Ethan Thomas the protagonist of the launch title Condemned had a pretty rough time of things both mentally and physically, as he battled his inner demons and a serial killer who tried to frame him for murders of his colleagues. It’s enough to drive anyone, not only insane but most certainly to the hard stuff – which is where ex FBI agent Thomas is now. A mere shadow of his former self, Ethan Thomas is effectively a drunken bum. Condemned 2 follows the story from the very under hyped first game and adds several new gameplay mechanics into the fold, to make a more action orientated experience. However, do these new additions detract from the suspenseful nature of the game or do they enhance it?
Condemned 2 is effectively a first person adventure game, meaning that you’ll see everything from Ethan’s perspective with the game only showing him in full 3rd person during the cut-scenes between levels. This puts you right into the character and immerses you fully into the dark and grimy city streets of NYC. The first game was a very confined experience, where armed with little equipment other than a flashlight and your wits, you had to navigate close environments which were mostly shrouded in darkness. What made the game so effective was the fact that you mostly used melee combat to survive; that means lead pipes, power conduits, baseball bats and such like – which you could grab from the levels. Most of your enemies were drug crazed maniacs who also used similar weapons. The way the game played was that you’d often hear or catch a glimpse of them, way before you actually got to fight them. They would suddenly jump out from behind a pillar and give you the shock of your life!
Condemned 2 operates on the same premise but has somewhat taken away the suspenseful nature of the game, opting to be more action orientated. This means that Ethan can now use his fists to fight if unarmed, which changes the pacing a little. Ethan has quite a variety of moves now using his fists and to a point you could almost do with out the melee weapons. With careful timing you can unleash devastating attacks on all foes, and with the block being permanent this time, means you can make light work of armed and unarmed opponents. The weapons aren’t redundant, but I guess it’s down to personal preference as to which style of play you will adopt. For the most part, the weapons are more powerful than fists especially when you use things like swords and axes. The game kind of steers you in a direction with the weapons and although their use is optional sometimes you just have to grab that axe and let rip.
The finishing moves return once more, but are this time are tweaked so that you can use the environment to finish dazed opponents. I found that this wasn’t overly impressive and that it was easier to just finish them with a swift kick to the head. Again, this is down to personal choice and it’s nice to have the option there in the first place even if you hardly ever use the feature.
I think the main difference with the gameplay in Condemned 2 is the focus on real world action as opposed to the solitary menace of the original, Ethan whilst a bum is still a part of the FBI team and therefore unwittingly is drawn back into the fold, to the annoyance of some of his colleagues. There’s certainly a level of action that accommodates this aspect where Ethan works alongside other agents (something we only got in the first 10 minutes of play in the first game). Placing Ethan back into his FBI shoes adds a very different slant to proceedings and makes for a more shooter like game, as he is armed with firearms (albeit with limited ammo). These sections are welcome but really lack the tension and suspense because shooting is a far easier method of killing than having to get up close and personal – especially as you can kill any thing in one hit with a well placed head shot.
The forensic element makes a welcome return, but this time is more in depth. Rosa your colleague from the first game makes a return, as she’s is on hand to feed you updates and analysis reports on your findings. The forensic elements aren’t too intrusive to the general exploratory navigation elements to the game, and add some puzzle type gameplay. You have some simple forensic tools at your disposal and also you are able to make choices depending on how observant you are. You are graded on how thorough you have been which in turn relates to unlocks/upgrades gained at the end of each level.
Condemned 2 looks pretty fantastic, with some excellent lighting and shadow effects. The first game also excelled in this field. The gritty portrayal of a city under siege from menacing rioters is captured extremely well and you’ll find lots of nice touches here and there, such as some very over sized rats scurrying across the floor. There’s nothing nice about Condemned 2 and so the colours are of a very dark nature, bar one section where you are in the FBI headquarters which is quite bright in comparison. The character models used throughout are also of a high standard, and Ethan himself when you see him looks as ragged as you’d expect. Monolith has done an excellent job overall with the game’s look and other than simply being very moody, can’t be faulted.
Audio is very important in this game as players need to keep their eyes and ears fully alert to any sounds and sights which might give a hint that there are enemies lurking in the background. The sound works really well in Condemned 2 and alongside the dark graphics, provides an equally moody flavour to your ears. Obviously having the full surround sound setup is going to be more beneficial for your survival, but even with a basic stereo set up, you’ll hear lots of audio cues to help you on your way. The voice acting, whilst limited is of a high standard, with some great performances from the leading characters. There’s some well known voice actors in the game including Phil La Mar who you might have known from some TV programs such as Family Guy or Vamp in Metal Gear Solid 2.
Condemned 2 is an engaging experience for the single player and whilst fairly linear offers around 6 -8 hours gameplay on default settings. Of course you can try again on the harder setting, and an unlocked first person shooter mode which includes more weaponry rather than the scarce nature of guns in the original mode. There’s certainly incentive for replay if you are after achievements as there are several things to attain such as types of kill, to hunting down all sonic emitters (hidden destructible objects in the game) and then gaining a perfect score on all the forensic moments.
For those of you looking for a more shared experience then Condemned 2 offers a full set of multiplayer modes for you to duke it out with others across the globe.There are various game types to test your mettle with team and solo based modes. The inclusion of a multiplayer this time round is commendable but in my eyes Condemned has always been about the superior single player experience.
I’ve enjoyed playing Condemned 2 as the style of play is really unlike any other game on Xbox 360 (bar the original). The first person viewpoint really puts you in the game, and the slow pacing makes things a lot more tense and engaging. I’m not overly convinced about the unarmed combat as it does seem to detract somewhat from the vulnerability you had in the first game. However looking at the title as a standalone game it provides a very enjoyable adventure experience that you could easily get into without having played the first game. If you are after a game which might feel familiar but offers enough diversity to feel fresh, then I certainly recommend Condemned 2 as a worthy purchase. If you are not sure then rent first and be surprised at how much you are drawn in to the game. Some of you might find the pacing a little slow, but I think if you stick with it, there’s enough substance here to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.