Destructoid's own little controversy regarding Reverend Anthony's review of Condemned 2 and Jim Sterling's following verbal smackdown got me to thinking of my own experience with the game. Rev made some very harsh statements in regards to many aspects of the game, a game which I had an overall enjoyable time with. Sterling's comments made me think that the best medium for expressing my disagreement would be a well thought out and respectful analysis of Condemned 2. However in writing the review I had to reevaluate my own opinions on the game. I had to reexamine its highs and its lows. Its cavernous lows. Because when this game sucks, it really sucks; when it shines however, it's almost golden. This probably goes without saying, but spoilers ahead.
The original Condemned ended very well. You knew the how and the why of a very linear and tight chain of events, but the overall plot of the outside events that had conspired to create the game remained covered in mystery. The lack of information forced the player to fill in the blanks with theories and conjecture that would prove far more scary than anything Monolith could write. I had struggled throughout the game with the provided clues to create a solid base on which to rest the story, but confirmation was never given to those theories. It was in short, a great horror game, and it shone like a beacon among the crap fest of 360 launch titles. Apparently Monolith took the wrong lessons from that. Condemned 2 is a lie. The whole beginning of the game is a lie. A beautiful lie; a lie filled with scary monsters, deranged hobos, and crack detective work. So let's go over this little lie, and see why even after being abused, I'll still come back to the game.
The first level of the game is an introduction to two things. The first being the new, not so improved, Ethan Thomas. The second being the vastly improved fighting mechanics. This is where the cock teasing starts, with the awesome hobo bashing combat. The ability to throw weapons, charge up powerful combos, and the added environment sensitive final kills are delicious. At this point you might be tempted to think Monolith has taken what made the first game so awesome and made it even better! You'd be wrong! You won't figure that out until later though. So let's get reacquainted with the protagonist.
Ethan Thomas started out as a gifted FBI investigator who got framed in the most idiotic of circumstances. The first game shows his faith in the people he trusted shaken, and his sanity thoroughly thrashed. To be able to ride along for a nervous breakdown was thrilling. Condemned 2 has Ethan starting out at rock bottom. He's quit the bureau, taken up painkillers and drinking, and has become a total dick. This paints another opportunity for witnessing the change and growth of a character. The doe eyed player expects to see the rise and return to grace of the fallen hero. Will you get to witness the revelations and torment that plague a recovering alcoholic? Will you ride shotgun to his emotional breakdowns and return to the sweet embrace of his only friend Jack Daniels? No! You'll just drink booze by the bottle to get a temporary aiming bonus to firearms, and then all of a sudden lose that ability when he goes sober. He stays a total dick though, so you don't really feel all that attached to him anyway. More on that failing later. Right now you're still filled with promises of dark and spooky game play, and Condemned 2 appears to be delivering.
Every level or so you start to feel vaguely unnerved. Not because the game is scary, but for exactly the opposite reason. With increasing frequency the game gets less and less terrifying. I felt like I should be scared, and tried very hard to get scared. I turned off all the lights, made sure to play after sunset, and even banished other people from the living room to get the proper feeling of solitude. Eventually I had to face facts. There are large parts of the game that are just not scary. The hobos that jump out at you continue to do so, but it's become a routine occurrence. Horrible black sludge creatures descend from the ceiling, and I yawn and hit the proper buttons to headbutt them. It was exciting at first, but like a couple married for 40 years, you feel like you're in a rut. C'mon devs, don't you have any new tricks? Yes. Yes They do. One incredibly awesome trick that I will not talk about save for these three words. Ursus arctos horribilis
. You'll get it later. This scene, relatively far along into the game that seemed to have dealt all its card early on, seemingly proves that Monolith does know what the fuck they are doing. They can
scare the shit out of me, and the only reason they hadn't been doing so for the last few levels is... well either they're lazy, or someone decided mediocrity was awesome. We'll never know. What we will know is the entirety of the game's back story. Because it's all laid out in the simplest of terms, so linear and predictable that all terror is removed from it. The plot to a horror game should not be as simple to diagram as a sentence, yet here lies Condemned 2. All the parts filled with horrible sludge monsters? That was all in your head. The crazy hobos? Driven to madness by horrible noises made be an enemy with a face and a name. Human enemies that can be killed just as easily as the crack addict you killed in the first level. In short, not scary. No wild conjecture, no theories, no confusion. Instead you've got point A to point B to point C. Which happens to draw a line. Linear gameplay really only has one excuse. A tight and proper story. Condemned 2 has no excuses, just a lot of dead meth junkies. Story isn't everything though, the fighting mechanics are good, what about the other creative bits from the original Condemned? Have the ace detective moments remained or dare I say, become even better?
The second level shows of the new investigation mode, which seems awesome. Instead of just finding evidence and being told what it means, you're now in charge of deciphering that evidence and actually being more that a robot. Once again we are promised awesome, and it seems to deliver. For example, you come across a splatter of blood that stains the floor. After identifying that this is the piece of evidence you wish to inspect, the game asks you to pick from a list of conclusions that can be drawn from the spatter. Some are obviously wrong, and some are deviously close to the facts. In the end only your good judgment can discern the truth and ensure all of jack shit. An incorrect answer really doesn't prevent you from proceeding further in the game. Instead the developers have chosen to add a very artificial incentive to preforming their little task correctly. At the end of each level a bonus is awarded for completing a number of side objectives, the most difficult being the investigations. While they do provide motivation to complete the task properly, it's really just a cop out, one that falls horribly flat in the face of what was promised to you.
So far we've seen Monolith sacrifice depth in almost every aspect of the game. Story? Teacup shallow. Horror and suspense? Wading pool shallow. Character development? Bone fucking dry shallow. The latter being the worst offense really, because the game has so many opportunities for character development, and for some reason turns them down. At one point Ethan decides he's going to beat his alcoholism. Literally. He's going to beat it with a pipe. Because in his crazy mind, that will cure him. Turn's out Monolith's kinda crazy too, because after kicking the crap out of Ethan's inner demon, he's cured. In the span of ten seconds he conquers his debilitating mental affliction. Take that Alcoholics Anonymous, twelve steps my ass, I only needed one step. The examples of inhuman actions and conversations go on, and repeating them would only discourage someone from actually playing the game. Which is a shame, because I actually enjoyed it.
Sadomasochistic though this may sound, I enjoyed the game. Maybe I just wanted to badly enough, or perhaps the lie was good enough to cover the truth. Either way, I enjoyed the trip. The destination, not so much. The game has enough fun and horrifying moments that you can almost forget that bad parts. You can almost taste the game you wanted to play and Monolith wanted to make. It tastes like a black oil filling your lungs and eyes, drowning your senses in fear. Then you realize you've just got shampoo in your eyes and inhaled some bubble bath. Oh well, life moves on, and we've still got Dead Space, Alone in the Dark, Project Origin, FEAR 2, and Resident Evil 5. Horror lives on.
Oh yeah, I'd say about a 5.5 out of ten. It's slightly better than the average game, but I wouldn't recommend it for most people. What can I say, when you try to make a mediocre game, you get a score about in the median. Live and learn Monolith, and don't fuck up Project Origin. read