Condemned 2 Impressions

Monolith's Xbox 360 launch title is back for a sequel, and we were taken into a real-life crypt to see it in action.

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Monolith's Condemned was one of the better Xbox 360 launch titles, and although it was something of a cult hit, it will still be spawning a sequel. The follow-up, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, looks like it will substantially expand on the investigation elements in the first game, while the notorious hand-to-hand combat will be more realistic and gruesome than ever. Condemned 2 will launch on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2008, and we got to see it running on the 360 at a recent Sega preview event.

 The combat system is now based around combos, and it's even more brutally visceral than before.
The combat system is now based around combos, and it's even more brutally visceral than before.

Condemned 2 takes place a year after the events of the first game. You still play Serial Crimes Unit (SCU) investigator Ethan Thomas, although he's become a little worse for wear in the interim. Dramatically affected by the trauma of his experience, he's now a homeless alcoholic. He's called into action by the SCU when his former partner goes missing, and the game begins as he starts to find his feet again.

The demo that Monolith showed us took place fairly close to the beginning of the game, with Thomas exploring a crack den alongside a team from the agency. Shortly into the demo, he fell down a lift shaft and was separated from the rest of the squad. Only just managing to escape the shaft before the lift fell down on top of him, Thomas was then forced to communicate with the rest of his team via radio, who ordered him to explore the area.

After this rather dramatic introduction, the Monolith representative armed Thomas with a brick as a basic means of defense. As in the previous game, hand-to-hand combat is still the backbone of Condemned 2, although the system has been refined significantly. Aside from making simple attacks, you can now employ a combo system by using the left and right triggers. If you land a blow with one button and follow up with the other, you'll be able to link together much more powerful attacks.

Firearms make a return, although you'll still have to rely on bricks and pipes when you run out of ammo.
Firearms make a return, although you'll still have to rely on bricks and pipes when you run out of ammo.

The first game was certainly dark and violent, but the sequel ups the ante to become a complete assault on the senses. The hand-to-hand combat feels dirty and frantic, with enemies that pop out at you and get in your face. Credit has to be given for the impressive visuals and character design that were showcased in the demo, but most of the effect comes down to Monolith's peerless audio design. If you crack an enemy in the face with a brick, you'll hear the full impact of masonry on skull. This is amplified by the use of horror genre techniques--string instruments produce sharp, piercing screeches to heighten the tension. This works particularly well when you're swinging a pipe at an enemy--a high note on the violin emphasizes the impact that you're about to make on your foe. It's horrific stuff.

However, Condemned 2's not just about bashing in homeless people's skulls. The innovative investigation system that debuted in the first game makes a return here in a much more expanded form, allowing you to choose from a variety of reports to send back to the office. In the demo, we saw a murdered policeman, and it was up to us to try to find out what had happened. With the SCU office asking questions on the radio, Monolith demonstrated how you could choose to give it five different responses based on what you saw. For example, the Monolith rep was asked questions about the gunshot trauma point and had to take photos to identify exit wounds.

Crime scene investigation fans will definitely be able to dig their teeth into the investigative elements of Condemned 2. The graphical detail made the process very involving, and the demo showed tools, such as UV lamps being used to trace blood. In this murder case, it was clear from the handprints that there had been some struggle, while the trail of blood that was smeared on the floor made it clear the body had been moved. All this was reported back to base, and in turn, your investigative skills are rated point by point once all the evidence is collected.

Further on in the demo, we saw some of the firearms that will make their way into the game, although ammunition will be fairly limited. The emphasis is on hanging back and avoiding this sort of combat because any shots that you take are potentially lethal. We saw an example of this in an outside environment, where rival gangs were involved in a street war. If you run in blindly, you'll almost certainly be cut to shreds, but if you wait for them to kill each other out, you can steal their weapons. So far, we know that handguns and shotguns will make it into Condemned 2. We also saw how you can use gas canisters to create fire and explosions.

With Condemned 2, Monolith is refining the horror experience while expanding on the combat and investigation elements of the first game. If you're playing with a surround-sound system, prepare to have your nerves torn to shreds. The only concern we have at this point is whether it will make it past the censors unscathed. One of the more violent environmental kills that we were told about was being able to break off someone's head in a toilet bowl--a move not dissimilar to one in Manhunt 2. Assuming it passes certification, we'll see the game sometime in 2008.

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