Hey, I?ll gladly pump the left trigger like a lunatic if it means I can break a man?s arm or grind his face into the floorboards.
Review by Carl Lyon
Monolith?s 2005 release of Condemned: Criminal Origins easily earned itself a spot on my top ten favorite games of all time list. Completely ignoring the trends of the time (although that niche was readily filled by sister release F.E.A.R.), it provided the player a genre-bending nightmarish view into the life of Ethan Thomas, a veteran agent for the Special Crimes Unit. Gunplay was almost entirely ignored in favor of brutal melee combat against insane attackers. You could sprint only short distances (Mr. Thomas, in an interesting move, was a little chubby), and the game lured you into its world even further with a simple CSI mechanic that gave you a smattering of tools with which to track down the elusive Serial Killer X.
The story itself was great, offering no easy explanations to the strange happenings around Thomas. It?s comparable, to a degree, to Jacob?s Ladder, where even as that character?s world crumbles around him, we?re given no easy answers except that this is what is supposed to happen, even to normal guys like Jacob Singer or Ethan Thomas. Unlike Jacob?s Ladder, however, the game ended without hope, with Thomas spiraling even further into the madness of the world around him, or perhaps even in him.
So, Monolith, what the hell happened?
Picking up 11 months after the previous game?s conclusion, we catch up with a very different Ethan Thomas. Hounded by his demons, Thomas has now become a double-bourbon, double-fisted homeless drunk, eager to pick fights even as vivid hallucinations tear his perceptions apart. Scooped up by the SCU to help in the investigation of the murder of his former mentor, Malcolm Vanhorn, Thomas cuts a bloody-knuckled swath through Metro City trying to find the truth behind the escalating violence and the madness within him.
The premise itself isn?t bad, except when it completely ignores the realism/surrealism that made the first game?s story so fantastic. The subtle hints that the first game used are laid bare here, and they ain?t pretty, folks. The red herring of ?oh, it was all a hallucination? is used multiple times (and it never works), the full reveal of the Oro (whom spoiler-free reviewing require I don?t comment on) feels rushed and too easy, and the ending?oh lord, the ending. Again, I really don?t feel like spoiling what is still a worthwhile game by revealing a key plot point, but I?ll be blunt: it was stupid, patronizing, and downright offensive to the player. They took everything appealing about the first game?s storyline and completely ignored it, leaving us with an Illuminati-esque conspiracy sprinkled with brainless sci-fi claptrap and a plot twist that would leave M. Night Shyamalan groaning. Worst of all, the game simply isn?t as scary as its predecessor, which had me screaming like a girl at select moments. Condemned 2 on the other hand makes liberal use of monster closets for cheap scares at the expense of tension. True, there are a few moments of genius (the chase scene in the lodge, which is brilliant) but nothing that truly compares to the disturbing terror of the first game. Buy me a bourbon and I?ll tell you all about the department store incident.
However, Condemned 2 is still completely worth playing because while Monolith was busy running the story into the ground, they tightened the combat and investigation to perfection. The first game?s simplistic combat has been beefed up into a rich, combo reliant system that feels natural and very satisfying. You still tear your weapons out of the environment and enemies will still do the same, but you now have an advanced degree of control over their use. Strategy is even more important, even if the combat is murderously frantic, offering moments of respite only through the use of the new industry trend, the Quick Time Event. While I normally can?t stand QTE?s, here they feel visceral enough that you don?t mind their presence. Hey, I?ll gladly pump the left trigger like a lunatic if it means I can break a man?s arm or grind his face into the floorboards.
The investigation, sorely underused in both games, has received a fresh coat of paint as well. Instead of simply giving you the right tool automatically, Condemned 2 asks that you pick the right tool using the D-Pad, or even to use your sleuthing skills to determine things about your surroundings pertinent to the case. It pays to work for the Perfect detection score, as well as for other hidden bits in the level, as they net you important upgrades for the rest of the game, like brass knuckles to upgrade your left hook or rubber-soled boots for better sneaking around the game?s enemies. Of course, these also net you Xbox 360 players sweet, sweet Achievement Points.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is a hard game to recommend based on its story. Those who enjoyed the first game?s yarn will be sorely disappointed. However, its fantastic gameplay, gorgeous graphics, and overall fun make it well worth a play, as bittersweet as it may be.