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.
An unkown retailer (hint: rhymes with lametop) may have accidently sold me eternal bliss. That's right, I have in my hands, what might be the best 360 game of this year. I mean that too; it might be better than Bioshock, and it's certainly better than Halo 3. I can't recomend it enough, but in this holiday season of overdrawn accounts, maybe you should know why you need this game more than air.
Well character creation is a good place to start. You can begin the game as John Sheppard, the nice fellow from the commercials, or you can create your own. Custom characters can pick from a handful of past events that fill out the backstory, which will later effect the dialogue in the game. Pick from a handful of classes; which boil down to soldier, tech-healer, biotic (lightsaberless jedi), and then some combinations of the first three. Then create your character's look in a believable, if somewhat limited, character generator. Toss in a name and voila, a very living and breathing looking character is ready to go.
The game throws you in fairly quickly, but not before some very cinematic bits that do a lot to explain the universe around you. You get your first chance to use the dialogue system, and it's pretty good. Not as good as if I was actually talking to someone, but at times it can feel almost that way. The voice acting is quite good, which really helps to bring you into the story. Soon you have to cut the chatter, because things start going horribly wrong. This is when you get your first taste of combat, and it's pretty good. The first thing I thought of was Gears of War, but with much more depth. Just remember; you are not rambo, no matter how badass you think you are, you cannot charge a bunch of entrenched soldiers, and grenades will very much so kill you. Remember to use squad commands, without them your party will not be a very big help in difficult fights. Without orders, your tech guy may suddenly decide to charge some giant robots, and that is not a healthy decision for someone with his defensive stats. Deploy them, give them targets, and remember to flank; it's really not too hard, but it can get a little tricky at times.
Once you're done shooting things you get to tackle the role playing part of the RPG. A huge space city awaits, and the level of detail they put into it is amazing. The sidequests are all fairly interesting, and serve mostly as a way to flesh out the city and the Mass Effect universe. The incentive of XP doesn't hurt either. Speaking of XP, BioWare did something fairly clever in this game. You can gain experience from experiences. Spend a moment to look at the view? Bam, 10 experience points. Have a deep conversation with a diplomat, that counts too. Activities we might call character building will in fact let you build a character.
The main story arch of the game is absolutely amazing, and I'm not really going to say anything else, as I'd hate to spoil it for anyone. So let me just say this. Go get it. Can't afford it? Sell blood. It's that good.
You know what this web site needs? More robots. Without a constant supply of robots, the internet would collapse, and we'd have to go back to sitcoms for entertainment. Fortunately there are people like me out there, who can rely on other peoples creativity to provide us with costume ideas. So without further ado, I present something that's already been done before. A Mr. Destructoid halloween costume. Awesome.
The main cube thing is made out of that foam board kids use for science fair projects, cut into shape and held together by the handymans secret weapon. That's duct tape for the uninformed.
A helmet keeps the whole thing stuck to my head and protects me when I fall down. Two plastic cups and some superglue finish the whole thing off, and spraypaint gives it that metal color.
Throw in a snazy suit an you've got a bad ass costume on you're hands. Should have flashing red eyes in time for halloween, mostly because kids and drunks both love bright flashing lights. Now I just have to work on my robot voice. DESTROY! DESTROY!
Perusing IGN's list of upcoming PC titles I noticed the Beowulf game. Apparently it's a tie in to an upcoming movie by the same name, which is based on a book most of us had to read in high school. Like most of my class I nodded and pretended to understand the odd translations, but the one thing that stuck with me was how violent the story was. With all the talk about Manhunt 2 and the Dark Sector trailer going on, it got me thinking about the way games are treated so differently from other forms of media. First of all there's the book, being forced on children in public schools, which is paid for by our tax dollars. Then there's the upcoming movie, which if it plans on earning any money at all, better be comparable to at least a jacuzzi of fake blood. If some attention seeking lawyer was to blame either the movie or the book for inciting murder and depravity, he'd be laughed off whatever news channel he'd convinced to interview him. If he then decided to name the publisher of either the book or the movie in a lawsuit alleging the same things, he'd probably also get laughed off the bar association as well. So what's the difference between these three mediums for telling the same story?
Age. Pure and simple, it's the age of the medium. Nothing new there, most gamers over the age of fifteen have probably worked that out already. Older gamers may even remember the early days of their youth, when movies or comic books were blamed for similar things, and targeted for similar censorship. Just like today, fans of those products and their creators had to wage an opinion war while fighting off blatantly unconstitutional laws against their favored medium. The media battles and attempted censorship will continue today until video games have aged enough that the majority of voters, the mothers and father, and even the senators are no longer strangers to the hobby. When the house majority leader remembers fondly playing God of War, then gamers can let down their guard. Until that day, here's some ammunition in this information war. Lock and Load.
Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior
for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder,
the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams,
swallowed him piecemeal: swiftly thus
the lifeless corse was clear devoured,
e’en feet and hands.
Back to Beowulf then. The above is a quote from the Harvard Classics translation. The book is common in most high school English classrooms, and I think I read it my Sophomore year. I would have been 15 at the time. A game featuring a cut scene that matched the text would certainly be rated M, or only suitable for people above the age of 17. The argument could be made that since video games are a visual medium, the same scene depicted with words is less traumatizing and less offensive. That might be true, but I bet a cinematic rendition of the scene would only warrant PG-13. So that argument is bogus. It could be said that since the description is relatively brief and in less common style of speech, the impact is lesser. That's fine until you remember what you did in English class. You analyzed and explained what you were reading meant. So let's analyze what that meant. Grendel, the horrible monster, lifted the sleeping man up, and bit into his chest. Bones broke and cracked as he drank the streams of blood. The man was devoured, piece by piece, until there was nothing left, not even his hands and feet. And there you have it, a government sanctioned description of violence that puts Halo to shame for gore. Just wait, the next page has a description of how Grendel's arm is torn off, and even further in are tales of men being dragged to their deaths, demon's heads cut from their bodies, and even a dragon being brutally slain. All in all it sounds like a good read. Should even be a good movie. I can't wait for when children will be able to watch the movie after reading the book so as to gain a better understanding of what they just read. I even can't wait for when they're told they can't buy the game, because it's been decided that it is to violent for them. Maybe if the game is faithful enough to the book, it can be banned outright! After all, children shouldn't be subjected to such violence.