Monthly Archives: July 2016

First Impressions: Condemned 2

I cut the first Condemned some slack for its vague ending & not answering all the questions it posed because I had the sequel to follow up with it immediately.  So Condemned 2: Bloodshot had a lot of live up to.  The original game, while clunky, was one of the most visceral, tension-inducing games I’ve played in a long time.  In a way, it reminded me of the Silent Hill games.  The awkwardness of fighting for your life adds to the fear of encountering anything that wishes you harm.  Dread.  It’s not something you see a lot in mainstream horror games anymore.

My initial reactions upon starting Condemned 2 were, “I see everyone in this unnamed city it still incredibly chunky.  Hey, those aren’t the original voices!  How the hell did Ethan turn into a battered hobo in just eleven months?  And why is the Bureau still trusting him with expensive forensic equipment?”

The game unceremoniously plonks us out in an alley with Hobo Ethan, having left the FBI for some unspecified reason.  It hasn’t come up in the story thus far, but I assume it’s because he stopped trusting them after the first game hinted at some bizarre coverup.  That, or his turning to the bottle to forget the crap he went through forced them to let him go.  But they seem disturbingly quick to give a drunk man a gun.

A lot has changed in Ethan’s second outing, aside from changing residence to the City at Large.  Apparently Ethan has been brushing up on his boxing technique, a necessity on the streets, because combat is more first-person action oriented.  Of course the ability to pick up random implements to bludgeon fellow thugs to death is intact.  But now there’s a combo system, where you can build up chains by wailing away on enemies without getting hit.  Firearms are more common, & more useful, but you’ll still probably have to rely on your fists, foot or improvisation.

I have to admit, I don’t enjoy the combat as much as in the previous game.  Hits no longer have the same impact, & the combo system is kind of a joke.  If you hit an enemy within a short amount of time after the first hit without being hit yourself you build up a chain, which can be unleashed as a special finisher.  That’s all well & good, but the enemies recover so quickly from your attacks that the odds of you not getting hit are slim.  Blocking is a lot easier, but that can break your combo.  Also, why does holding block tire Ethan?  I’ve carried 2×4’s around.  They’re not that heavy.

However, one area of massive improvement is the forensics portion.  I mentioned in my first review that I felt the investigation angle was sorely underutilized, & too simplistic.  But in Condemned 2, you have to reason out the evidence.  Sometimes they’re straightforward, looking reading a placard to find your location.  But others require more than a little knowledge about crime scene investigation.  For example, one of the first real investigations involved being able to recognize if a bullet wound was an entry or exit wound & reading blood splatter patterns.  You’re not really penalized for getting them wrong, but getting them right increases the reward at the end of each mission.  And there’s something hilarious from a narrative perspective of cops trusting this grizzled, ill-tempered drunk with evidence.

But that praise aside, I can’t help but feeling that, so far, the game doesn’t feel as scary as the first.  That’s not to say it isn’t scary.  When Ethan’s tripping out, the game gets creepily surreal, & I love it.  Not to mention I just played through the creepy doll factory this afternoon, which is a fairly reliable scare for me (curse you Child’s Play).  It’s hard to place why, but I’m just not as scared playing through.  Maybe it is because the combat is more refined.  As I mention in the opening, dread of the encounter was a big part of the first Condemned — at least for me.  I’ll have to keep playing to see.

So far, Condemned 2 is shaping up to be a more refined experience, but we’ll have to wait & see if that actually works to the game’s benefit.

– GamerDame


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Couch-to-5K Zombie Trainer App

A while back I gave my favorable impressions on an amazing little app that actually makes running fun.  Zombies, Run! is a free or subscription-based app that attempts to apply the concepts of gamification to encourage people to run.  Something most of us aren’t very inclined to do without sufficient motivation.  Like running away from dogs or chasing the bus.  You can read my article on it for the full details, but in short it makes the listener the PC & your body is the controller.  You walk, jog or run your way through the story missions, gaining rewards to help build up your in-game town, & occasionally get chased by virtual zombies.  It’s a lot of fun, has made me look forward to getting up at 6 AM to go running before work, & is so far the only app I’ve ever paid for.

However, one day I was scrolling through the various game modes when I noticed there were training missions for 10K & 13K, but no 5K.  I found this odd, as most people start their marathon training with 5K’s, as they’re the shortest marathon distance (that’s a little over 3 miles for those who prefer non-metric).  But after digging around on the apps Wiki page — because of course there’s a Wiki page — I discovered that there is a 5K training app.  Unfortunately, this is a separate app, & is paid only.

But, wishing to improve my overall performance during my runs, as improving my stamina is one of my main fitness goals at the moment, I decided to try to program out.  I completed the 8-week training program yesterday, & wanted to give my thoughts on the program.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “couch-to-5K” app is one that operates on the assumption that the person starting it hasn’t been physically active.  Hence the couch part of the name.  These types of apps aren’t so much intended for dedicated fitness buffs, but for beginners who want a structured plan to start, or intermediates looking to improve their form.

The Good.  The Zombies, Run! 5K Training app’s storyline is completely separate from that of the main game, with the exception of the first mission when you arrive at Abel Township.  All missions after that take place canonically between the first & second missions in the main app.  The training has its own storyline, & introduces characters that I haven’t directly heard from in the main game (although I paused after Mission 9 of Season 1 to focus on the training app).  The main theme is that, being new to the town, you have to undergo training before you can be sent on Runner missions, which makes sense.  I found each mission interesting, & enjoyed spending more time with the voices on the other end of my headphones.

The missions are very structured.  The program is eight weeks, with three sessions per week.  Aside from the initial and the last week of missions, each week is a repeat workout that gradually increases in intensity.  One major plus for the app is that it instructs you on what to do during each interval.  For example, the first real training mission starts with ten minutes of walking, then alternating between one-minute walk/fifteen-second run intervals, & it instructs you when to change.  I saw some people complaining in reviews that the app never told them when to run, but they clearly hadn’t used it past the opening mission, which is unstructured.

I also felt the intensity increased at an appropriate pace.  For the most part, you’re the one who decides what constitutes a brisk walk or a slow run.  The amount of running increased realistically, & by the end I do feel that my endurance has improved.  It never felt like too much, & the sessions off plenty of times to catch your breath.

The biggest endorsement I can give is that I do feel my endurance & form improved over the eight weeks.  I actually had to increase the distance of my walks to make up for my improved speed.  So if you stick with it & push yourself just enough to feel the burn, I think you’ll get good use out of it.

The Bad.  Unfortunately, the progress you make in the 5K training app doesn’t carry over to the main app.  So you won’t be collecting supplies or building up your base.  I found this to be a bit of a bummer, but not a deal-breaker.

Also unlike the main app, you can’t use an external media source (like Pandora or Spotify).  You can only use an internal media source.  Whether that’s a problem or not depends on what device you’re using.  Personally, I didn’t have a problem with this, as I just loaded podcasts on my phone.  And I saw some people post they simply ran their preferred external media program at the same time.  However, something I did have an issue with music-wise was that the app doesn’t pause the media like in the main one.  In the main Zombies, Run! app, whenever there’s a story bit coming up, it’ll pause whatever you’re listening to, & then goes back to wherever you were.  The 5K, however, simply lowers the volume while the voices talk.  This isn’t so much a problem if you listen to music, but if you’re like me & listen to podcasts, it’s annoying.  I ended up missing chunks of the program.

There might also be an issue with GPS tracking.  I’ve seen some reviews stating it didn’t work for them, but I only had a problem with it once or twice in the very beginning.  After that, even on cloudy days, it worked fine for me.  But you can change the settings from GPS to accelerometer tracking to measure your distance.  Or you can just know the distance of where you run.

And, as I said in the beginning, this isn’t a free app like the bulk of the main app.

The Verdict.  I personally felt the $1.99 I spent on the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app was well worth it.  My overall performance has improved since beginning, & I feel it’s a great app for beginners who want to work on being more active, but either lack confidence or motivation, or want a very structured program.  I also feel it’s structured program would be beneficial to intermediate runners who are in relatively good shape but want to push themselves to improve.  I’m not sure I can recommend it for expert runners unless they just really like the concept & story — which admittedly is very enjoyable.  It has a few downsides, & overall doesn’t feel as polished a product as the main Zombies, Run! app, but the narrative production value is spot on.

My personal recommendation would be to try out a few missions in the free Zombies, Run! app &, if you feel like your performance isn’t what you’d like or you keep getting caught in those zombie chases, try the trainer app.  But the story is completely self-contained, so no Runner 5’s will be missing out on anything of vital importance if they choose to ignore the trainer.

For those interested, the app is available on iOS & Google Play.

– GamerDame

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