February 13, 2008 - Condemned: Criminal Origins took us into the heart of a city gone mad, filled with psychopaths and unfriendly vagrants, on a search for a serial killer. Guns were an afterthought -- to survive you had to use whatever blunt object you could find. The sequel quite literally pulls no punches. This is a game that addresses every criticism of the first title and then ratchets the intensity up to 11.
Right from the start, you can tell that Monolith is upping the ante for Condemned 2 in every way. The game opens with Ethan Thomas crushing pills and hallucinating in a dive bar, a shell of his former self. Things have not gone well in the year since he left the force. After another bar patron gives Ethan a little wink on the way out, our hero proceeds to beat the snot out of him and winds up getting tossed out on the street. This is where the twisted adventure begins.
After a quick combat tutorial, your first task is to track down a man that looks to be Malcolm Vanhorn, an old friend from the first Condemned game. The game doesn't wait long to start upping the shock factor. No more than a few minutes into the game you find yourself in an alternate version of the city covered in a shiny oil-like substance. Crazy liquid goblins emerge from the oil to attack you -- some pop out of walls while others drop down from the ceiling. This level is exactly what you'd want out of a Condemned game. It looks great, plays well and the atmosphere is downright creepy.
The game starts with such a bang that it's hard to imagine where it could go to top the opening. The answer is that it doesn't…at first. The second level opens with the police force bringing you back in to track down Vanhorn. It seems you're not the only one looking for him, though exactly why isn't apparent just yet. Starting with a rifle in hand, this stage takes things back down a notch and focuses on forensics and a bit of gore as it begins to build the insanity back up towards another crescendo.
That's as far as we'll go on story and fright specifics in the interest of keeping this preview as spoiler free as possible. What we can say is this: The story so far is told in a more straightforward and sensible manner, primarily through a series of cutscenes in between each level. The city itself is in worse shape than ever with new grotesque inhabitants and seedy locations to explore. Oh, and the scare tactics and gore effects are quite good -- make sure you read the graffiti on the walls. The classic Monolith moves are there (and still effective) but you can be sure you'll experience a few things you never saw coming.
What we can talk about is how specific game mechanics have been updated. At its heart, Condemned 2 is still very similar to the first in the series. Combat is mostly melee oriented, mood and atmosphere drive the experience, the game still primarily takes place in a series of rundown corridors and the inhabitants of the city are all quite mad. Those basics are what make Condemned what it is, but the additions put into the sequel make the game feel like the deep and engrossing experience we'd sought from the original.
You read recently about the updated forensics system. The collectibles have also gone through an overhaul. Rather than seeking out dead birds and other random items, Condemned 2 puts some purpose behind your searching. The dead bird collectibles are out, largely replaced by odd sound emitters sprinkled randomly throughout each stage. It seems they're related to the crazy behavior the citizens have been displaying recently, so it's up to you to smash them.
You can also find televisions and radios that serve to tell a bit more about the story and what is happening in the world around you. Successfully finding the collectibles and completing any forensics investigations, as well as any side missions presented mid-level, play into a rating you get a the end of each level and subsequent bonus upgrades. Over the first few levels you'll get brass knuckles, a bullet-proof vest and a taser.
Another aspect of the game to get an overhaul is the combat. To say it has been improved would be an understatement. The focus is still on melee attacks and Condemned 2 has added enough variety to keep it from growing stale. There's now a full hand-to-hand combo system that makes Ethan a devastating force even if he doesn't have a weapon in hand. Each fist is mapped to one of the triggers while the left bumper allows you to swap in a hook for a jab. String them together and you can finish the assailant off with a sweet uppercut. Get them close to death and you can perform a finisher, only this time you get to choose how the death blow happens by picking a place in the environment to interact with.
Of course, it wouldn't be Condemned if you spent the entire time throwing fists. Weapons of opportunity are what make this series unique and, in that regard, the sequel does not disappoint. All of the mainstays are back in so you can still rip that electric conduit off of the wall if you're caught in a pinch, but even early in the game you'll find a lot of variety in the tools you can beat people over the head with. My personal favorite of the new batch is the ring stand. You might remember this tool from high school chemistry. In Condemned 2, you can find it near meth labs and live out any twisted fantasies you hopefully never had in school. Coming in a close second on the favorites list would be an exploding doll that works like a hand grenade.
At this point, it looks like Condemned 2 does a great job of building on the successes of the first game while addressing most all of the issues it had. The game still needs a bit of polish as we've experienced a few bugs in this build, but the game runs smoothly enough now that it's easy to see the final version running without a hitch. That's good news as Bloodshot sports an entire host of new graphical bells and whistles the first didn't have.
The atmosphere is right, the gore is as repulsive as ever, and fright effects are top notch. Get ready for another game that will keep you up at night, Bloodshot ships to retail in early March for PS3 and Xbox 360.