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Condemned 2: Bloodshot Review

3 April 2008

      If you’d give us a nickel for every time we’ve hit a bum in the face with a toilet seat in the last week, we’d be rolling in dough right now. Outside of that bizarre bathroom encounter on Monday (we don’t want to talk about it), these events have taken place within the gruesome world of Condemned 2: Bloodshot. As Condemned: Criminal Origins was an Xbox 360 launch title, Monolith’s Condemned 2: Bloodshot is the first in the franchise available on Sony’s black behemoth. The game provides one of the most visceral and thrilling experiences on the PS3, but occasionally succumbs to several rather unfortunate design flaws.

You play as Ethan Thomas, and you’re mighty pissed off. You see, after leaving SCU, the city’s resident law enforcement agency, Ethan becomes a bit of an alcoholic. He often hangs around in dodgy places with nothing to accompany him except his drink and hallucinations. The wiring in his head has gone a bit awry, thus he sees all sorts of warped visions in the already abnormal city. The line between reality and illusion begins to blur as the SCU temporarily takes on Ethan to finish his investigations from the original, shortly leaving him left for dead soon after. The plotline, while not incomprehensible if you haven’t played the first, isn’t as clear to newcomers as it is to players of Criminal Origins. Either way, it manages to provide a suitable backdrop to the sinister city environments.

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It’s the deadbeats within the environments that are truly frightening though. From irate bums to greasy black creatures and everything in-between, you’ll be getting consistently assaulted throughout the game. Luckily, the environment contains a lot of dangerous stuff. See a two by four with some particularly rusty nails sticking out of it? Snag it. How about a prosthetic arm in the hospital? A little tacky, but the game won’t mind; swing away. Simply put, anything and everything can be used as a weapon. The versatile system is a breath of fresh air in today’s “here are the eight weapons you’ll use over the next ten hours” type of games. There are a few firearms within the game (which are near unaimable unless you’ve had a swig of liquor), but Bloodshot isn’t primarily a first-person shooter; we’d classify it as a first-person horror brawler with some detective elements thrown in.

The combat is deep and rewarding in most scenarios. L1 and R1 act as your left and right attacks respectively, while pressing both buttons at once performs a block. There are a numerous amount of ways to execute combos and take advantage of your adversaries (kicks and finishers are included), but we can’t stress it enough that you have to learn how to block properly if you want to progress through the title. You see, you can’t just hold the buttons down constantly, you actually have to time your blocks in parallel to incoming attacks if you want to thwart your enemies.

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Once you get parries down, you’re able to perform counter-combos, arguably the most useful technique within the entire game. It’s not the only one that you’ll want to use though. We particularly liked the high-speed bum rush, a sprinting elbow to the face followed by several brutal blows. The feel of the fights is instinctive and intense, especially if you have a DualShock 3. It’s when you’re faced by multiple opponents that the system falls apart however. The designers simply didn’t take into account the limits of the first person perspective during brawls. To stand a chance against multiple foes, we found ourselves channeling them into an area where they’d both be in front of us. If that wasn’t an option, we usually just ran backwards pitifully until it became a viable possibility. There’s simply no way to fight two opponents on either side of you.

Other grudges include the darkness and exploration in general. Let’s start out by declaring that the environments are unbelievable. Detailed and gritty, Monolith did a brilliant job of taking the chilling feel from the first title and upping the ante for the sequel. With high-resolution textures and some fantastic art design, the game looks great. Unfortunately, you have to make a choice. The first option lies in keeping brightness down, creating deep blacks and therefore some seriously striking scenery. Here’s the issue with that – you can’t see crap. Your pitiful flashlight seems to run on one AAA battery, as it barely lights up the areas you’re in whatsoever. Even with a backlit GPS, you won’t be able to navigate your way around at all. The alternative lies in raising the brightness, resulting in ugly, grayish visuals that remove a large part of the fear factor from the game. It wasn’t a tough choice; we chose to play a non-terrifying game over wandering aimlessly into corners. Even so, there were numerous times where we just didn’t know where to go. As an example, in the fourth level, an abandoned doll factory, you’re tasked with finding a gas mask. You aren’t given any clear direction, and it took us about fifteen minutes to figure out we had to chuck an object at some propane tanks that were out of view behind a large object in the corner to progress. Those fifteen minutes weren’t fun, they were frustrating. Despite the strict linearity of the levels, expect several occurrences like this one throughout the game.

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As you progress through the eleven missions (which take about 45 minutes a piece), you’ll be given upgrades based on your performance. Each level contains a certain number of emitters you can destroy, antennas you can adjust, and responses you can activate. In addition, some levels have optional objectives which can be completed outside of the primary goal. All of these elements determine how well your rating for that mission is, which then affects the bonus that you’ll receive for its completion. From the brass knuckles to the stun gun, the upgrades help somewhat, but should you get the lowest rating on each level, the game becomes a tad more difficult to complete.

That isn’t to say you won’t die. In fact, you’ll die quite a lot and then be forced to suffer a lengthy loading screen each time. The game’s not overly difficult, but it’s no walk in the park. It won’t only test your reaction time, as your aptitude will be assessed through the series of forensic events you encounter where you’re given a chance to play detective. Whether you’re pulling out the black light to follow a blood trail or searching for physical clues and having intricate, branching conversations to clarify a situation, the forensic episodes throughout Bloodshot are fantastic experiences that are far improved from those in the original Condemned.

Part of what makes the forensic investigation so intriguing is the incredible detail of, well, everything. The aforementioned environments are the dirtiest and most detailed we’ve seen in a long while, the character models are brilliant, and the blood and gore is plentiful. Despite the gameplay restrictions of the first-person perspective, Monolith has managed to pull it off convincingly well from a graphical standpoint. You’re able to see your feet and your arms actually feel like a real part of you instead of a floating set of limbs. The animations and physics leave a bit to be desired however, and the occasional framerate drop draws you out of the experience. Conversely, the motion blur and filters, although subtle, are well implemented. Finally, the lighting within Bloodshot is spot on from an atmospheric perspective (we already mentioned the limitations it has on gameplay above).

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On the flip side, audio is a mixed affair. In all honesty, everything is delightfully done, including the voice acting and environmental effects, the latter of which actually plays a fairly large role in gameplay. What drags the sound down is either a bug or an insanely annoying sound. The audio often snaps and crackles in an irritating manner. It’s like the speakers have caught a cold or something along those lines.

Completely new to the Condemned franchise is the addition of online multiplayer. You and up to seven other deviants are able to take each other on in several modes including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Bum Rush and Crime Scene. The latter two are fairly unique. Bum Rush is a time-based game of SCU agents versus bums. The gun-toting SCU have a lot more health but don't respawn, and must last as long as possible against the bums. Crime Scene again pits the SCU against the bums, this time forcing the bums to hide and protect two severed heads while the SCU team attempts to find and scan the evidence before time runs out.

The melee combat which worked so well in the game's single-player feels sloppy against human opponents, and the lack of maps, modes and a community in general disappoint. This isn't to say the multiplayer is completely worthless, as it isn't, but it's not much more than a bullet-point on the back of the box. It's comparable to the multiplayer in The Darkness -- it'll keep you busy for an hour or two, but you'll soon be longing for a game of Warhawk or Call of Duty 4.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot isn’t a bad game by any account. It’s very immersive, absolutely thrilling and occasionally, genuinely frightening. The weapon system is the best we’ve seen in any brawler to date. It even lasts a while and contains several decent online modes (regrettably there’s hardly anyone playing). We just can’t help but feel that the overall experience is hampered by several issues that should have been taken into account before the product was released. As a result, Bloodshot isn’t condemned for greatness.

-The Final Word-

Condemned 2: Bloodshot does so many things right but many things wrong as well. The weapon system is the highlight in this otherwise decent game.
  • Brilliant weapon system
  • Excellent environments and graphical style
  • Fantastic forensic investigations
  • Extreme darkness leads to frustrating exploration
  • Combat system falls apart when faced with multiple opponents
  • Audio glitches
7.5
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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