Condemned 2 – Xbox 360

PhotobucketReview by Johnus Maximus

Released in March 2008, Condemned 2 is the follow up to the successful Condemned: Criminal Origins. The game is developed by Monolith Productions, published by Sega and also available for PS3.

Taking place in the dark and disturbingly violent Metro City, you play an ex-FBI agent fighting to stay alive. The game fuses crime scene investigation with survival horror (think CSI, Silent Hill and Half Life 2 rolled into one game) and is rated 18 for good reason – it’s scary!

One year after the events of the previous title, Condemned 2 sees you once more in control of the character Ethan Thomas, a man struggling to cope with his very existence. Events in the previous game have rendered him a shadow of his former self, no longer a member of the FBI’s “Serial Crimes Unit” he exists as a vagrant plagued by alcoholism, violence and paranoid delusions.

Escalating levels of criminal behaviour are rife throughout Metro City, especially amongst the homeless and when an old friend of Ethan’s father is the victim of a bizarre murder, the Feds want Ethan Thomas back and on the case. As you play through the single player story mode you get to use forensic tools to extract clues from crime scenes, learn how to survive a violent world of deranged lunatics using your bare hands (and the occasional pipe) and ultimately solve a plot that goes beyond the realms of possibility.

The first of the games eleven levels helps you get to grips with the basic controls and interfaces. Starting with what can only be described as a steel cage bum fight you will learn how to effectively punch, kick and block – a bit like the first level of Parappa the Rappa, but minus the giant onion headed sensei. You also learn how to use melee weapons such as planks, pipes and prosthetic arms, try your hand at television tuning (handy for receiving transmissions from your inner demons and really badly voiced newscasters) and pooping your pants in fear of the black-slime covered demons that spawn from dirty egg sacks on the ceiling.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a game that made me feel scared, but playing the first few levels of Condemned really had me on the edge of my sofa. The environments are very well drawn, they appear derelict, devoid of light in many places and there are plenty of dark corners for enemies to lurk behind. The enemies themselves throw themselves at you at an incredible pace, and are unrelentingly furious fighters. Despite the variety of weapons you can get your hands on, you really have to learn how to master the basic blocking and countering techniques to survive.

Gathering evidence and getting feedback from the lab
Bloody handprint and serial killer signature – this must be a clue!

Reprising your role as a forensic investigator will involve you communicating at various points with fellow forensic expert Rosa. She’ll be someone you can trust when the poop hits the fan, an ever present voice in your ear, it’s her job to analyse the evidence you collect and establish more information about the crimes you’re investigating so that you can take the right course of action.

To aid your investigations you have a handy FBI utility belt stocked with the finest forensic gadgetry – a spectrometer – which helps you locate hidden sonic devices which are contributing to the strange behaviour of the city; a camera – to take lovely pictures of corpses and such; a UV light – to help you find blood stains and trails; a flashlight – so you can see in the dark; a tazer – positively shocking and also a GPS – in case you get lost.

I found that the elements of investigation, whilst less frequent or in-depth than I would have preferred, did help give a sense of balance to the game, as for a few fleeting moments you are able to take a break from the hordes of enemies and also use your brain instead of your brawn. Most of the investigations are relatively straightforward – take a picture of a blood stain, read the number off that id card, is the corpse a man or a woman – that sort of stuff, but depending how quickly and correctly your responses are will contribute to your overall score for each level.

Scoring well grants you unlockable items that can be of assistance throughout not only the rest of the game, but also the previous levels as well – each one is replayable should you want to increase the score you achieved earlier and also if you want to collect the achievements, doing so will earn you both gamerscore and unlockable concept art

Take a picture of this corpse
“Make sure you get my good side”

Quite often you can be taken by surprise and mercilessly slaughtered by the deluded denizens of the various levels and when playing the game I was really impressed by the frequency and placement of checkpoints. This can be a make or break gameplay element but thankfully not once did I find myself respawning at an inconvenient or too far back point in the game. Being able to reload from regular checkpoints comes in really handy for the level where you have to “run for your life” from a rabid bear.

Over the course of the game you will uncover a deep conspiracy which links the murders you’re investigating, the escalating violence in the city, the serial killer from the original Condemned and yourself. As this happens you find the people you work for turn against you, and so singlehandedly (well almost, you still have Rosa) you have to set out to save the world from evil.

The later stages of the game end up deviating away from the intense survival horror and toward being a sci-fi shooter, so instead of blunt force trauma you’ll instead be dealing with long range shoot outs, sabotaging mind control devices and shooting sonic booms from your mouth. The games final boss is woefully easy to defeat and the ending is disappointing as it feels more like a middle.

Toward the end of the game it became less scary and you could see the influence other games have had on the development team. The “Magic Man” boss stage has a similar feel to the art deco creepiness of Bioshock and the mysterious Oro cult with their strange mind control devices and desire for domination seem a lot like the Combine from Half Life 2. Not having played the first Condemned title, I’m not sure if this change of direction was predictable, but it is definitely clear there is a Condemned 3 in the pipeline at Monolith.

Fighting whilst wearing gas mask
Things get intense and claustrophobic once you don a gas mask

Outside of the story mode there are a few other play options available. For single players who want a bit of practice at combat there is a Danger Room-esque combat game called the Bloodshot Fight Club. Entering this mode allows you to select from a variety of environments taken from the single player mode, select a number and type of opponents to fight and the range of weapons available to use. If you get through the game okay without this practice then it can just be useful for gaining achievements.

There is also a multiplayer mode, which can be played by system link or on Xbox Live with up to seven additional players. There are four different game types you can play across nine different levels, ranked or unranked. The game modes are Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch – kill as many people as you can before the time limit expires; Crime Scenes – a team game where one side is the SCU agents searching for evidence and the other team are Influenced bums trying to hide the evidence; and Bum Rush – a small team of SCU agents has to survive against a large team of Influenced bums.

The multiplayer mode isn’t bad, although not particularly necessary – the impressive psychological horror atmosphere of the single player game is more than enough to warrant buying this title. Whilst it is by no means in the same league as something like Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3, there are still people playing the multiplayer mode online now and it’s been four months since the game launched, so it doesn’t take long to get into a match if you’re looking for one.

If you’re looking for a game that’s a little bit different from most first person shooters and will have your nerves on edge, I’d definitely recommend Condemned 2. It’s not for the faint of heart and will have you hiding behind cushions and playing with the lights on.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot scores a decent 4 medium velocity impact spatters out of 5

4 stars