Review by BloodGod65

"Not what I was hoping for, but fun nonetheless"

Despite the genre's popularity in other forms of entertainment, horror has never become a consistent staple in gaming. Sure, we can all point to horror titles, but when you get down to it, there just aren't that many of them released. That's what made Condemned unique. Not only was it a launch title for the Xbox 360, but it was also the first time gamers got a taste of how the next generation of hardware could be used to scare their pants off. While it didn't become a blockbuster success, it received a positive reception among those who tried it. Even so, there were plenty of issues that proved to be bothersome and for better or for worse, these have been addressed in the sequel.

Bloodshot picks up a year after the incoherent end of the original. Ethan is no longer an agent and he has slipped into an alcoholic, homeless lifestyle. Things haven't gotten any better for the city either, as it is still packed with maniacs. But the situation is getting worse, with the lunatics becoming restless, crime rates rising, and the city itself falling into a general state of decay.

As the game progresses, large parts of the plot from the original Condemned finally become clear, such as the significance of all those dead birds and the source of the widespread psychosis gripping the city. Even though many questions from the original are answered, Bloodshot raises plenty of its own that it never gets around to answering. When the end credits roll, the plot has been twisted into a disjointed mess that even a cable TV network would be ashamed to air. What's really infuriating about the whole thing is that one of the last scenes all but acknowledges that the developers had no idea where they were going with the narrative. After cornering his nemesis, Ethan asks him what the purpose of the whole affair is – a question that, if it were actually answered, would tie up all the loose ends. Unfortunately, the guy doesn't answer. Bang. The end. Roll credits. It's not often that a game enrages me like this, but Bloodshot's ending is, without a doubt, the biggest slap in the face a developer has ever devised. It's basically like they said, “Sorry guys, this is all we've got so far!”

Though the way it turns out is disgusting, the way the story is presented during the game is excellent. While the main plot is fleshed out using traditional cutscenes before and after every mission, during missions, Ethan can hunt down TVs and radios strewn through the city. These usually give an interesting look at the chaos that is unfolding elsewhere in the city, which helps flesh out the scope of the events at hand.

So the story sucks, but then it wasn't great in the first game either. But how does the rest of the game stack up? In case you never played the original Condemned, or have forgotten what it was like, a recap is in order. Condemned – both the original and Bloodshot - is a horror game with brawler, shooter and crime scene investigation elements. Throughout the course of the game, you'll find yourself piecing together clues to determine how people were killed, beating up bloodthirsty maniacs and gunning down imaginary freaks.

The most notable aspect of Condemned was its pervasive sense of tension and dread. For whatever reason, that is largely nonexistent in this iteration. While those “jump out of your seat” moments are still around they aren't as prevalent as they once were. This could safely be attributed to any number of reasons; the tension level isn't as high due because you're never left alone long enough to start getting scared and the environments are more open, leaving fewer opportunities for something to pop out. Then there's the fact that an auto-save message typically pops up right before anything really scary happens, giving any watchful player plenty of time to prepare. And if all that doesn't suck the fear out of the game, this little fact should. At one point, I thoroughly searched a level, completely clearing it of all enemies. I then went into a bathroom and immediately turned around, fast enough to see an enemy literally spawn out of thin air, right behind me. Once I realized that there was nothing I could do to avoid being attacked whenever it was supposed to happen, I just started charging full-force through the levels killing everybody in my way.

Melee combat has been given a dramatic overhaul as well. This time around, it has become a more tactical, with blocking and punching taking on a deliberateness that sucks some of the brutality and fun out of it. In the previous game, combat felt much more spontaneous (like a real fight) with each person going at the other like a wild animal, heedless of personal safety. The new approach of gauging your enemy and timing your attacks to exploit their weaknesses would feel much more at home in a boxing game.

New additions to the combat system include a combo system that gives out damage multipliers depending on what moves you pull off. There is also another form of combo that has you pressing the triggers in an up-close and personal slo-mo smackdown. Finally, you can take advantage of the environmental kills, which allow you to drag a stunned enemy to a marked place in the environment and finish them off. Again, most of this feels out of place, but it does lend variety to the fighting and the new ways of hurting enemies are welcome.

While most of the things I've mentioned don't harm the game in any major way, there is one true problem with the melee combat. Weapons are underpowered. If I hit some guy in the face with a brick, it should hurt him pretty bad. If I smack a guy in the face with a battle-axe (yes, there are battle-axes in this game) he should die – No questions asked.

Speaking of weapons, guns now play a larger role. While you won't always have access to them, if you play your cards right, most missions will give you the opportunity to get your hands on one. In contrast to the lead pipes and bottles, these are serious implements of destruction, capable of splattering the brain-matter of anything that gets in your way. They do take a certain amount of finesse to use though, since precise aiming is, well… not that precise. Due to Ethan's alcoholism, his hands shake uncontrollably, making it almost impossible to do anything other than fire blindly. Of course if you find some alcohol, you can steady his aim for a limited amount of time. The connection between story and actual gameplay is cool, seeing as how many games have plot elements that should fit into the game, but don't.

Last but not least, the crime scene investigations have received a complete overhaul. They have been expanded in several ways – requiring you to listen to transmissions and then ask the proper questions, look at physical evidence to determine how a person died or trace evidence back to its source. As in the first game, you have a few tools to help you out and it is all very intuitive to use. Despite the fact that it's all very straightforward, I never failed to feel like a true detective when I my assessment of a crime scene turned out to be perfect. Unfortunately, crime scenes are few and far between. More often than not, you'll just be using the new investigation options to do trivial things such as deciding which camera was overlooking the crime scene or asking questions about your current situation. Still, even these minor interactions always seem natural and are fun enough not to be a hassle.

Anyone who has played the original probably has one big question, that being whether or not the levels are any easier to navigate. In short, yes. By and large the levels are much better designed and there is enough visual differentiation to make it harder to get turned around. In addition to that, it is a much better looking game than the original, with better texture work and character models. And, though I wouldn't have though it was possible, the environments look even nastier than before (in a “boy, that's some excellent looking grime!” kind of way).

But apparently the developers must have thought that the game wasn't scary enough because there is a liberal use of visual effects that are meant to mess with your head. While the game isn't scary, these goofy effects don't do anything other than hurt the game. Oftentimes, I was subjected to high contrast black and white filters, or moments when the screen bugged out with different colors and grainy filters. In effect, all they do is obscure your vision at crucial moments (like when several enemies are teaming up on you at one time) and make it harder to distinguish where you're going.

The key to any great horror soundtrack is subtlety. Bloodshot has all the right elements (spooky noises and… well, just spooky noises) but they're used entirely wrong. Letting tension build is key – By leaving someone alone for an extended amount of time and then suddenly throwing out some strange noise or a few notes of music, then you can really scare a person. However, when these noises are constantly used they quickly become boring and eventually elicit no effect whatsoever.

All the elements from the original Condemned are present, but they don't always come together to provide a memorable experience. I love the fact that the investigations are now more detailed, but it sucks that they are de-emphasized. Plus, the whole tactical, combo-oriented reinvention of the melee system feels out of place here. But overall, this is an enjoyable game that doesn't quite live up to the awesomeness of its predecessor.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/30/08, Updated 07/06/10

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

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