From the first time I stumbled upon Alone in the Dark and Ecstatica, I’ve always had a soft spot for the survival horror genre, and for other games that take elements of this genre and throw them into the mix. There’s something about wandering ‘round a dark, seedy location with a mere handful of bullets and the threat of death lurking in every shadow that captivates like no other gaming family can.
Resident Evil bastardised the feeling into cheesy, Hollywoodland fashion, but titles like Silent Hill, Project Zero, and of more relevance here, the original Condemned, managed to retain this, seat-of-the-pants fear, keeping that uneasy feeling going throughout. So, when this, the sequel to Condemned: Criminal Origins arrived, I turned off the lights, donned my trusty, block out the world, isolating headphones, grabbed a fresh pair of plastic pants, and re-entered the grimy, psychopath-ridden Metro City once more…
Reprising the role of the original game’s protagonist – Ethan Thomas, Condemned 2 see players once more venture deep into the rotting underbelly of the city. And, once again, this dark and dangerous place is populated by all manner of freaks, psychos, drunks and generally unpleasant people who, for reasons known only to them, would take great pleasure in ripping Ethan a new one, many times over.
Events take place about a year since the last game, and with the city still in the grip of the unidentified phenomenon that causes people to turn into uncontrollable psychotics. After getting a rather distressed call from Ethan’s mentor, Malcolm Van Horn, the criminal investigation unit are forced to re-establish contact with Thomas, as only he knows Van Horn, and stands a chance of finding him.
Although initially reluctant, Ethan isn’t given much of a choice in joining his old pals, after narrowly surviving an attack from strange, almost liquid-like assailants in a kind of weird dream world. He then teams up with two door-kicking officers to search a run-down hotel for Van Horn, and this is where the game begins proper, and see Ethan in a fight for his life against an army of bums, gang members, freaks and weirdoes.
Luckily, although Ethan has become nothing more than a drunken bum (and after the events in the first game, who can blame him?) he’s somehow managed to beef himself up a little, and is more than able to take care of himself. Whereas the original title featured a relatively basic melee combat, with single attacks, Condemned 2 introduces a totally revamped control system. Ethan can now perform a range of combos if attacks are timed correctly (and not interrupted by taking damage). And, this doesn’t only apply to melee weapons either, as this time Ethan can smash his foes around with his fists. Similar to the system employed in Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Namco’s Breakdown, the left and right triggers on the pad control Ethan’s left and right hands, with both being used to block incoming attacks. By mixing up left and right jabs and straights, various combinations are possible, and by double tapping either trigger when Ethan’s combo bar is full, you enter a quick time event, where correct button presses result in a massively damaging onslaught.
Blocking is just as important here as in the original, and getting the timing right to force an attacking enemy backwards, leaving them open to retaliation is one of the major skills that will make your life far easier.
Melee weapons vary, and include 2x4s, baseball bats, pipes and even prosthetic arms, and should you find yourself without a weapon, there’s usually something in the environment that can be ripped off and used as a makeshift bludgeon, such as a handy bedpost or electric conduit. Each weapon has various stats, including damage, speed and durability (all melee weapons now break after prolonged use).
It’s not all close combat though, and firearms can be acquired too. But, as in the first game, ammunition is very scarce, limited to the rounds contained in the gun. For example, if you kill a foe that attacked you with a six shot revolver, and in the process he fired two shots at you, when you pick up the gun, you’ll only have four bullets to play with. Thankfully, guns are far more powerful in Condemned than other games, and reflect the real thing more accurately, with only a couple, or even a single shot required to take down most enemies.
An interesting addition is Ethan’s alcoholism. Unless you find a handy bottle of liquor lying around, Ethan’s aim is far from steady, and only when beered up can he aim straight. But this boost will only last for a short time, and you’ll need to find more booze to keep Ethan aiming true.
As well as the primary combat element, Condemned 2 also features a much improved crime detection system than the first instalment. This time you have to actually examine a crime scene, and choose Ethan’s response from a number of options. These include studying blood splatters and body wounds, so you can decide the cause of death, or having to examine your environment to relay information about your location to an ally.
You get to use some cool gadgets to help in this, such as a digital camera, UV light (for tracking blood trails etc) and more. This is all very CSI, and fits in well with the rest of the game play. The more accurate you are, the better your crime solving rating, and the more likely you are to get bonuses.
These bonuses are granted at the end of each chapter, and depending on how well you do – completing secondary objectives, detection ability etc – you’ll get some nifty equipment, including a knuckle duster, flak jacket and the return of the Taser, which can be used to stun foes, making them easy prey.
I’m sure the big question many people are asking is; “Is it as scary as the first?” Well, no, not really. There’s no denying that Condemned 2 has more than its fair share of frighteners, and it still exudes the same, constant feeling of uneasiness with every step you take. But, the game doesn’t quite reach the heights of fear of the first game.
Anyone who’s played the first will no doubt remember the whole mannequin/shopping mall level – nasty. It does have plenty of seat-leaving moments though, including children’s dolls creeping along the floor after you as you make your way through a doll factory, and more incidents with mannequins appearing behind you out of nowhere (why are mannequins so damn scary?!), and the story is compelling and disturbing at the same time. The enemy A.I. is also just as good, if not better, than the first, and foes truly do put up a fierce challenge, and will hide and ambush you, team up, rip makeshift weapons off walls and even throw TVs and bricks at you. But, despite the occasional frights and impressive A.I., and the overall increase in polish, the spine tingling edge is blunted a little this time.
The addition of a multiplayer mode, and even an all-out action mode where you simply jump into a level and have to stay alive, add plenty to the game, and while the multiplayer is unlikely to set Live on fire, it could be a novel distraction for a while.
Problems do arise on occasion. This is mainly down to the, sometimes-sluggish controls, and Ethan’s habit of getting hung up on scenery. While linear, some levels are also a tad on the confusing side, and you may find yourself wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out what to do next.
So, is Condemned 2 better than the first? Yes, as a game, it’s got far more going for it, and the extra combat elements and improved detection mode, along with tarted up visuals succeed in bettering the original. But for sheer chills, the first game still holds the trophy.