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Condemned 2: Bloodshot

The 2008 Xbox360 Horror Action Adventure video game

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Malone Dies Again

  • Aug 16, 2013
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Monolith Studios has had approximately two years to think themselves over after the release of the first Condemned game. Would this sequel shatter expectations and provide the ultimate hobo smashing simulator that would endure for generations to come? Well…I'm not so sure about that. CONDEMNED 2: BLOODSHOT, released in 2008, is a noticeable improvement over its predecessor in some ways. Its clear Monolith did their homework and tried to improve every aspect of the original game that was lacking. Unfortunately, the manner in which they went about doing it is questionable. Some bizarre creative choices and technical problems undermine what could have been a vastly superior sequel to one of the 360's most promising launch titles. As it stands BLOODSHOT is a solid, gritty, in your face action game, but there's that nagging sensation that it could have been a lot better.

Several years have passed since the events of the first CONDEMNED game. Ethan Thomas has been promoted to Captain of the Guards and is instituting a lockdown upon all homeless in the vicinity of…wait a minute. Wrong universe. Ethan Thomas, the struggling private investigator from the first game is now a grizzled, low life drunkard washed up on the streets of Metro City surviving from day to day with nothing but a bottle in his hands. What a change from the desperate and calculating hero we encountered in the first game! However, his depressing foray into the abysmal realm of alcoholism doesn't last long as the SCU (Special Convicts Unit) immediately has need of his services once again. It turns out, there's ANOTHER serial killer prowling the streets fo Metro City, performing all the atrocious actions upon its citizens that SKX (the main villain from the first game) was responsible for, and the first victim targeted just happened to be Ethan's old mentor/guide from the first game! Ethan must cast of his drinking spell, survive the slums of Metro City once again, and bring this ugly sadist to justice before he plunges the city into dark…yada yada…you know how this goes.

Or at least you think you do. One of the major issues I had with CONDEMNED 2 was it's bizarre choice of narrative, which starts out like a straightforward followup to the first game, but then moves into completely unbelievable sci-fi territory. I'm not going to reveal too much for fear of spoiling the plot, but let's just say that Ethan dukes it out with everyone from serial killers to the SWAT Team to magicians (!?) to psychopaths decked out in full knight armor (!?) to crazed members of a secret cult wearing hi-tech masks which allow them to kill people with highly amplified vocal cords (!!!?). WTF might be an appropriate reaction. In the first game, the eccentric/supernatural elements were ambiguous. The game left you to decide whether the non-human entities which Ethan encountered were a reflection of his crumbling sanity or if they were really happening. This was one of the first game's greatest strengths, and one of its major weaknesses, since the narrative never really came together in a coherent way. In CONDEMNED 2, these events are NOT ambiguous. Ethan really IS contending with half-cyborg, X-MEN rejects in order to avert a global plot to enslave the world. I'm not sure what the writers were thinking since the obvious solution to the problems with the story in the first game would have been to provide a coherent narrative, not a crazy, absurd one which feels like a rejected print from AMAZING STORIES. This X-FILES/X-MEN mashup just feels so bizarre in the context of what the first game was trying to do.

And then there's the gameplay, which is a combination of the good and the bad. After a long time in the Grindhouse playing grim, claustrophobic horror games, I realize they all start to blend in and feel the same after a while.  Once the survival horror genre had matured, meshing with technology that allowed for cinematic atmosphere, the formula was set in stone for another...8 years.  You know the drill; you've been playing this type of horror venture since DOOM 3 or even the original FATAL FRAME.  Player enters a dark and dilapidated setting like a gothic mansion or an abandoned subway station.  He walks around the empty location with for several minutes with nothing to guide him but the weak light of a flashlight.  Conventional bass heavy, murky ambient droning (if that could even be called music) plays in the background.  Suddenly, there's a rattle behind him.  He flips around, sees an unearthly abomination dressed in the best textures the software can render.  The soundtrack amps up the violin screeches.  The creature leaps from his dark lair.  The player dodges, rips out his hidden pistol, pumps several shots into the Lovecraftian reject, and it falls over dead or dissipates in a puff of smoke.  Alternatively in a modern game, the creature may reach the player and a QTE will.  The prompt "SNAP R1+R2 AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!"  will pop up on the screen as the ugly's drooling, corpse-like face fills up the player's vision and the camera shakes wildly.

After playing several of these types of games, you really begin to notice the patterns which make up this genre from FATAL FRAME to RESIDENT EVIL REVELATIONS.  I think we're reaching a point in games where the "haunted house spook tactics" are becoming too familiar, and will eventually begin to lose effectiveness altogether.  One can only wonder what new tactics video game professionals will design to shock and disturb the player in the future.

That's not to knock on CONDEMNED 2, which I think does its job admirably. Sure the dark, "urban horror" is contrived, but it's feels well done. The first action you perform in CONDEMNED 2 is giving a hobo the finger and yelling "Screw You!" Make no mistake: this is a dirty, violent game which appeals to the 13 year old sociopath in all of us. I do like the character of Ethan. True, the efforts at making him a "down and dirty antihero" are not terribly effective or original. But he is entertaining to watch though just as a fuming, macho, blustery grump with a bad temper and dialogue which half consists of curses and cussing. The Metro City of CONDMEMNED is not like the sunny avenues of its counterpart in the FINAL FIGHT series. This is a gloomy, depressing haunted house of a metropolis. Psychopaths and slimy humanoid monsters hide in all the dark corners, and the allegiance of everyone you meet is questionable. The first person viewpoint really helps immerse you in this ruthless world. And indeed, the meticulously rendered madhouse of a city you tread through with all its demonic toy making factories, black subway tunnels, horrific torture chambers posing as magic theaters, is one of CONDEMNED 2's highlights.

But then you get to the gameplay. One of the major concerns Monolith addressed for this game was the combat system, which has been heavily pumped up from CONDEMNED 1. No more are you always forced to seek out environmental objects to use as weapons.  Now you can use your fists to beat enemies to a slimy pulp.  The fist fighting is addictive because Ethan looks so good blocking and sending his fists flying out with snakelike grace.  You see...when using a melee weapon in the game, Ethan swings so hard that the action is just a blur.  But his fists animate much more smoothly, allowing you to relish these battles in all their fine detail.  Combine this with the appropriate reactions from the enemies (heads snap back realistically, their bodies stagger and tumble when you smack their arms, etc.) and you may be tempted to use the fists through a majority of the game.  

The developers have also added a combo system, which was noticeably lacking in the original game.  Combo attacks can be performed with any weapon, but are easiest when executed with (you guessed it) the fists.  Swing left, swing right, and swing left again...that's a combo.  Parry, swing right and swing left...that's another combo.  Combination attacks net you substantial damage bonuses, so you'll want to use them often.  Unfortunately because many of the weapons you use have such long intervals between swings, its very easy to get interrupted by your opponent. Timing your attacks effectively is essential to mastering combat.

Chain attacks another new addition to the combat system.  These are basically canned combination attacks executed in a brutal, zoomed up QTE.  Like "Rage" moves or "Super Attacks" of so many fighting game, these are restricted by a meter in the upper right hand corner of your screen that fills while fighting.  When its full, parrying and counterattacking will automatically initiate a chain combo.  The thunderous blows of your fists belie the fatal damage levels these cause to your enemies.  Unfortunately these canned cinematic smashfests are the same across enemy to enemy and subsequently grow old very quickly.  It's also frustrating how easy it is to execute them. A lot of the times, it will be by accident.  In fact, that's what happened to me a lot of the time...Ethan simply pulled one out at random "Chain Attack" when I was trying to save it. Overall its a good idea, but the unreliability of when you can execute these attacks combined with the repetitive animations makes them wear their welcome faster than you would hope.

Having an improved combat system, you'd think the single player campaign would force you to utilize it more. Unfortunately here Monolith screws things up. In response to complaints about the redundant nature of the single player campaign in the first game, CONDEMNED 2 also tries to "diversify" things up by throwing in long sections of the game where you don't use fists or weapons. Rather, you only use guns.

Guns have never been the highlight of CONDEMNED's gameplay. In the world of CONDEMNED, guns are deadly, but not in a fun way.  You can expect one bullet, properly aimed at the cranium, to be the death warrant for most of your enemies. The sense of pseudo-realistic damage levels during these segments makes the battles feel very anticlimactic when compared to the melee focused sections, and ultimately robs a lot of tension from the gameplay. The original game dealt with this by featuring guns very infrequently. If you found a gun, you'd be lucky if you could squeeze six shots out of it before throwing it in favor of a melee weapon. In CONDEMNED 2, you're far less likely to run out of ammo because you can replenish it by looting enemy corpses.  This makes the FPS sections of the game longer, far longer than you would want. Sometimes you go through entire stages with an Assault Rifle at your disposal picking off dumb enemy soldiers left and right. These sections feel more like a mediocre ripoff of FEAR than a CONDEMNED game. Of all the ways they could have "diversified" the gameplay, this was not one of the better ones.

Detective Mode also makes a return. In the original game, these moments were little more than scripted sections. You took out your hi-tech gadget, pointed it at the right place, gathered your data, and the story moved forward. The detective sections in CONDEMNED 2 are more involved. You have to answer questions about the evidence you've scanned. "Ethan what was that tool you uncovered?" "Ethan, was it an exit wound or a blunt weapon which killed that cop?" Answer more questions correctly and you get a better ranking. At the end of each mission, you are awarded a new tool to use, which is better or worse depending on the level of your ranking. This does encourage you to be more careful with the investigation scenarios, taking careful notes, and using your brain appropriately.

Unfortunately, I didn't feel much for this new detective mode. It lacked the sense of immersion the scripted events from the first game had because, here it's more about answering questions than it is about collecting evidence. Once you memorize the answers to the questions, why do you need to collect evidence? You don't...meaning all those hi-tech gadgets become useless (for the most part) during a second playthrough. It would have been awesome if your responses changed the course of the story like a modern RPG. However that would have required significantly more development time. Overall, Detective Mode is present...but, like other aspects of the game, feels slightly undercooked.

Another bad part: there is an unforgivable glitch that occurs with your save games every once in a while.  Apparently, if you shut the Xbox360 off in the middle of a gaming session, you have a chance of not only losing the progress you've gained since the beginning of that session, but also your ENTIRE single player progress as well.  A number of players around the internet have booted up their Xbox and tuned into the title screen only to find themselves at Level 1 again...all their other advances in the game deleted.  This wouldn't be such an issue if the game were a nice short, 4-hour adventure.  Unfortunately being a long and involved 10-13 hour slog as is typical of modern action games, it makes the magnitude of the loss much greater.

There is apparently a way to get around this glitch. You must never turn off the Xbox in the middle of the gameplay session--you must always close the game through the main menu first, go to the Xbox dashboard, and only THEN shut down the console.  Unfortunately I can imagine forgetting this "shutdown etiquette" more than once in a while.  I really can't stand it when developers could let such a FATAL glitch like this go unaddressed for so long.   It's like forcing a reader to start at Page 1 just because he forgot where he put his bookmark in before he left.  Now you could argue that revisiting the material is part of the fun and that might be so. I just can't stand it when the player is purely the victim of defective software and nothing else.  It's just a shame...the game is so technically polished in other areas that this one fatal flaw sticks out like a charred, black thumb.

The graphics in CONDEMNED 2 are dark and grimy, just like its predecessor.  There's no getting around it, everything's murky and shadowy in this game.  A true "urban nightmare" if ever there was one, and certainly NOT a good game to play if you're suffering from depression.  Even environments like the Magic Man's theater, which should be brightly lit, are gloomy and claustrophobic.  This is understandable given the subject matter.  By itself, this wouldn't be so bad, however they had to amplify the depressing atmosphere by throwing in this incredibly nauseating motion blur effect. Motion blur is nothing new in modern video games. But in CONDEMNED 2, it's overdone. When you look around, all the environmental detail melts into a blur.  I guess this was to help pass along the idea that Ethan is constantly struggling with his rage and insanity problems, as well as make the action look more intense. But those who actually want to appreciate the detailed visuals will find themselves thwarted by this graphical distortion.

Beyond that though, a lot of the art design has also been reinvented for the sequel...I guess with the intent of capturing a bigger audience.  The most noticeable changes are the character designs, which have been completely overhauled to please commercial expectations.  Ethan has been transformed from a short but formidable private into a bear of a man with a massive chest and head full of hair.  His assistant Rosa, who in the original game was a short, slightly plump woman with glasses, now has the figure of a model and looks like she could be played by Zoe Saldana.  Its obvious the intent was to attract new audience members.  However it kind of violates the intent of the original game which tried (I repeat, TRIED) to give these characters somewhat humble character designs and not contrived idealized ones from a Hollywood flick.

The sound...is okay.  The voicework is decent, but nothing superbly gripping.  The sound effects range from immersive (the rattling of objects around you, footsteps, etc.) to just plain flat. Consider: When you blow up a person's head with a shotgun, what do you expect to hear? In CONDEMNED 2, the answer is "nothing". There is absolutely no sound when I blow up an enemy's head in the game. Head explosions are some of the most grisly deaths a video gamer can inflict upon his virtual prey. When I perform them, I'd like to hear a "KERSPLAT!!" at the very least. The music once again is just the same horror-themed, murky droning from the first game, although there are points when it moves into techno territory and feels more lively.  

I really don't know what to say about CONDEMNED 2.  Like so many next Gen games I've played, its a gory, fun, contrived blockbuster of a game that comes up strong in many areas, but always seems to fall short before reaching the maximum magnitude of impact.  An improved melee combat doesn't matter if you're wielding guns for a large part of the game.  The visuals are far more detailed, but the annoying motion blur effect makes it difficult to enjoy them.  The dark, creepy atmosphere is undermined by the laughable story.  The characters look better, but have less convincing personalities and designs.  Are you seeing the problem here?  For every step forward this game takes, it takes another one backwards.  The unforgiveable save game glitch is also a perfect example of how improved technology does not make a better game.  So overall, I really feel CONDEMNED 2's about on par with the quality of its predecessor.  Can't really say if I enjoyed it more or less overall.

In the end, I think CONDEMNED 2 makes an awesome $5 purchase, but a mediocre long term experience.  Judging by the lackluster sales, I guess that's how many others felt too. Whether Monolith will ever recover the franchise remains to be seen. Just think of it as a nice complement to the FEAR franchise and you should have fun.

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August 18, 2013
man....that is a thorough review. This looks sick! I want it.
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"Then blockishly mumbling with a set on countenance a piece of scurvy grace, he washed his hands in fresh wine, picked his teeth with the foot of a hog, and talked jovially with his attendants. … more
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The game breaks away from the World War II setting of previous games in the series and is instead set in modern times. The game is the first in the series to be rated Mature in North America.

The story is centered around a fictional near-future conflict involving the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, who are fighting against Russian ultranationalists in civil war torn Russia, and rebels that have staged a coup d'état in a small Middle Eastern country. It is told from the perspectives of a United States Marine and a member of the British SAS, and is set in multiple locations, including the Middle East, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Prypiat, Ukraine. The multiplayer portion of the game features various game modes, and contains a leveling system that allows the player to unlock additional weapons, weapon attachments, and camouflage schemes as they advance.

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Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Monolith
Console: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360, Mac OS X
Release Date: March 11, 2008
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