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.