from one twist to the other, you’ll be dragged from a doll factory to a country lodge, a clinical morgue to a burlesque theatre, the enemy types adapting accordingly.
It makes very little sense, eroding the sense of logic and progression felt in the first game. Attempts to vary the gameplay a la Half Life 2 are occasionally inspired but more often than not feel broken and by-the-numbers, with one sequence involving a nailgun falling particularly short of expectation. Worryingly, there are moments in which the game becomes so dark it’s impossible to see where enemies are coming from, particularly in the hallucinatory ‘oil creature’ sequences.
Towards its unsatisfying close, Condemned 2 really begins to lose the plot; the game’s interesting additions to its forensics sequences and combat system buckling under the weight of an ultimately uninspiring videogame. You were terrified and enthralled by the first game, but by the time you’re using an assault rifle to shoot a helicopter out the sky or using a super-sonic scream to dispose of enemies in the sequel, you’ll be seriously wondering what could have been.