As one of the Xbox 360s launch titles, Condemned was the game of choice for the more mature gamer. With its dark brooding atmosphere, grizzly visuals, and horrifically primeval combat, it was a real treat for those eager to not only see what HD gaming was about, but also those intrigued by a mature story that didn’t rapidly descend into spiritualistic nonsense.
Despite the game's closing moments delving into some "other worldy" aspects, Condemned was for all intents and purposes the epitome of the "adult" video game. Not only was it dark and drowning in atmosphere, but it possessed the most brutal combat gaming had ever seen.
Star of the first game, FBI agent Ethan Thomas returns to lead, though all is not right in his world. After obliterating the serial killer that you tracked down during the first game, he’s fallen on hard times. Not only has he lost his job a mere 6 months after the first game's confusing final moments, but he’s hit the bottle. Hard.
His reliance on alcohol to keep him ticking over actually offers up an intriguing little gameplay nuance. While guns are still few and far between, unless Ethan has had a swig of his favourite brown stuff, he’ll violently twitch and jerk, making a carefully aimed shot practically impossible.
This slight tweak aside, combat is much the same as the first game. You’ll make use of practically everything you can rip from walls or find left neglected on the floor to smash the beasties you’ll come up against. Everything from lead pipes, to shovels, and even toilet seats will be utilised to bash the brains out of the folks intent on taking your life.
Things have taken a step upwards, with much more to the combat than before. While the sheer brutal nature firmly remains – and it will cause a few winces – you’ll be able to make use of violent combos, utilise the environment to commit some obscene violence, and even employ your fists to cause some bloody noses.
Equally as improved is the forensics aspect. Instead of simply vaguely pointing in the correct direction with the right tool, you’ll need to utilise a much larger portion of your brain power to discover all you need to know. The game will even rate you on your abilities, with the better you're doing giving you the opportunity to upgrade your abilities as the end of each level.
The impressive visuals have taken a step up too, with the dark brooding atmosphere and art direction firmly in full force for the entirety of the game. You never have a single moment when you’ll be able to sit back in your chair and simply enjoy, as you’ll forever be expecting someone or something about to jump out and scare the living daylights out of you. It’s a major feather in the developer’s cap that they can keep you firmly on the edge of your seat all the way through to the game's conclusion.
However, the story unfortunately loses Condemned 2 a few points. Instead of the firmly real world setting of before, and an intriguing real world character, Ethan’s new darker image is the precedent for the sequel to run with. The more spiritual side of the game's story and enemies makes the over-used combat not even close to as enjoyable as it was during the first game.
The simple fact is Condemned 2 isn’t quite as impressive as the first title. While that was a sublime example of how absolutely terrifying a video game can be with only a few hints of brutal brawling, this second relies far too much on the sometimes awkward combat.
With the story taking a much more spiritual twist, Condemned 2 somehow feels less visceral. The subtle characterisation of the first has been replaced by an over-the-top joke, making the scares much less terrifying.
Still inherently enjoyable. Just not quite the blockbuster sequel we’d hoped for. Highly recommended, but a missed opportunity none the less.