It’s dark. You’ve got a torch, casting it’s wirey light across the alleyway, and a lead pipe: heavy in your hand, slow to swing, but creates one hell of an impact when it hits. Ahead of you is a trash cart, a burnt-out car, a mountain of rubbish and a blind corner. Behind you lies the shattered skulls of your two previous assailents, but you’re still shaking, and a third could come at any moment.
Creeping around the bend in the rotten, stinking lane you come across a wooden fence. Good, that’s a brief moment of security: there’s nothing behind you, and if there’s anything in front of you it’ll need to scale the barrier, giving you plenty of time to prepare your swing. You move forward, carefully, but with a refreshed sense of confidence.
Then something happens up ahead, green, liquid. It flows quickly towards you, past you, and connects with the vehicle behind you. Within seconds there’s a massive explosion, and you’re blinded. Then come the stuttered, broken screams, the likes of which sound unlike anything you’ve met before, and as your vision restores you can just make out something black, small, but quick, rushing you. Another follows it, and they’re right on you before your pipe can connect. Panicking, you turn, spring back the way you came, when something else jumps out from behind the trash cart. You’re trapped.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot, then, takes great delight in ripping your heart to shreds as often as it can. Continuing on from the sublime Xbox 360 launch title, this sequel ups the ante throughout the whole game, delivering fright after fight around every corner. For the unfamiliar, it’s essentially a first person horror slash shooter, albeit one with more emphasis on hand to hand combat than long range weaponry, but the supernatural storyline that took a back seat to make way for the downfall of the protaganist in the first game comes right to the fore in the second – right from the off you’re made painfully aware that this isn’t going to be an easy ride.
The scares work so well because the atmosphere is so carefully constructed. Periods of quiet emptiness create an unwelcome unease that’s all too often shattered when you least expect it, and the delivery can come from anywhere, including within. You play as a now homeless, brutal and hopelessly alcoholic Ethan Thomas, 11 months after the events of the first game, with events following on directly and although you don’t necessarily need to play Condemned to enjoy Bloodshot if you do own a 360 you’ve really no excuse to not play through first.
The plot develops quickly, and you’ll soon find yourself recruited back into the SCU (Serial Crime Unit) to investigate a murder, and back with long term partner Rosa. We won’t spoil anything here, but you’ll be involved with things only hinted at in the first game, and even visit certain familiar locales. Ethan’s reliance on alcohol is integrated well, as are a number of new melee combat manuevres such as parrys and combo strings. Fans of the Condemned’s innovate but underplayed forensic sections will take delight in the more open-ended system employed here which leaves the actions and outcome much more in the player’s hands.
So with a lengthy, terrifying single player storyline being the main pull of the game, the game also includes a number of single player ‘instant action’ levels and a fully developed online multiplayer mode with eight maps and four modes, including single and team deathmatch, Bum Rush (SCU agents versus bums) and Crime Scene (where SCU players must find two hidden items of evidence before time runs out). These work reasonably well given the single player focus, and provide much more of a distraction that the likes of those in The Darkness did.
Visually it’s definitely a notch above the first game, with much improved lighting, motion blur and environment detail although the PS3 version suffers a little from a few blurry textures, especially where the developers have used heavy normal mapping, and the frame rate doesn’t hold it’s 30fps when the action heats up. It’s nothing game breaking, but it’s worth mentioning. Monolith have created a convincing, solid world for Condemned 2 and the omnipresent darkness and destructability of the settings means that not only can threats come from anywhere without notice, but you’ll often hear them before you see them, and the audio is brilliantly done.
Anyone that remembers the shopping mall (with the mannequins) in Condemned will take great delight in knowing that Bloodshot has it’s own uber-scary environment for you this time around too – in fact we’d happily say that the sequel ups the fear factor considerably throughout. If you like to play your videogames with white knuckles, this is a great ride. Just don’t forget to look up.