The combat has seen some nice improvements, but the story and overall scariness of the game fall short.

User Rating: 7 | Condemned 2 X360
Condemned was one of the most impressive early games for the Xbox 360. The first-person combat really packed a wallop, and the game was also an impressive piece of art design, with extremely creepy, gritty environments and chilling sound effects throughout. Now the sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, is here, and it's both a step forward and a step back from its predecessor. The combat has seen some nice improvements, but the story and overall scariness of the game fall short.

In the original game, you played as Ethan Thomas, an SCU agent who was tracking a serial killer who had framed him for murder. Also, there was some goofball nonsense about Ethan maybe having some sort of superhuman powers, but the game didn't really develop this too much so I kinda forgot about it. The second game goes way more into this sort of comic book territory than the first game did, culminating in a final confrontation with a villain whose lair would make a Bond villain proud. You wind up taking on the Oro, a secret organization who believe that sounds can cause people to commit evil acts, and, having heard Avril Lavigne's song "Girlfriend" about a thousand times while playing Burnout Paradise and now wanting to kill Avril Lavigne myself, I can see their point. Personally, I wish the series had stayed closer to the realm of reality, as I think a series of games about a forensics officer who actually solves somewhat realistic crimes would have been a whole lot more interesting than a series about a cop who discovers he can emit noises that kill people. But maybe that's just me. In any case, while the first game's story certainly had its shortcomings, your pursuit of Serial Killer X made for a strong throughline. The plot here feels really weak by comparison.

When the game starts, 11 months after the conclusion of the first, Ethan is just a shadow of his former self. A very drunk shadow. He's such a drunk that you actually benefit from drinking liquor from bottles you just find lying around, as this steadies your shaky hands while aiming a gun. Condemned 2 is probably the first game in which at one point your objective is "Defeat Alcohol Demon." Lots of people struggle with their personal demons when it comes to alcohol, but none quite as literally as Ethan Thomas. Perhaps to go along with Ethan's new hardcore image, he is no longer voiced by the likable Greg Grunberg of TV's Heroes. That's too bad, as the new guy (Andre Sogliuzzo) just tries too hard to convey what a nihilistic, alcoholic badass the new, unimproved Ethan Thomas is.

Throughout the game, you'll explore a bunch of dimly lit places, including a creepy museum, a creepy doll factory and a creepy bowling alley, though none of the places in the game are quite as creepy as the coolest locations from the first game. (Creepy department store, anyone?) In these places you'll encounter plenty of drunken hobos and people who fight like drunken hobos. Even the museum security guards fight like drunken hobos. The people you fight make all kinds of awesome guttural exclamations and swearing noises that sound so authentic, you'll almost think they got actual crazy people to provide these voices. And the combat itself is as good as the sound effects that accompany it. You can clobber people with your bare fists, but you're usually better off picking up something lying around, be it a steam pipe, battle axe, bowling pin, or what have you. Each item you grab can only dish out so much punishment to the homicidal homeless people of the city before it breaks, so you'll have to keep picking up new items as you progress. The combat in Condemned 2 hits as hard as ever, and there are a number of nifty combos you can now pull off if you can avoid being hit by your wildly flailing foes. There are also brutal new finishing moves which allow you to use aspects of the environment to finish off weakened enemies. Many players felt that the combat in the original game was too basic, and that as a result it got repetitive by game's end. The added depth to the combat in Condemned 2 helps keep the combat enjoyable throughout.

There's also a bit more emphasis on gunplay this time around than there was in the original, particularly during a few sections where you have to fight off assault-rifle-wielding agents. These sections, while not quite as hard-hitting as the close-range combat in the game, are competently done. The fact that you can blow dudes' heads clean off, though, seems like an unnecessary byproduct of the game's desire to come across as even more brutally violent than its predecessor. Also, your opponents will make good use of cover, kicking tables over and crouching behind them and so forth, and while this is kinda cool, it also calls attention to the fact that you can't do anything like that yourself.

In between all the fighting, you'll also periodically have to examine crime scenes. Sometimes these sections are fun, and sometimes they involve a bit too much pixel-hunting as you try to figure out exactly what it is you're supposed to look at. Sometimes they're humorously easy, as when looking at a victim's cap and needing to decide if it's a policeman's cap, fireman's cap, hard hat, or baseball cap, and at other times they're a good bit tougher. (Blood spatter analysis? Do I look like Dexter to you?) Also, you'll sometimes be given a choice between three possible questions to ask your partner Rosa to advance the investigation, and some of the choices are so boneheadedly hilarious that I wanted to select them just to see how Rosa would react. "Have human beings even been around for 2000 years?" "How do you spell Oro?" You're rated on the accuracy of your investigation, as well as your performance in completing other objectives throughout the level, and as you progress through the game you earn upgrades based on your performance like added health, a stun gun, and so on.

The game will probably take you about 12 hours or so to complete. After that, you unlock FPS mode, which lets you use guns throughout the game, but that kind of seems to take away a huge part of what makes Condemned Condemned. If you want to play a first-person shooter, play Call of Duty 4. There are also some multiplayer modes available, but they leave a lot to be desired. If you want to play a good multiplayer game, play Call of Duty 4.

Many players will probably find Condemned 2 to be an improvement on its predecessor thanks to the deeper combat system. For me personally, aspects like mood and story were at least as crucial to making the first one a great experience, and because this one can't match up in terms of creepiness and because the plot goes so far into typical video-game sci-fi you-are-the-prophesied-hero territory when I was hoping for a series about a cop who hunts serial killers, I came away from Bloodshot a bit disappointed overall. But there's still a good deal of impact to the game's combat, making it a worthwhile playthrough for anyone who wants to punch people in the face without actually punching people in the face.

7/10 whacks with a foosball rod

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