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Condemned 2: Bloodshot
System: PS3, Xbox 360 :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 11 March 2008

By Aaron Robinson
14 May 2008 Whilst it's been a long time since I've genuinely been scared by a movie or novel, there's something about playing survival horror games that's truly unsettling. (I still get a feeling of dread from Silent Hill 3 and Siren.) Sure, I never had much trouble playing BioShock or the later Resident Evil sequels, but in those games you're always armed with a nice cache of weapons; watching a twitching skeletal creature lurch towards you becomes a whole lot less frightening when there's a machine gun firmly gripped in your hands. However, not knowing what's creeping along in the distance, but knowing I'm ill-prepared to face it is a much more engaging experience.

In Condemned 2 you play a hard-drinking, hard-talking ex-cop named Ethan. Rather than shooting the crazy thugs who block your way, most of your time will be spent going mano e mano with them. Since there isn't an inventory system here, often you'll have to make do with whatever's handy, such as wooden planks and rusty pipes. And considering how quickly melee weapons break and guns run dry, it isn't long before you're back to nothing but your fists.

It takes a while to get the hang of, but the controls work quite well. The left and right triggers make you punch with the respective fists, whilst pressing both will cause Ethan to block. It sounds simple, but there's enough depth to keep things interesting. Blocking just before an attack will make Ethan parry, sending the opponent off-guard, giving you a chance to deliver a quick beating. It's possible to chain attacks for damage bonuses. On top of that there are quick-time events (following on-screen prompts) and environmental kills (dragging downed enemies to certain spots to kill them in an inventive way) to make combat a little flashier.

As nice as the combat is, the use of a gun feels out of place. Melee weapons are basically an extension of the hand-to-hand combat scheme, but the game switches to a first-person shooter mode whenever you use a firearm. There's no cover system (Ethan can't even duck), and enemies are often thick enough to run right into the line of fire. On top of that is the strange gameplay mechanic for Ethan's alcoholism; he can't aim properly while sober, so for any guns that require accuracy you'll need to grab alcohol first. Unfortunately the levels which are built around shooting just aren't fun. Taking out armed enemies with a rifle feels clunky when you're controlling a guy who can't duck, dodge, hold more than one clip of ammo or even shoot straight.

To keep things interesting, a CSI-like element has been added to the game. In certain areas you'll be asked to gather evidence in order to learn how a victim died, or how to get out of your current situation. While looking around and taking clues you'll have to report everything you find, so that the evidence can be assessed. The more accurate you are the higher you'll be rated, and the better the bonuses will be for completing that chapter of the game. It's fairly simple stuff, but it's fun and offers a nice distraction from fighting, while still keeping things tense.

Perhaps one of the coolest aspects of the game is how almost every action, from crawling through a hole to downing a bottle of wine, is seen from Ethan's perspective. When climbing onto a rooftop, for instance, you'll see Ethan's legs press off the ladder, and watch his hands as he pulls himself up. It's a nice touch that makes traveling to new areas pretty edgy, especially since you lose control in these moments. It does take away the interactivity, but the scripted scenarios are entertaining to watch, and never last more than a few seconds. The only problem with this system is that you often have to be in a specific spot to initiate the "Ethan climbs over / around this object" action. It's not always apparent that a dresser can be moved, or that you can actually crawl through a space. On a few occasions I had no idea how to advance until I accidentally stumbled upon an area where the action button lit up.

If you've ever wanted to crawl through a garbage-encrusted building with mumbling hairless crack addicts ready to attack you at a moment's notice, Condemned 2 will let you live that fantasy. To say the environments are gritty is an understatement. If they're not disgusting, then they're broken-down, cluttered or eerily pristine. It does a great job of ensuring that you never know what's around the next corner. Though, it's not always an even experience. Whenever Ethan blacks out you'll have to explore a nightmare world; from the way the game is structured you'd expect to be introduced into this twisted world slowly, but you're thrown in minutes into the game. Some of the locations feel random, too. Sure, they're fun to explore and they change things up, but there isn't much cohesion in the way the last couple of levels connect together. And the scares become awfully rare towards the end, especially as the environments and plot become more absurd.

Where Condemned 2 falters most is in its plot. For the first half of the game the story sticks in the background, it's there to push you from location to location and to give reasoning behind your investigations. When the story kicks in and the revelations unfold, things just get silly. The game goes from investigating deaths and fighting crazy people to fighting against evil supernatural organizations and discovering inane conspiracies. It doesn't help that the plot does a terrible job of explaining the last couple of locations you must visit.

Condemned 2 is a good game that unfortunately stumbles in the second half. There's plenty of fun to be had such as the investigations and combat but the plot is uneven and absurd. If you're looking for an interesting approach at the horror genre, it's well worth a shot. But those looking for a consistently horrifying experience and a good story should probably look elsewhere.

Final Grade: 7/10

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