Condemned was a pretty scary game, ok, it was in fact a really scary game for a lot of people. It packed in the right amount of tense urban environments and steadily piled on the pressure in a way that BioShock doesn't quite manage due to the fact that, in BioShock you have superhuman powers and you're not a regular joe FBI agent who might just be losing his mind. Ethan Tomas is that kind of guy who may well possess psychic powers, but the way Condemned handled it as it plunged you further and further into a nightmare world of pure unbridled terror was in a word: slick.
So it's the turn of Condemned 2 and for the first half of the game it plays out a lot like Condemned. I'm not going to spoil the game by explaining some of the plot turns and twists, or the way the game starts with the first level being a bit more of a tutorial than anything else as you move from linear part to linear part. There is a noticeable oomph in graphics and style from the first game that really helps to beef it up, the hand to hand combat system, discussed in a short while has been ramped up and there's a whole load of guns now.
There were guns in Condemned but they were few and far between, they were a real choice as well because you only had a very limited amount of ammunition and you had to pick between choosing a gun with 3 bullets or the trusty lead pipe that you'd been using to cave in hobo skulls for the last ten minutes or so. I don't think I quite agree with the step towards FPS style action this new Condemned has taken, because now there are more guns and they're more powerful than they were before, sure, you're not as accurate since between Condemned and its visceral sequel, Ethan, has become a raging alcoholic and must drink to steady his aim.
So let's forget about guns and talk about the upgrades to Condemned 2, what makes the game so different from the first one? Well, the story isn't the same as the first, you're going to find a lot of answers and you might, if you're like me, find some of them a little hard to swallow. So story aside, which is great for 50% of the game and then spirals into cliché-ville for the last 50% and involves things that I'm not going to say, no matter how much I want to bitch about it. Ok, just one thing, superpowers, Monolith? This isn't the Darkness meets Condemned!
Hand to hand is new, the weapons can now break and there are tonnes of new moves to learn. There are combinations, parry moves that allow you to string together chain attacks, upgraded chain attacks and special moves that allow you to unleash slow motion quick-time ultra violence on your opponents for a quick finisher or at least a brutal amount of damage to help the battle along. Ethan can also be upgraded by performing special tasks throughout each of the levels, get everything right in a level, find all the things you need and nail every investigation at %100 and you'll unlock the gold reward, do fair, get silver, rubbish and get bronze.
Each reward gives you a new toy or item per level. Gold for the first level is a shiny punch dagger that helps in hand to hand combat, bullet proof flak armour is your reward for the second level and so on.
Investigations, which should have been the core feature of the first game, are now definitely beefed up for the second. You will need to know a fair amount of things to solve these puzzles, especially when you're asked to look at bullet holes or wounds and describe if the wound is an exit, entry, impact or so on. These are definitely excellent pieces and they add so much to the game it would be criminal to detail them and spoil it for you.
There are also challenges to complete plus a fight arena against bots to test your mettle, you can also go online and do a variety of bone crunching deathmatches against opponents on Xbox Live to see who the biggest/baddest bum fighter around town might be. Complete with all the moves and weapons, even bricks for humiliating defeats.
Condemned 2 is certainly a step in the right direction, but, there are some problems. The graphics are nice and the new look Ethan is pretty rough and ready. The voice has changed between games, so it's not the same actor, yet the new actor has a lot of video game credits to his name and pulls off our hard-bitten hero to a T. The hand to hand combat is smoother, but there's still the issue of the system being a pain to use against more than a handful of opponents, the quick-time combat events are annoying since you can trigger them accidentally and if you're not quite ready for one you can make a mistake that'll cost you your health.
Health regenerates up to the nearest block fortunately and the game is a bit more generous in places with those medkits. For the first half of the game it's a really old friend, it reminds you of Condemned only it's like the developers listened to the wails of the fans and created a CSI style investigation system to match the flawless terror that the first provided, then, it dips into superhuman magic land for the last part and the visceral frighteners of the first part are blown away by the fact that you are a superhuman powerhouse.
Graphically, it's a gorgeous game. It has the right lighting, shadows, ambience, slick design and level creation of the first game with solid animations and excellent combat moves that are just as bone crunching to look at. The sound is married perfectly to all of these and the weapons don't sound like pop-guns, the hand to hand combat sounds are meaty and they provide a sense of gritty realism to the game's audio. The rest of the voice cast are decent enough, the dialogue remains pretty solid and the delivery is good.
If only Monolith hadn't of trodden the route they did for the last part of the game, I'd have given this a much higher score. But I'm going to stick to my guns and give it the one I decided on. What elevates the game above the usual run of the mill style FPS are the little touches, the investigation scenes, the tools that you can use at any time and the interaction with your environment, even from Ethan sliding by a pair of broken chairs against a crumbling wall to get to the next part of the level.
There's a great set piece in level two, where you have to get to the lower floor. The quicktime style event returns, but it's simple and usually involves a quick tap of the A button to get out of trouble. You're not expecting it and that's what the game should have been through the last part, unfortunately, since you become empowered later on, all feelings of terror and challenge slip away since you know you can pretty much deal with anything the game has to throw at you and you stop being scared.
It is still a good game, just not a great one.