Review by Zora_Prince

"The sequel improves just about everything, but it lacks something that made the original so fantastic."

Video Games are all grown-up now. Yes, family friendly and accessible classics like Mario, Zelda, and Sonic will always exist, but for adult gamers with a taste for gore and grittiness, there are plenty of games today to satisfy their cravings.

One of the best games to fulfill that quota was Condemned: Criminal Origins. A launch game for the Xbox 360 in 2005, the game put you in the shoes of a fugitive cop trapped in the middle of a city that was erupting in violence and chaos for unexplained reasons. You went through dark shabby urban areas, scared of what could lie around every corner or in every shadow, trying to clear your name and figure out the cause of this insanity.

Since the first one was a hit, Condemned 2: Bloodshot was released three years later. A lot has changed. Most of it is for the better but in one very important area it is for the worse. Regardless, I think any adult gamer seeking a gritty adventure will find Condemned 2 to their liking.

Condemned 2 once again puts you in the shoes Ethan Thomas, who has now left the police force. Traumatized by the events of the first game, his life has been a downward spiral, leaving him a drunk, bitter, violent, bum. In his very first scene of the game, we see him at a bar with the drinks and the drugs. He sees a man resembling the demonic enemies from the first game and beats him bloody…only to find it was a hallucination and he that he just beat up innocent man. The bar keeper kicks him and Ethan obliges, right after smashing his glass against the wall. Very shortly after, he gets into a brawl with the homeless of Metro City. That's how low he's fallen. To top it all off, the city is erupting into violent anarchy just like the last game. Everything is going to hell.

Despite his issues, Ethan Thomas is recruited by the SCU once again to aid them in the investigation of the murder of your old acquaintance, Malcolm Vanhorn. One thing leads to another, and Ethan ones again finds himself exploring the dangerous areas of Metro city to discover the dark secrets of his enemies, himself, and what is causing all of this violence.

At first, I didn't like Ethan Thomas, despite having gone through the terrific experience first adventure with him. This was because he felt like a different person. Instead of being an honest likable detective, he was a foul mouthed drunk without any redeeming qualities. I felt further distanced from him by his new voice actor (Greg Grunberg doesn't reprise his role as Ethan Thomas. The new man sounds similar to him, but you can tell it isn't the same person). As the game continued, though, I started to enjoy him again. You understand the effects the alcohol and the events of the first game have had on him and why he is different. Even his attitude improves, with the help of his friend Rosa from the last game.

On the subject of alcohol, Ethan's demon of alcoholism will manifest itself in physical form to mock and fight him. It is an interesting idea which makes his battle with his addiction all the more personal and interactive.

Regarding the rest of the story (the reason why all this is happening), I have mixed feelings. On one hand, it is dark, violent, and will have you eager to know how it ends. On the other hand, it is not very original and becomes ridiculously full-blown sci-fi/supernatural by the end. The original Condemned's story was no masterpiece, but it was more subtle and realistic. It was in the veins of The Silence of the Lambs and that is how I feel the Condemned series should be.

Aside from the absurdness and cliches, it's enjoyable and I'm anxious to see how it ends in Condemned 3.

The dirty cities, abandoned buildings, insane killers, and other urban sprawl all return in Condemned 2, but they all have been given a good polish. The textures are smoother and shinier, the darkness feels heavier, the character models look more human, and violence is more grotesque. Nothing from the first game has gone unpolished. Every place you visit (bar the parts near the end) looks and feels like it could be a place in real life and that just makes them more unsettling to visit, especially with the lack of light and the presence of murderers. A minor nitpick is that some cutscenes stop using the graphics of the gameplay in favor of much more realistic graphics. I'd have preferred real-time cutscenes as I find this distracting. However, it is admittedly a very minor nitpick.

Also, this isn't really a problem, but the game is very dark (As in there is little light around) so playing with the lights off is a necessity to enjoy the game.

Overall, Condemned 2 is a shining example of how sequel should improve the look of its predecessor.

In order to compliment the already gorgeous grim look of the game, the game provides excellent background music and noise. The music that plays during gameplay and the distance sounds of pots jingling, footsteps, and items crashing are eerie and unsettling and does a good job at adding creating atmosphere. When you're killing a man with a pipe, you hear the hard impact of the pipe to the body, the scream or grunt of the enemy, and the blood splattering from him.
The voice acting is adequate, but nothing to write home about. Sometimes the characters are lacking in emotion despite the horrible things that are going on. For example, near the end of the game, a character whose life is in danger is asking for help like they were asking for a package to be delivered to their house.
Condemned 2 is very similar to the first Condemned in the sound department, but that isn't a bad thing.

True to its predecessor, Condemned 2 is a first-person action horror game with a heavy focus on melee combat. You'll explore dimly lit mostly urban environments, killing goons with whatever junk you can find lying around while using forensic technology to discover clues about what is going on. This time around, they're both a bit different. Combat has been improved in every way possible. Blocking and countering are much easier this time around. Both the L and R triggers are used for attacking and you can use this to put together combos, gain damage bonuses by hitting the enemy at the right time, trigger a quick time event for extra damage, and use the environment to kill your enemy. It's more strategic, more violent, and more fun.

You won't always be killing enemies in melee combat. Occasionally, there will be a level in which you'll be given a gun and forced to shoot your whole way through. Although this may seem like a betrayal to the original's roots, these are far and few between and are a breath of fresh air rather than a disappointing genre change. Another thing that you'll sometimes be doing is running away. In two of the levels, you don't have the means to kill the enormous enemy and you need to run like hell or else you'll be killed gruesomely. There are rare, but they add a lot of excitement and fear and are a great addition to the game.

Finally, gathering evidence is much more interactive this time around. Instead of just locating the thing the game wants you to find, you have to fill in the blanks yourself. Rosa will ask to identify aspects of the crime (How was the victim murdered, has the body been moved, can you identity the victim, etc.) and you'll the correct choice from different options. The game will continue no matter what you choose, but choose correctly, and you'll be rewarded with more information on the story as well as bonus points which affect the ranking you get at the end of each level. It isn't perfect. Sometimes, the right answer can be arbitrary and hard to find and it is frustrating missing out on story tidbits for not doing it right, but it is an improvement from the first game.

Despite the wonderful new gameplay elements and polish the game received, I can't help but admit that it disappointed me a tad. Something I adored about the first Condemned was not the combat or the forensics but the atmosphere. In the first game, you felt lonely, vulnerable, and afraid of what could be around every corner. I literally had to stop numerous times, thinking that somebody was following me only to realize that those were my own footsteps. That's how unsettled I was. Condemned 2 has atmosphere and a few levels reminiscent to the first game, but for the most part, they lack the subtlety and pervasiveness of the first game. A part of the reason was the new combat (As good as it is, it does make you feel a bit empowered), a part of the reason is Ethan's new personality (You don't feel as vulnerable when you're a badass), but the biggest reason is the level design. The bosses in them are over the top, most levels don't demand careful slow treading, and some levels feel like they were included because they would be cool rather than because they would be creepy and good for the storyline.

As fun as it is, it's mostly lacks the terror of the first game.

Length and Replay Value
The game will take about 8-12 hours to complete at most. After you beat the game, you'll have lots of optional tasks to complete. You can go back and try to get a gold ranking in each level (Based on how many points you obtain through killing, answered the forensics, and how many optional objectives you completed), the chance to play through the game again with unlimited ammo, arena challenges, a multiplayer mode (which I never partook in, so I cannot comment on it), and loads of achievements to earn. It should last perfectionists another twenty hours. All of this was plenty of time for me and I felt I got my money's worth.

Final Verdict
If you enjoyed the first Condemned game, enjoy gritty first person games, or enjoy horror games, Condemned 2 is well worth your time. The developers did a great job improving just about every area of the game. It's a shame they lost their way a bit in terms of story, atmosphere, and level design. Even so, I had a good time playing this game and anxiously await its sequel. Here is to hoping it will combine the best of the old and new.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/11/11

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

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