Condemned 2: A Review
Descent into Darkness
Condemned is a forgotten classic; an above average game that does everything well but doesn't have much lasting appeal. It's not a game that you'll find yourself playing immediately after your first time, nor is it a game you'd recommend highly. It's a game that you can look back on with fond nostalgia, always longing for it but you know you're going to play it for three hours and put it back on the shelf or return it to GAME. Even though this game was rather controversial due to its grotesque imagery and highly disturbing content (not comparable to Amnesia scream-wise, but most certainly chilling), it was still the game that non-horror fans will fear but can still enjoy. And believe me, nobody's more terrified of today's horror like me.
If there's one thing I never understood about Condemned, it's.... well, pretty much everything. This game's story is extremely hard to follow, and the ending leaves you scratching your head, adding to the "WTF" factor that is ever present in this title. In the first game you've not a clue how everything has started, who you're going against, what you're doing to stop them or find them, and even in the end you ask "what was the point in that"? But the sequel's storytelling is far superior to the original game, adding more innovations to prevent the game from getting stale with eeriness and jump scares, mediocre combat and getting lost a lot. Players take control of Ethan Thomas, the protagonist of the previous game, who has become drunk, desperate and destitute in a fictional Metro City. Once he was part of the FBI in the Serial Crime Unit (SCU is an abbreviation you're going to see loads) but has decided to quit after the traumatic events of the previous game, as well as running away from those who tried to take him in. Even though the character of Ethan tries to be interesting thanks to his battle with the demon rum and his disorderly behaviour, developers only made him into a gruff brawler with no other traits. The only noteworthy thing would be when he sees demons if he doesn't quaff a pint of lager or a tot of sherry, and it becomes harder to tell if these things are real or not. Are these monsters he's seeing a living metaphor of his struggles against booze, or are they caused by something else? This is explained very well in the game, and is shrouded in mystery.
Metro City itself is somewhat reminiscent of Gotham City, with many of its districts and quarters being desolate wastelands for crime sprees and gang creation. But unlike the Batman universe, it's not because of recession and poverty but because of magic. The Oro cult, subtly mentioned in the previous game, are up to no good and are suspected of causing all the world's evils that cause men to war, bicker and riot. It's up to Ethan to find out how to stop them, and see what SKX (Serial Killer X) has to do with them, because he's haunting Ethan too.
I can't explain the story any better because it's something words can't do, but playing the game for yourself is the best method of knowing the plot and how it is set out. It's almost as if the story director for this game plugged his head into a computer and uploaded his thoughts, because no writing can tell you a story like this like the game can. Whatever operating system he's using, it's good!
Combat is one of the few things players manage to remember from this game that seems to cause amnesia after playing it. While there's few things more satisfying than beating up rage virus-infected homeless persons with a lead pipe, or running from a 12 ft. bear only to shoot it in the eye, it is still very clunky. Melee combat really suffers here and it's not as though this was an impossible thing to fix, as each punch feels as though it's on a two second global cooldown. You really have to ram the buttons into the pad's circuit board in the vane hope you'll make the next hit make a combo. Yes, it's one of those games where melee combat is made as tedious, slow and tank-like as possible. Not only is melee combat stiff, it also looks sluggish - your moves look like you're made of stone and giving it your all to whack a gangster in the face, while others flail about and seem to be fighting like they're underwater. The animations are good but it looks as it feels. Ranged combat is a whole different story, as the weapons have a lot of kick to them. The shotguns and the hunting rifle seem to have the most 'oomph' to them, and you feel sorry for those you massacre with your limited firearms. When you get them, savour them because you'll be lucky to find so much as a pistol in this game. The Condemned games have always had an emphasis on melee combat but it took until the second game for guns to be far more attractive and easily obtained, but they don't help much when there's endless legions of looters or killer dolls from Dante's Inferno: The Game. They're also rather inaccurate, so on top of limited ammunition, range and availability, you'll be missing constantly.
Where Condemned seems to fail is randomness, and the fact that there is none. Nothing in this game is based on random number generators; no single object can be hidden in more than one place per checkpoint or playthrough; no weapon will be different when you enter a certain room or find a cache; no enemy will stop respawning from a place they do so normally. I guess by playing this game multiple times you're condemned to seeing the same things over and over, with almost zero strategy required or a change to your approach. For example when you have to run away from the bear, you know you'll get a hunting rifle at an exact moment and will have to shoot at an exact time (the hit chance remains the same); the clues when doing the detective puzzles are the same, and your approach to things like keys and combination locks will remain indifferent.
Speaking of detective puzzles, this is one of the better things about Condemned and while they may seem like a chore at first, you'll be begging for them much later on. Unfortunately these are few in number, and it's easy to get a low score on later puzzles. Very similar to Rockstar's LA Noire, these puzzles allow you to enter a certain place and examine a crime scene. Let's take the example of the body: someone's been shot in the head, and there's a trail of blood behind them. You have to examine the body to find the exit/entry wound, if the body was dragged, form of identification and other things of importance. These are easily forgotten after playing Condemned but there's no denying they were far more graphic and detailed than some of LA Noire's biggest cases.
Other puzzles come mostly in the form of trying to find your way around a building, such as unlocking doors, finding keys or codes to access the elevator, shut down the power of a device in a building and find ways to stop enemies respawning so you can continue. This is what makes the game so different to other horror games, because there's a lot of thought process involved rather than having to guess blindly where to go and explore every room. Take for example a game as open as Silent Hill: who is going to know the first time around that you need to put a rubber ball into a drainpipe to flush out a key? Or who is going to know the exact location of three keys, or understand the writing in blood? There is so much guess work and it's borderline busywork. But with Condemned even though I've been stuck loads of times and get frustrated, the clues are almost always in close proximity.
It's time now to come to a conclusion, but before we officially finish I'd like to talk about how this game looks and sounds. First off, the visuals were - and still are - terrific, providing the grittiness of Metro City, and capturing the desperation and madness of her people. All of the locations are varied (though mostly claustrophobic), involving a shopping mall, a ski resort, a doll factory, several apartment buildings and the streets of a Wintry Metro City. Plus, the enemies within are fitting, as some of the most horrifying events take place involving some kind of deranged candy mascot lady, mannequins following you each time you turn your back, giants made of scrap and of course your general looters. The insanity in this game is depicted perfectly, as NPCs talk amongst themselves, screaming all kinds of nonsensical things and often fight amongst each other like animals for no apparent reason. They also have a habit of being shown as mutilated, heavily burnt or wearing pig masks. Yup, you heard me correctly. But the soundtrack is the complete opposite, because there isn't one. The voice acting however is done brilliantly though, so the developers deserve credit there.
Despite the very few things this game offers, it's a real joy to play. If you want to get perfect scores right across the board and enjoy unlocking new modes and challenges, Condemned will offer at least two weeks of replay value. And even though the level list is short, this game will last anyone around 4-7 days depending on your experience with these games and your difficulty level. Even though the story has so much potential, it isn't told very well and suffers from multiple plotholes coming up, unexplained side stories and taking more interest in the supporting cast than the main protagonist. Seriously, I was highly intrigued by SKX, the player's assistant, the Oro's latest mind control victim (I'm terrible with names) and the Director, but never was I tempted to look into the history of Ethan Thomas. A bad sign for a decent game.
If combat was made a little more flexible and the story given a few tweaks, this game would get around 7 or 8 out of nine. But because it's so painfully average, it can only get a 5.5 - that's saying a lot when I'm doing decimals. This game also gets the CHAINSAW HERO accolade for its goriness and eeriness, and I would recommend it to anyone slightly enthusiastic about the horror game genre for approximately £10 or less. Thanks for reading, and have a pleasant day.