The cluelessly misguided sequel to a fantastically frightening game
HIGH The new and improved forensics procedures.
LOW The laughably bad plot.
WTF Practically everything good about the first game is bungled here.
Although the first Condemned from developer Monolith had a few rough edges, it still ranks with me as one of the most interesting, compelling games of the current generation. In addition to being fantastically frightening and atmospheric in a way that most games can only hope to achieve, its unconventional serial-killer subject matter was smartly capitalized on to create a stunningly memorable experience. After such an effort, it was clear that the Condemned 2 team had their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, from the mess on display here, it seems that they didn't even attempt to clear the bar they set so high for themselves the first time.
Picking up where the first Condemned left off, officer Ethan Thomas is on the skids. Left broken and disturbed by the events of the previous game, he's turned to the bottle in an effort to self-medicate and forget what he's seen. However, as crime begins to rise in the city, local authorities pick him up out of the gutter to help with their current investigations, leading him into a tangled web of brutal, bloody intrigue.
From a storyline perspective, I thought the premise of a ruined cop getting dragged back into the nightmare he's running from had a lot of potential. Even better, the previous title's plot was one of its strongest elements, and the nihilistically enigmatic endgame was left wide open for a continuation. I honestly couldn't wait to see where Monolith was going to take Bloodshot, but I never would've guessed they'd take it straight to the toilet.
Without spoiling things for people who haven't yet experienced either of the Condemned games, Bloodshot's plot stumbles from the start and never recovers. Lacking the tense, desperate pursuit of a murderer to hold it together and drive it forward, Monolith instead gets caught up in unrolling an absurd supernatural mythology that doesn't make a lot of sense, and certainly doesn't have the gravitas needed to complement the dark tone they're going for. Although some of the elements between the two games seem to connect, my impression was that certain bits of Bloodshot undercut or even contradict things previously established—and quite frankly, fear of the unknown is a great source of unease for people who play horror games. Explain too much, and you risk losing the chilling mystiques that the best of the genre foster. In Bloodshot's case, not only is the mystique gone, but the revelations are so cliché, nonsensical and lightweight that the dramatic core of the game is eviscerated by inanity.
Beside the game's silly story, progression from level to level is equally poor. Almost none of the environments have the same potency seen in the original, and they certainly don't have the same cohesion. Struggling to make sense and justify themselves, the piecemeal locations might work in some other horror game, but certainly don't here. In one of the most egregious displays, Ethan becomes separated from the officers he's on a mission with and ends up in a burning doll factory. Diverging from the gritty quasi-realism previously established, he fights off exploding kewpie dolls and a female cosplayer with a giant lollipop. Not only did this level make absolutely no sense in the overall context of the adventure, when Ethan returns to headquarters, he inexplicably continues the investigation without comment!
Intellectual concerns aside, the play and design of Condemned 2 is lacking in every respect. Although it focuses on hand-to-hand combat like its predecessor, there's no heft or weight to the fighting. It's just not convincing. After hitting an enemy in the head with a lead pipe or frying them with a taser, they shouldn't be able to shake off the damage in a fraction of a second and keep throwing punches with the same ferocity they did a moment before. Instead of being visceral and immediate, the combat felt very artificial and overly dependent on performing "gamey" combos to do real damage.
Interactions with the environment were equally unsatisfying. Ethan is unable to duck or jump, often blocked by low obstacles or pieces of furniture that any normal human being with working legs would be able to navigate past. Exploration is practically nil, each level being full of dead ends and locked doors without keys, impervious to any and all efforts to open them. Although I have nothing against linearity in general, the developers channel players down the only correct path in blindingly obvious, clumsily overt ways. Honestly, the only thing that's improved about the experience are the forensics.
In the first Condemned, Ethan would occasionally search for clues or do something equally detective-like in pursuit of his psychopathic nemesis, SKX. The sequences were original and fresh, and I do give credit to Monolith for expanding on them here. After finding some telling evidence or locating a crucial crime scene, Ethan's liaison back at base will often require him to photograph victims, gather evidence, or poke around and make logical guesses based on his observations. These too-brief sequences are the sole bright spot in what is essentially a complete misfire.
I sincerely wish I could find more things to praise about Condemned 2: Bloodshot, but I'm simply at a loss. Nearly everything that was great about the first game is now absent, replaced by choices and decisions that consistently miss the mark. Cheesy "boss" encounters and murky graphics that weren't worth a paragraph compound the already gimmicky combat, out-of-place levels, nonsensical plot elements and confused "dramatic" progression... it's as if the developers genuinely have no idea what made the first Condemned so good and instead chose to focus on a slew of things that run counter to creating a similarly grim crusade. If the first game was a chillingly-black horror to be feared, Bloodshot's a pretender in a goofy rubber mask, making funny noises and stumbling over its own feet.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately nine hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs and Alcohol. File this one under "absolutely not for kids." It's ugly, bloody, brutal, and will be nightmare-inducing to younger players. There's also lots of salty language, and the main character needs to drink alcohol in order to be able to reduce his withdrawal symptoms and aim a gun properly. Under no circumstances whatsoever should little ones crack this case.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You will be at a severe disadvantage since the game relies heavily on audio cues to alert players to the presence of enemies. With normal hearing I got jumped all the time. With no sound, it happens even more often and significantly ramps up the difficulty. There are no visual cues onscreen to inform players which direction shots or attacks are coming from, and the screen goes blurry when hits are taken, so be prepared to be quite frustrated at times. On the plus side, there are subtitles available for all of the dialogue, and the checkpoints are fairly frequent.