polsci's Condemned 2: Bloodshot (Xbox 360) review

Serial killers, alcohol demons and a conspiracy.

It was a happy day when the news broke that Monolith was making a sequel to their visceral and atmospheric first person brawler Condemned. The first game was an experiment in how to take a FPS fought with your fists to the next level. It was tried before in games like Riddick and Breakdown, but the focus in Condemned was almost totally on your ability to punch and pick up weapons in the environment to bash dudes over the head with. It was an effective and thrilling ride, culminating in a very memorable boss fight against Sin.

This sequel picks up a couple of years after the original game and alot has changed. For one, the main character Ethan changed. Gone is the voice of Heroes star Greg Gunberg and the clean cut, but troubled, SCU agent from before. In his place is a noticeably gruffer voice and raging alcoholic mess of a man who is barely keeping himself together. Ethan's now a former SCU agent being dragged back into a story that involves him in ways he doesn't understand.

Also changed is Ethan's main SCU contact, Rosa. In the original Rosa was a short, chubby african-american woman with glasses. In the sequel she's obviously hired a personal trainer and beauty consultant because Rosa is now a hottie. At first I thought changes like these were going to throw me off, but as it turns out, the changes work just fine. The voice acting and the characters fit the story.

What hasn't changed is the brutally violent and extremely satisfying combat. Whether you are fighting with your fists or choosing amongst a variety of weapons strewn about the environment, one thing is certain, you will feel as if you are beating someone to a pulp (minus the bruised knuckles).

It is in the hand to hand combat that Condemned really shines and in this sequel the combat is dialed up a notch through the introduction of a combo system. Build up your meter in your upper right hand corner and then double tap either the left or right trigger buttons and you will launch into a timed button press combo. There are 6 different combos and each one is cool to watch and deals a significant amount of damage to your foe, many times completely taking them out.

One change that isn't quite so welcome is the new emphasis on guns. In the original the emphasis was clearly on fisticuffs, as guns and ammo were very scarce throughout the game. Not so in this sequel. You will find more guns and some levels are entirely gun dependent. It doesn't ruin the game by any stretch, but it doesn't feel any different from any other shooter on the market when you've got a gun in your hand. The hand to hand combat is what sets Condemned apart - when you're shooting your way through levels it takes away from the game's uniqueness.

Embedded in the game is a number of adventure game and survival horror elements. Crime scene investigations are the most fun, usually involving your tech toys to locate clues and unravel more of the story in a CSI kind of way. The story is pretty out there, but it's interesting and engaging.

I did not play around with the multiplayer, so I can't offer any feedback there. However, I spent a good deal of time in the Bloodshot Fight Club option. This is basically an arena option where you can set the number of enemies coming at you, what weapons (if any) are in the environment and a whole host of other options and scenarios. If you're looking to blow off steam for 15 minutes and just pummel dudes, this is the place to do it. It's a great addition to the game.

The single player game should take you 8 to 10 hours to complete and it is broken up into 11 levels total. Once you complete the game you will be rewarded with the option of being able to play through the entire game with guns. Gold medal the last level and you will get unlimited ammo for those guns. Given my criticisms above, I don't know that it's all that compelling to go through the game in that manner, but it's cool to have that option.

While there will be plenty of gamers who will avoid Condemned 2 because of the graphic content, the brutal violence and the inherent fright factor - those who enjoy these types of games will find that this game is one of the best on the block. Survival horror fans take note - this one should be part of your collection.
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