Monday, April 14, 2008

Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins showed up on the Xbox 360 soon after the console’s release, and in my mind was one of the stronger titles to show in the platform’ first 6 months or so. The huge leap in graphical technology between the generations of consoles was shown well in Condemned: CO, and the gritty realism and shadowy darkness of the graphics engine came together to create an entirely new type of game experience. The creepy settings looked so realistic that it was hard to remove yourself from the game, and condemned one had me recoiling away from the TV in terror on more then a few occasions. Furthermore, ripping a pipe off the wall and using it to brutally murder hobos was unparalleled in fun at the time. While it was not without its problems (overly linear, repetitive objectives, simple gameplay) the core experience was new and the game was fun. How did Condemned 2 stack up?

Condemned 2: Bloodshot follows closely in the footsteps of the first. The same basic formula is here. Traverse dimly lit environments using a wide variety of blunt objects to bludgeon maddened hobos to death. On first sight, you’ll realize that the game engine is likely the exact same one used for the first game. The graphics are good, and some things are more detailed then in Criminal Origins, but largely the game looks and feels the exact same. The engine really shows its age sometimes and there can be some blurry textures here and there. Gears of War this is not. That being said, the engine provides enough power to create the shadowy environments and mangled corpses that the gameplay requires, it just won’t wow you.

The developers did add a lot to the combat system and to the gameplay in general. In Criminal Origins there was pretty much just a button to attack and a button to block. Bloodshot introduces a much better system where each trigger executes an attack with your left hand or right hand. Additional buttons can be pressed to alter the attacks to hooks, and pressing both triggers together will block. In addition to the new moves, you can do combos that add damage by giving them the old left right, or by countering the opponents’ attacks. The system is definitely better then the old system, and certainly more fun, on paper. In practice, however, the opponent AI is the exact same as the first game, which means that trying to beat an opponent down with a combo, will almost never work straight away, as the dated and unbalanced AI will always be able to hit you before you can complete it. This means that the best way to defeat people is to simply hit them once, run backwards, wait for their counter blow, and then run up and hit them again, rinse repeat… Blocking is actually tougher now because you have to pull both triggers at once. This means there’s some delay before the game decides that you actually pulled both of them, so countering attacks is difficult due to this delay. Furthermore, sometimes you’ll punch instead of blocking which is annoying. Thus, even though they’ve added a lot of cool new stuff to the combat, it plays the exact same as the first. Whack, retreat, whack…

My other gripe is the abundance of guns and the prevalence of the SWAT-like Special Forces enemy type. Shooting a commando in the face with an assault rifle where there’s ammo everywhere is not what condemned is about, but you’ll be doing this in a few levels. Condemned one was all about creeping the player way out. Passing by a mannequin a few times, then passing him again and having him jump down off the display and start attacking you. Or seeing a shadowy figure dart away into the dark before you can even see what it was exactly. Bloodshot has a few of these moments, but not nearly enough, as the focus for much of the game shifted towards combat and away from creepy. Furthermore, many of the enemies have terrible walking/running animations. Something lurking in a dark corner really isn’t that creepy if it’s moving jerkily and unrealistically. Seeing an emaciated drug addict dart through a crack in the wall isn’t that scary if he moves like a robot. This is made all the more disappointing by the fact that the combat animations are amazing, definitely top notch. Hitting someone in the face with a bowling ball is pretty satisfying as it just looks so cool and real.

The forensics are also improved, and you will actually have to do some detective work this time. For example, early on you stumble across a body, and have to relay information back to your “guy with a laptop in the van” type character. Here, you will be asked questions about how the person died and how the body got there etc, and its kind of fun examining a blood trail and realizing that the hand prints indicate the guy crawled there before dying, or that the torn fabric facing outwards from the wound in his back indicates an exit hole from a bullet. Fun stuff. But still, these sections are still just done in small little chunks, and the player is guided in what to do or look for. The developers obviously think that the gaming population is mentally challenged, and I am honestly just sick of that attitude. They have the opportunity to provide some really smart and interesting gameplay structures with the forensic tools they give you, but they really squander them by making the detective work only ever happen in a few short sections. They could have done so much more with the forensic aspect had they just had a shred of faith in the intelligence of the gaming public.

One landmark part of this game that’s really a step back from the original is the magic theatre level. At one point, a body is held onto a bloodied wooden target by throwing knives, a grim display, but seeing as the body is still pretty intact, I figured I should whack it a few times to make sure its dead. I did so recalling the mannequins of the first game’s department store. Sure, they scared the crap out of me the first time they jumped off their displays, but after that I’d start whacking them right away, killing them easily. This time though, walking past the thoroughly whacked corpse on the knife board a second time, it suddenly got up and started punching me in the face. *sigh*. I already beat your frickin head in a minute ago! Not cool!

Another new feature is upgrades after each level. Sometimes it’s a bullet proof vest that reduces bullet damage, or a new taser attack, or boots that let you sneak around quietly, or more health. It’s a nice bonus getting to the end of a level and having your dude get stronger for it. It would have been nice though if they had implemented these upgrades into the game though, like finding the vest on a dead cop and putting it on, or having someone give you the taser if you help them.

Overall, the general result of Condemned 2: Bloodshot is that despite all the positive changes and improvements from the first game, they’re counteracted by a lack of changes in many departments that nullify the improvements. Your combat options are much deeper… but the enemy AI is the same so you can’t use any of your combos. Some slightly improved graphics should lend to even creepier levels… but now you have an assault rifle and the enemies are normal human swat guys. There’s more freedom and more observation in the forensics… but these portions are few and far between and restricted to certain small areas. So, as you can see, the game could have been much better had they spent more time fully improving the game, instead of just improving select sections of it. With this in mind, I’d recommend Condemned 2: Bloodshot to the more hardcore fan who really loved the first game. If you haven’t played the first, or you were just lukewarm on it, then you’ll probably want to skip this one. 7.8/10.
• Significantly deeper combat system
• Improved forensics sections
• Plenty of hobo punching

• Overall lack of creepiness
• Too much FPS, not enough melee
• No improvement in AI
• While fighting is much deeper, still only one effective strategy.

Review submitted by Schmaefe.

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