Sunday, 14 August 2011

Condemned 2 (2008) - Horror Video Game Review (X-Box 360)

I have often said that Condemned is one of my favourite games of all time, though a launch title for the X-Box 360 it still remains an enjoyable and really darn scary game. News of Condemned 2 filled me with joy but when I actually played it my hopes were dashed as it removed everything that was good from Condemned and filled in the gaps with bad ideas.

Condemned 2 takes place nearly a year after the events of the first game where FBI agent Ethan Thomas had been framed for murder. Thomas has quit the FBI and now a homeless alcoholic he spends his time in seedy bars getting drunk. A key character from Condemned; Malcolm Vanhorn is found dead and so Thomas is returned to the SCU (Serial Crime Unit) to aid them with their investigation. His investigation uncovers a plot to kill key members of a secret organisation by the thought to be dead SKX (the villain of the first game) that may be linked to the ever escalating violence in the city.

Oh dear, what has happened? Condemned was scary, mysterious, atmospheric, this is none of those things. The locations of Condemned helped to make for a foreboding atmosphere being as it was set in a series of condemned locations ranging from an apartment store to a library and subway station.  Here the locations are just not that great. So many of the levels just do not feel right and feel like created places rather than real ones. Case in point is one of the games earlier levels set in an abandoned doll factory. It should be creepy as hell; dolls are creepy right? Not here, you are assaulted by a bizarre number of robotic exploding dolls, and even attacked by a crazed girl wielding a deadly lollipop saw but there is no fear there at all.

Hidden through the game are some gems, a level set in a museum under renovation has you battling security guards as well as looters who have dressed themselves up in ancient armour, all around you are display cases ready to be smashed open to get weapons to defend yourself with such as a crossbow and numerous medieval swords, another level that sees you pursuing an escaped serial killer through a bowling alley, closed school and other random buildings is quite fun. There are a load of terrible levels, one set in the SCU building is so bright and sterile that it feels like you have been transported into F.E.A.R while another set during riots is just plain frustrating due to terrible signposting.

The combat has been shaken up this time around. Weapons now break after extended use and your useful taser has been relegated to a limited use tool that doesn't even pop up until a third of the way into the game. Combat is more complicated and doesn't have the oomph that your desperate battles in Condemned had. Guns have sadly increased significantly with some levels being nothing but gunfights. Brings me onto another bugbear; enemies are no longer just the homeless and drugged up, you now frequently fight a rogue SWAT team armed with assault rifles. Monsters have also increased with annoying oil creatures which crawl out of walls as well as in the later stages annoying enemies who must be killed from afar (up close the screen blurs and shakes so much that it is literally impossible to see what the heck is going on). Might also add that a freaking mutant grizzly bear chases you throughout one level!

The plot of Condemned was ambiguous, never made clear if all the paranormal stuff Ethan witnessed was all in his head, mostly it stuck to realism. Here the games plot is needlessly explained, most of the questions are answered too much, and the reveal of an ancient secret organisation pulling the strings is a real hoky let down. The plot is pretty terrible, only really the subplot is any good. Several of the earlier levels take place during riots, discarded radios provide details of how the riots are progressing and you frequently get caught up in them. After the last week of the London riots this was strangely relevant. Hidden around levels are TVs and Radio's that feature news reports on the events taking place in the city, including the cautionary tale of a reporter who went undercover as a homeless man and what happened to him. The game flings a load of naff plot twists at the games conclusion no doubt for a hoped sequel.

Minor but irritating issues include Ethan Thomas himself who has managed to change race. He used to be a fat Hispanic man but has changed somehow into a muscular very pale white man. Your partner Rosa was a fat woman but has been reinvented here as a younger looking, slim one, least she kept her race. Really odd design choices!

This game is so disappointing, in places it shines but this is too infrequent. The fear has been sucked out of Condemned and a unique almost FPS brawler has been turned into at times just another FPS.  The story is so bad that it even impacts on the previous game ruining all its mysteries. The game is well made and can be entertaining in places but extremely disheartening to play, I really would have preferred no sequel to this travesty (almost).


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