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Game Review: Condemned 2

The trick to making a good videogame sequel, in my opinion, is to carry over the best aspects of the previous game while tweaking any problems gamers had, and adding something new.  Already Good + Fix Bad + New Feature = Good Sequel  It seems basic enough.  So in this equation, any problems ought to come from the new stuff, as developers have no way of knowing how gamers will react to it.  But all too often, I find that developers stumble at the very first hurdle, dropping what made their first game good or unique.  I’m not really sure who’s to blame when this happens.  Did the developers completely miss what made their game good in the first place or think the new was better than what was already there?  Or do publishers push to incorporate what’s popular to make more money?  I’d personally rather a game do one things really well, even if it doesn’t appeal to the mass market, than do multiple things poorly.

That’s not to say I think Condemned 2: Bloodshot (seriously, why give it a subtitle if the number’s in the name?) is bad, just… Well, let’s take things methodically.

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Condemned 2 picks up eleven months after the end of the first game.  The madness affecting the homeless in the city has reached its boiling point, and is spilling out of the condemned areas into the mainstream.  After receiving a message from Malcolm Vanhorn, the old man who offered questionable guidance in the previous title, the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit brings Ethan Thomas back into their fold, current drunk bum status notwithstanding.  After tracking down Vanhorn, Ethan discovers that the antagonist from the first game, SKX, is still at large.  And there may be an even greater force behind all the madness going on.

At its core, Condemned 2 hasn’t changed much.  It remains a first-person psychological horror game where you use whatever you can get your hands on to take on the crazed enemies trying to kill you.  But some systems have been tweaked.  For one, the shift is more towards an action-orientation than survival horror.  Guns & ammo are far more readily available.  Ethan has also been using his homeless time to gain some new skills, as he can perform combos & chain attacks, & is far more efficient with just his fists.  The investigation system has been massively overhauled.  Players are actually expected to examine crime scenes & make inferences from the evidence presented, rather than just following button prompts.  The game grades you on these sections, which awards various perks after the mission is over (ex. less damage from firearms).  It even offers a simple stealth mechanic later on, where walking slowly allowed you to sneak up on enemies.


Narrative: From a technical standpoint, the story in Condemned 2 is better than previously.  I mentioned in the last review that I found the story lacking in real meat in Criminal Origins.  Bloodshot improves a little in this area.  The storyline feels more coherent & better paced, & actually shows progression in a story arc rather than just chasing a killer through various creepy locales.  I also enjoyed that it attempts to solve the unanswered questions from the last game, mainly why everyone’s going crazy & what Ethan has to do with it.

ps3_condemned2_24I found the characters much more fleshed out this time around.  Ethan seems to have transferred his uptight attitude onto Dorland, a stick-in-the-mud agent who is clearly not shady, in exchange for something a bit more snarky.  And frankly, more realistic.  Although I find it hilarious that the FBI would automatically trust a disavowed agent with their equipment, I enjoyed Ethan’s personality more this time around.  He reminds me of myself if I were just fed up with everything.  Like he realizes that despite have hallucinations, he’s still the most sane person left on the planet.  The supporting characters also have distinct personalities, & act like real people.  Watching them interact was enjoyable.

But note that I said earlier “from a technical standpoint” the story is better.  The major flaw in the story for me, & this is purely a matter of personal taste, is the whole cult conspiracy thing.  I don’t mind stories taking a supernatural twist, but I felt the Oro cult just wasn’t handled well.  I’ve never liked the cliché of a secret cult controlling the world.  And why would a cult want to bring out people’s violent tendencies if it disrupts the system they’ve created to control the masses?  Maybe if there was ever a Condemned 3 these problems could be ironed out, but that’s not likely to happen.

Overall, while the plot is better is some areas, it fumbles in others, leaving me feeling lukewarm.  Score: 3


Mechanics: Certain aspects of Bloodshot have vastly improved, mainly the forensics.  I loved the changes made to the investigations.  It truly made me feel like I was playing a special agent.  In general, they weren’t too difficult, but require the player to pay attention to the environment & use logic to piece things together.  Some of the technology is still a little outlandish, though.  How did I send a blood sample?  Does my fancy tablet have one of those sensors like the blood sugar monitors?

I have mixed feelings about the changes to combat, however.  While I appreciate Ethan being better able to defend himself, especially with the shift toward action, I didn’t find the combat as visceral as the first game — one of the best, most effective parts.  In particular, I didn’t like the chain attack system.  Enemies don’t stagger, so it’s almost impossible to chain attacks together without getting hit.  I just ended up wailing on them until one of us died, which I feel goes against the purpose of the changes.  I also felt the game leaned a little too much toward action, especially near the end.

793820-condemned-2-bloodshot-playstation-3-screenshot-a-foe-or-anAnd that leads us to my biggest gripe about Bloodshot: it’s just not as scary.  For a horror game, especially the follow-up to game that nailed the horror experience, that’s pretty damning.  That’s not to say it didn’t have it’s moments.  The beginning levels struck that same tension-riddled core as before.  But toward the end it all fell apart.  I think the problem was two-fold.  Firstly, incorporating more action segments, thus necessitating making you more capable & less vulnerable, takes away the fear of the encounter.  It removes the threat.  Secondly, it lost the effective level design.  You start out in these cramped, dilapidated buildings, & it feels just as good (ie. bad) as you remember.  But then the levels open up.  It loses its atmosphere.  Bloodshot is at its best when I was nervously navigating the narrow halls of an old apartment, dreading the blind corners & just waiting for the next guy to literally jump out at me.  Or when my only options were to run or die.  But there just weren’t enough of those moments.

Because the horror element was such a letdown, despite the vastly improved forensics, I have to bring the score down.  A scary game that’s not scary is no good.  Score: 3


Aesthetics: Overall, I thought the presentation was good.  The character models were still too blocky for my tastes, but hold up relatively well.  The designs of the enemies were nice & varied, & you could tell just by looking what sort of of attack style they’d have.  The environments were nicely done, in a horrible sort of way, & I liked that the locations varied.  It was also nice to go to places that weren’t falling apart.  However, I did notice that the lip syncing with Rosa would sometimes be off.  Not sure if that was a problem with my game loading or what.

Condemned2_sc011The sound design was definitely the best in this area.  The voice acting is far improved, particularly for Rosa.  I don’t think any of the actors from the first game reprised their role. The game also shows understanding in how to use sound, or lack thereof, to build atmosphere.  I don’t think there’s any music in the game.  Just the ambient sounds of creaking buildings or scurrying enemies.

Overall, while not the prettiest game by today’s standards, it knows how to set the mood through visuals & sounds.  Score: 4


Replay Value: Average.  You can replay any level once you’ve completed it, & after beating the game for the first time you unlock FPS mode, which gives you unlimited ammo when you replay the game.  However, unless you’re trying to get a higher rating, there’s not much reason to go back.  There’s also a multiplayer aspect, but I didn’t mess with that.  Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Final Score: 3

Final Word: Overall, I don’t feel that Condemned 2: Bloodshot was as good as its predecessor.  Although improving in certain areas, it lost what made it truly unique.  When the game is trying to scare you, it’s fantastic, but it lacks the same punch, making it hard to recommend for horror game enthusiasts.

–  GamerDame

Title: Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Consoles: PS3 & 360
Rating: M
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publishers: Sega & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: March 11, 2008

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Filed under 3, Horror, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360

Game Review: BioShock

I love rummaging through the bargain bins or checking out used game stores because you never know what you might find for a steal.  As much as some people might harp about used games taking profits from the developers, there’s no denying that they help extend the life of a game in the social consciousness & help people who might not have otherwise paid full price experience the game, which could mean increased sales on the developer’s next project.  Besides, most people in the industry say that the only profit that matters to publishers is within the first few weeks, as that’s how they recoup their expenses & finance the next game.  So theoretically even waiting a month can hurt studios, regardless of the price you pay.  Because of this, I felt no guilt buying what is by most accounts a superb game years after its release.  BioShock is one of those games that is so often discussed in gaming culture that it’s almost a requirement to play it.  I feel like it was a strike against my gamer-cred (if such a thing exists).  So how does this game stand up from a fresh perspective looking back?

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BioShock is a first-person shooter action game where you play as Jack, a plane crash survivor who finds himself escaping the flaming wreckage into a mysterious underwater city.  Completely out of his element, Jack must rely on a voice on the radio to navigate the dilapidated labyrinth filled with genetically mutated monstrosities.  But when everyone’s looking out for themselves, who can he trust?

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I think I’m outclassed

Thankfully, there are many ways to brave the trials ahead.  The boring way would be through brute force with the aid of weapons, but the more daring might prefer to alter their genetic code with Adam, a strange substance that lets you do things like shoot bees from your hands.  But the only way to access Adam is to take it from the Little Sisters, who are guarded by the baddest monstrosities in Rapture.

 

Narrative: I mentioned in my first impression that it was impossible to go this long without having some of the game spoiled, so I went in knowing a certain pivotal plot twist.  However, I don’t feel that negatively impacted my experience, aside from being a good example of gameplay-as-narrative, meaning the actual mechanics of the game are reflected through the story.  Overall, I found the story engaging, but aside from the spoiler nothing came as a surprise to me.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m looking back almost a decade after its release, but a lot of the ideas in the game are pretty standard fare.  Destroyed utopia, forgotten past, morally questionable scientific discovery leading to ruin, betrayal… I’ve seen them before, & the game is actually quite good at giving you hints to the twists.  All the other plot twists, such as who Jack is relation to Rapture, didn’t come as a surprise.  But I do feel the ideas explored are interesting, if a bit trite.  The characters encountered all have distinct personalities & are recognizable despite us rarely seeing them.  And I think Jack makes a good silent protagonist.  I could project myself onto him, but the devs gave him enough history that he’s not a complete blank slate.  My only real complaint is that a lot of Rapture’s history is told via recordings, which aren’t bad, but sometimes it was hard to keep the minor characters separate.  Overall, though, despite seeming a little predictable now, I thought the story of BioShock was very interesting & engaging.  Score: 4

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Most impractical location ever

Mechanics: For the most part, I think BioShock strikes a good balance between giving the player freedom to handle situations as they please & not feeling overwhelmed.  You’ve got weapons, plasmids (Adam-based superpowers), tonics (grant certain skills & abilities), stuff to buy, stuff to craft, hacking, research through photography… It sounds like a lot, but you can focus or ignore whatever you want, which I appreciated.  It lets the player decide how they want to play.  Personally, I favored my weapons, sticking mostly with the electrobolt plasmid only when overwhelmed.  Between the static charge tonic, armored shell, and natural camouflage (which let me turn invisible when I stood still), there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle.  Everything feels fun to use, with one exception.  I found the hacking tedious, & odd from a world-building standpoint.  Throughout the game, you’ll come across security cameras, turrets & attack drones that will view you as an enemy if you don’t destroy or hack them.  If you hack them, they’ll attack enemies for you.  But I found the pipe mania mini-games you have to play to do so tedious.  Also, are these machines water-powered?  It makes sense based on water being readily available, but I’m not sure how semi-sentient machines could be water-powered.  Even stranger, you can pay money to override these machines.  Who am I paying?  Am I bribing the machine?  I appreciate having options, but towards the end I was either bribing the machines or using the auto-hack tools.  The lock-on system also seemed a bit laggy, especially when enemies are running around, & often seemed to stick to one side of the enemy, making it hard to be accurate during a heavy firefight.  Other than those minor points, I felt that everything worked well.  Score: 5

 

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Horror in non-horror games

Aesthetics: Despite being almost a decade old, the graphics hold up pretty well.  The world of Rapture is beautifully unique & atmospheric.  Although structurally questionable, I love that so much of the game space shows the city at large & the ocean environment.  It really sets up this isolated, alien feeling.  Each level feels unique, whether it’s a garden or apartment, & is populated with signs of life, lending to the feeling that this was a thriving city before everything went to Hell.  The voice acting felt solid.  I don’t recall a lot of music other than a random jukebox, but I did think the sound direction was spot on.  Debris skitters, splicers mutter & scratch the walls, & Big Daddies clomp around.  Being able to hear enemies is crucial.  And the moments when everything is still & quiet can be nail-biting.  Score: 5

 

Replay Value: Moderate.  BioShock does have two endings based on whether or not you harvested the Little Sisters, but I don’t think there’s enough difference to warrant a new playthrough.  But I do think it’s the sort of story where people might want to go back to find the little clues they might have overlooked.  Score: 3

Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: It’s hard to judge a game’s originality years after it started influencing the medium as a whole, but any criticism I have of the themes BioShock explored don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the title.  Aside from some minor complaints, I recommend this game for pretty much anyone.

– GamerDame

Title: BioShock
Consoles: PC, 360, PS3
Rating: M
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: August 21, 2007

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Filed under 4, FPS, PC, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360