I move cautiously down the decrepit, darkened hall of an abandoned building. My hand grips tightly around a lead pipe, my only defense as strange, hostile noises percolate the soundscape. A fire cracks and spits upwards from a decaying barrel, casting silhouettes across the corroding architecture of the corridor. All of a sudden the shadow shivers and twists as demonic laughter reverberates through the walls. My whole body tenses in preparation to confront whatever awaits me in the gloom ahead. I summon my courage and turn the corner. A pallid, inhuman face greets me. A smirk emerges; “Let’s have some fun”, the otherworldly voice resonates as he tightens his grip around my throat.
I’m not sure whether I’m having fun or being terrified; in the best traditions of survival-horror, I think I’m experiencing both simultaneously.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is the latest game from industry veterans Monolith Productions. Building upon their vast experience within the supernatural horror genre (F.E.A.R., Silent Hill: Origins and the original Condemned: Criminal Origins to name but a few), Monolith seem to have condensed the atmosphere and narrative of a Hitchcockian mystery thriller with the content of a modernistic bloodbath in the best traditions of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi.
Fittingly, Monolith have opted to approach the 2nd instalment of Condemned from a hardboiled-detective angle. The player, as protagonist Ethan Thomas, is a down-and-out, alcoholic ex-cop haunted by his past. Following genre convention, a chance comes along to confront his demons and get his life back on track, in the form of a puzzling case. The story is mainly told through cinematics that dovetail the beginning and end of each level, most of which are professionally-produced and informative.
Stylistically, if you think 2K’s award-winning Bioshock you won’t be too far off. A dystopian environment, a city somehow provoked to mass-violence, and the ubiquitous, eerie radio/television broadcasts informing the player of events surrounding his mission. Graphically Condemned 2 will again find much comparison with Bioshock, though both use different engines. Beautiful lighting and particle effects, gorgeous textures and Havok physics all coalesce to make the grungy, dilapidated world of Condemned 2 come to life; though it should be noted that in high-definition the engine can experience some slowdown (but by God it’s pretty).
The gameplay experiences some welcome innovations, mainly based upon contextual button pressing (also known as ‘Quick Time Events’). For example, when another character talks to you, you have a limited time to press the ‘A’ button to make Ethan reply, which can result in some interesting dialog or actions (giving the middle-finger to a hobo is rarely such fun, or safe). You also have to press A at certain junctures to perform jumps, slides, and climbs. Yet this can often be frustrating, as the contexts are not always consistent, and you find yourself stuck in situations that could easily be remedied were the developers to provide a ‘jump’ option here or a ‘climb’ option there. Such inconsistencies take you out of the diegetic experience by the artificiality of the barrier, and you are once more aware you’re playing a game as opposed to being immersed in the experience.
Combat has also been augmented, with chain combos, finishing moves, and environmental kills again reliant on Quick Time Events, as the button flashes on-screen for you to press in sequence (Right Trigger, Left Trigger et cetera), resulting in smashing someone’s head into a toilet, their skull against a wall, their body through a window and so on, it’s all the colours of the violence rainbow. The new ability for Ethan to clean the clocks of criminal scum with his fists also makes a welcome addition, and is implemented in a satisfyingly visceral manner, as the screen shudders and shakes with each satisfying thump, accompanied by suitably primitive sound effects.
Of course, you still have the detachable environment to aid you in various ass-kicking exploits, so you can pull an electric volt off the wall or pick up a gumball machine to open some heads with, and finding level-specific weapons, like an old broadsword in a museum or an exploding doll in a toy factory, is part of the fun. Though otherwise solid, the combat interface has not been designed to take on more than one crackhead at a time, so fights can become irritating if you are surrounded.
Though the combat can get repetitive, Monolith mixes it up by chucking in a decent variety of missions based on stealth or chase; stealth predictably requires you to sneak through certain areas, whilst chase means “RUN THROUGH THE LEVEL AS FAST AS YOU CAN THERE’S A GIANT ZOMBIE BEAR CHASING ME OHMYGODLOOKATITSTEETH”. Both are refreshingly entertaining if still sadly underused by the designers.
Also the CSI-style ‘evidence’ sections provide a welcome change of pace, as you work through a collection of visual data at the crime scene to ascertain information relative to your objective, and the use of different tools in collection and deduction, alongside your own critical thinking, can certainly excite and immerse.
Narrative-wise the game does take a turn for the bizarre, and not good bizarre really, more like the “I’m on the bus and the man sitting next to me is touching himself” bizarre; it’s unnerving and out-of-place, but you may enjoy it if you’re into that sort of thing.
Overall though, Condemned 2: Bloodshot remains a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Whether you’re a first-person shooter fan looking for some variety, or a survival-horror fan looking for a different take on the genre, Condemned 2 will provide shocks and thrills in a beautifully-rendered blood-soaked barrel, before asking you to analyze the splatter pattern. What more can you ask for?