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Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Condemned 2: Bloodshot is a complete mess in almost every area. If it’s not the level design it’s the story, if not the story it’s the characters. Though not in the conventional sense is it a mess, but in the experience Bloodshot weaves for the player.

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The original Condemned was a gruesome masterpiece, a visceral horror game with an intriguing storyline and some likeable characters. Its success with scares was exceptional – especially towards the end, as the atmosphere got increasingly terrifying. What Condemned: Criminal Origins did right was create an unsettling atmosphere that never felt safe, and it never let you down. While many a time nothing would happen as you reluctantly walked through the levels, the sound design and visual mind games made it so you were constantly on edge. Your heart would thump, your hands would sweat, and it was brilliant. Unfortunately Condemned 2: Bloodshot rarely brings out this terrifying atmosphere, instead relying on more action orientated-fare. Depending on how you like your horror games (or games in general), Bloodshot could either be a triumphant winner or a slight disappointment.

It’s clear that horror veterans Monolith have focused on the single player game here, because while there are two alternative modes in the form of multiplayer and a set of arena-based fighting minigames, they never stand up to the polish and care that has obviously gone into the main game. Condemned is all about the lone player experience, and it’s an enjoyable and similarly odd experience, at that.

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Taking place eleven months after Criminal Origins, Bloodshot sees original protagonist Ethan Thomas as an alcoholic tramp, slowly spiralling into self-destruction. He is recruited back to his old Unit – the SCU – to investigate the murder of his one-time mentor. The story starts off similar to the first game and some interesting events happen, but towards the end it becomes all too sci-fi and completely ridiculous, venturing away from the original’s strictly horror roots.

The characters have changed, too, in everything but their name. Returning main character Thomas is no longer the refreshingly down-to-earth cop with good intentions (original voiceover actor, Heroes‘ Greg Grunberg easily eclipses André Sogliuzzo’s competent efforts here),, but is now a rugged, barbaric, foul-mouthed low-life with no real depth. The main villain is now bald and scarred, your female accomplice now black. It’s a lot of change that makes Bloodshot look like a completely separate game to the original, as if Monolith are ashamed to call it their own.

Luckily, the core principle that made the original so good is still here. The combat is as brutal as ever, with a whole array of weapons just waiting to be used on drunken tramps and crawling gimps. Some new, more tropical weapons are introduced in the game, such as bowling balls and golf clubs, and are utterly satisfying. Combat is improved, too, with combos and environmental attacks now included, and while this does detract from the original’s raw intensity and survival of the fittest mentality, it’s still huge fun to break people’s arms and throw them into a washing machine, even if it’s hardly tasteful.

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The game works as a continuous adventure, but as the levels are so vastly different, it often feels more like you’re going through missions until the admittedly anti-climatic finale. The levels range from a doll factory (complete with exploding dolls) to a ship barge, and it often feels as if the developers have just thought out some scary scenarios then from there moulded them into the story, which makes everything seem a little messy and sloppily planned. Nevertheless, the levels are still – for the most part – a chock full of fun. Highlights include a FEAR-inspired level in your unit’s headquarters, which delivers a dreamy and constantly scary injection of terror with its unique blend of blurring and contrastingly clean corridors. A level in an alpine lodge is also a treat, unfortunately let down towards the end when you are confronted by a load of SWAT-esque foes.

It is when you’re talking about SWAT-like enemies when you start to realise just how different Bloodshot is to its predecessor, and how it more resembles a gory action film than a suspenseful thriller. These enemies appear frequently in the game, especially in the last sections, and are a constant annoyance. While hearing their breath round a corner is usually quite frightening, once you realise it’s just another human with a gun all fear is diminished. Even more so when you’re equipped with a gun filled with ammunition.

Guns now take a more prominent role in Bloodshot, and though they do the job they don’t stand up to the mechanics of a game focused on shooting, like Halo, and are a little annoying. In the original game you’d be lucky if you found a pistol with three bullets, and you’d cherish its power with every shot. In Bloodshot, you’ll often find yourself wanting your ammo to run out, just so you can go crazy with a pipe and not feel guilty. The finale is much more FPS-like in its nature, too, which is a shame and feels completely out of character.

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If you treat the game as an action-orientated gore fest, however, you won’t be disappointed. Levels are lined with frenetic set-pieces, boss battles, and chase sequences, and things never get boring. The action, then, is nothing like the original game, so if you expect tense and slow walks through derelict chambers then you’ll find few of these moments in Bloodshot.

One feature massively improved from the first game is the investigation scenarios. This time you’re asked to observe bodies and objects and report back to your accomplice with the relevant information. It’s incredibly involving, and while there are still some painfully simple tasks such as photographing certain devices, the more complex observations are a joy to tackle, and have an effect on your overall score at the end of the level. There are moments where you are asked to recollect previous story events as you are asked a series of questions, too, so you need to pay attention. More emphasis on these would have been entirely welcome, or having story-altering consequences to your decisions would have been fantastic.

Once you’re done with single player, there’s an arena-based fighting mode that pits you against a barrage of enemies in a set of challenges. It’s a fun alternative to the main game, but nothing more than a brief diversion to the single player, unless you like your leaderboards. Multiplayer, too, stands as little else but a small distraction. Games are most always laggy, and other than the interesting hide and seek-esque crime scenes mode, you’ll scarcely play it.

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Visuals are suitably dark and grimy, and impressive on all counts. Textures are decayed and detailed, and the locations are really brought to life with some stunning level design. Cut-scenes are delivered well, as is the character animation, and everything works together to create an immersive gaming experience.

Sound is just as good, though not as appreciated as in the original, since the sound is less effective within the action-heavy gameplay as the unsettling and suspenseful sound effects and music of the original.

All said, Condemned 2:Bloodshot is a fun game, a mess, for sure, but a good mess. While it never reaches the scares of the original, or the compelling story and characters, it’s still a rollercoaster ride of butchery, blood and out and out violence – violence that never lets up.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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