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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.

Condemned_2_Bloodshot

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: Condemned Criminal Origins

Having worked in emergency services in the past, I find it endlessly amusing how the media portrays forensics.  While I’m sure employees in actual forensics labs in major metropolitan areas have access to better resources & technology than a 911 dispatcher in a medium-sized county, I can tell you that nothing is as instantaneous as what’s shown in movies, TV shows & games.  I’ve run & entered plenty of articles in NCIC (the federal government’s National Crime Information Center) & even simple searches like pulling up warrants on a person can take a while to go through.  I can’t even imagine how long it would take for a computer to run an analysis on something as complex as DNA or fingerprints & sort through all the records on file.  So it cracks me up when games like Condemned: Criminal Origins have futuristic gadgets that can take high-res photos of fingerprints & measure the chemical composition of blood without so much as a sample.  UV light does not work that way.

Condemned_Criminal_Origins

In Condemned: Criminal Origins, we take the role of FBI detective Ethan Thomas, who specializes in tracking down serial killers in a city run rampant with crime.  After responding to a call from an officer on duty to investigate a grisly crime scene, Ethan quickly finds himself on the wrong end of the bureau after an unknown assailant murders two officers with his gun.  Aided by his lab tech Rosa & a mysterious old man who seems to know more than he lets of, Ethan begins to hunt the killer down to clear his name.  However, while pursuing this “Serial Killer X”, he slowly begins to uncover that there’s more going on in the city, & these random acts of violence might not be so random.

Condemned is a first-person survival horror/action game, with equal emphasis on both features.  While traversing cramped & creepy locals, you’ll find plenty of weapons to arm yourself with to fight off the legions of crazed miscreants, ranging from rifles to 2×4’s.  The combat emphasizes blocking & dodging while waiting for an opportunity to knock your opponents out.  You’ll also come across portions where Ethan will have to use his forensics tools to help point him in the right direction.  The game will prompt players when this is necessary, & the tools can’t be used without a prompt.


Narrative: I can’t help but have mixed feelings for the game’s narrative.  On the one hand, the story is nicely self-contained, with a resolution to Ethan’s main goal while also leaving enough questions open for a sequel (which I’ll be starting soon).  But at the same time, I can’t help feeling that there’s not a lot of progression during the story.  It feels like a lot of nothing happens.  Okay, we’re chasing this mysterious killer, & there’s a clear reason why we go to each level.  But we don’t really learn much about what’s going on until the last few levels.  So I guess it’s a problem with pacing.  What’s presented is interesting, when it’s there, but it mostly felt like the developers came up with the creepy levels first then thought of a reason for Ethan to go there.

14615662939_77fc5a0a5d_oThe characters are average.  Ethan doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but I felt he reacted like a normal person would to the stuff going on around him.  The other characters don’t leave a lasting impact, though they serve their purposes well enough.  I did find myself intrigued about SKX, especially when the game reveals the motives behind his crimes, which is good for aiding the mystery of the game.  But as I stated before, they didn’t utilize it well.  When we actually meet him, he seems so interesting, but that’s the only time he talks to us.  This is one of the few times I think notes or audio logs would’ve been useful.  The game does show what he’s been doing, but it would’ve bolstered the story if we caught little snippets from his mind as we went.  And it may come up in the sequel, but it never answers why he’s chosen to do what he does.  He just went crazy & it’s related to the demon-things, & somehow Ethan’s part of it but didn’t know but the government did.

So overall, the mysteries presented are intriguing & have real potential, but I felt the strengths were underutilized.  The narrative is serviceable enough to push you forward, but not what it could be.Score: 3


Mechanics: There are primarily three main components to the gameplay: combat, forensics & atmosphere.  The combat in Condemned is often described as visceral, & I feel that’s very accurate.  Although you can come across guns in the game, ammo is extremely limited, so most often you’ll be resorting to melee weapons.  I loved the variety of weapons & how each had their own stats.  Weapons like the fire axe or sledgehammer are slow, but have long range & great stopping power, while something like a small pipe is faster & better at blocking.  My favorite weapons were the paper cutter & clothes rack.  Ethan also has a taser to stun enemies temporarily, allowing you to get in close to disarm enemies.  The first-person camera makes every encounter up close & personal, & you can feel every impact.  It’s jarring, & can be disorienting, but that just adds to the realism in my eyes.  My main complaints in this area are that Ethan moves so sluggishly.  If you taze an enemy, it takes forever to run up to them, & they might not be stunned by the time you get there.  I know it’s standard in a lot of games, but I’m not a fan of pushing down on the left analogue stick to sprint.  It feels awkward to me.  He’s also sluggish about switching from attacking to blocking, even with fast weapons, or switching from using the taser.

561262-condemned-criminal-origins-xbox-360-screenshot-game-switchesI felt that the forensics portions were laughable & poorly utilized, & not for the reasons in my intro.  The game always prompts you when to use the tools, & you can’t use them any other time.  They try to explain this by saying Ethan has a sixth sense for when evidence is nearby, which I’m fine with, but it doesn’t make for engaging gameplay.  It doesn’t help that the game automatically selects the right tool & tells you exactly where to use it at.  And then it tells you what the clues mean, almost treating me like an idiot.  Gee, all these faces are crossed out with black x’s, & they just happen to all be killers.  I wonder what that could mean?

The atmosphere is easily Condemned’s strongest aspect.  My god, can this game make me tense!  Even when there’s nothing going on, I’m just waiting for something to happen.  It’s one of those games that makes you paranoid.  You know something’s coming, & the longer it takes for something to happen, the more worried you get.  For me, the best moments were in Bert’s Department Store & in the library’s burnt archives.  In the department store, I made it my goal to kick every mannequin because I knew some were enemies.  But after clearing the floor, to hear a male voice whisper, “You’re gonna die,” right behind me, just to turn around & find nothing… There was also a moment I accidentally discovered after falling down a hole in the library, breaking my flashlight & waiting for Rosa to get down there.  With my back to the gate, watching the dark shelves, I paused to get a drink, expecting combat, when I saw my objective had changed to, “embrace… the.. truth.. join… us…”.  Then, after the game made me think something was going to happen but didn’t, I turn around to see the gate gone & Rosa standing behind me, but then she hits me!  Then everything goes back to normal like nothing happened.  I love when games mess with me, & it’s moments like that that make Condemned a great example of horror.

So overall, while the forensics were disappointing & I had some problems with the combat, the atmosphere & sheer visceral impact of the melee more than makes up for it.  Score: 4


Aesthetics: Hit & miss.  Obviously this is an older game, so not all of the graphics have held up well.  The character models suffer the most, being big & blocky, both in shape & in texture.  Although you can only really tell when the camera’s close up.  The environments look nice, in a suitably run-down kind of way, & there’s a nice variety of locals.  I also liked that the enemies have very different designs, & their designs reflect their condition in the world.

condemned-criminal-origins-pc-screenshot-www.ovagames.com-1The sound design is also nice in some areas but bad in others.  The ambient noises are spot on.  The music adds to the creepy atmosphere, & more than once my own footsteps through debris scared the crap out of me.  I liked that you can usually hear enemies before you see them, both adding to the atmosphere & letting you know to get ready to fight.  Some of the acting is okay.  Greg Grunberg does a decent job as Ethan’s voice, & for the most part sounds believable.  Peter Jacobs did a good crazy person’s voice as SKX (interestingly, he did several voices for the game that all sound different). But Rosa’s voice, Kimberli Colbourne, always sounded flat.  Funnily, in the closing scene when she writes to Ethan that she’d wired by says he can trust her, her “acting” doesn’t sound different from her usual voice.

Overall, great atmospheric composition, but average presentation everywhere else.  Score: 3


Replay Value: Average.  Although nothing changes in a second playing, aside from maybe changing Ethan’s choice of what to do with SKX in the very end (which doesn’t alter the ending), I can see people replaying this just to enjoy the experience again.  Some of the scares lose their impact, but the atmosphere remains just as tense.  Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Final Score: 3

Final Word: Condemned: Criminal Origins has some excellent horror elements, but its age, meandering story, & poorly utilized forensics hold it back.  However, the nail-biting atmosphere & visceral combat make it a worthwhile experience for anyone who enjoys a good scare.

– GamerDame

Title: Condemned: Criminal Origins
Consoles: PC & 360
Rating: M
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publishers: Sega & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: November 16, 2005

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