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A few years ago, I watched a news report that featured a group who had put together an immersive software design (aka video game) that simulated what a person suffering from schizophrenia might experience in daily life. In the setting they created, the first-person character was hailed to by hateful whispers, flashes of disturbing imagery streaked in his vision, strange creatures that couldn't possibly exist strolled in one door and out the other. This was done for educational purposes, but that didn't make the presentation any less unsettling.
For me, the scariest of things are those that have no clear explanation, and at the time, I watched this report thinking that the only thing that made this product creepy was the fact that it had no plot, meaning, or reason attached to it. However, playing Condemned 2: Bloodshot, I found that even when a good story is in place, this type of immersion retains its high-scare factor in a big way.
I never played the original Condemned, and was almost put off of the prospect of picking up its sequel for that exact reason, which is a choice I fear many gamers will come to make when the prospect of buying this game arises, but getting past this prejudice is simple after playing through the first battle.
In Condemned, you are Ethan Thomas, a broken ex-cop who has as much alcohol affecting his head as he does bad memories. Apparently, Ethan's life began on a downward spiral after the events of the first Condemned title, Criminal Origins. There he squared off against a conspiracy surrounding a villain named Serial Killer X (or SKX). Now, after his ex-partner goes missing, Thomas is brought back onto the Serial Crimes Unit and asked to help track him that lost partner down.
As a rule, I don't play many first-person games; the style always seems clunky and I don't enjoy how enemies can sneak up behind you so easily. While Condemned runs into these problems from time to time, the game tends to make them work to its advantage, upping the thrill, excitement, and fear with both its reaches and its limitations. Also, in using the techniques like the ones found in the schizo-simulator, this atmospheric tension in the gameplay is doubled by the flashes and distortions in Ethan's vision and hearing.
The gameplay battles employ a huge arsenal. Melee weapons range from billiard balls, bricks, and Molotov cocktails to shovels, gumball machines, and prosthetic arms. Firearms range from handguns to assault rifles. You'll find that fighting with this list of weaponry is very engaging as you swing and shoot through the attacks of hobos, security guards, and a slew of strange monsters.
But brute force is not the only facet to this game. Thanks to Ethan's handy field kit, there are forensic aspects that follow Criminal Origins. With a UV light, a sonic Spectrometer, a digital camera and a GPS tracker, Ethan's smarts are put to the test by a series of investigative questions and clue-detecting challenges.
The level designs are derived from your stereotypical horror locations, such as an abandoned city hotel and an abandoned shipping yard, but they are crafted with such care that they breathe new life into the settings, reminding gamers of why they were considered scary in the first place.
But what this psychological thriller truly succeeds at is its scares, using both straightforward and subtle techniques, Condemned will fill your creepy quota to the point of excess. Add in all the other perks found within the gameplay and you've got a title that is well worth the retail price.
And if the in game challenges aren't enough for you, there is an excellent online multiplayer menu to choose from that includes gaming modes like single and team Deathmatches (Battle Royale) to the Bum Rush (Attack the guy with the gun!) to Crime Scenes (a deviation on Capture the Flag). There is also a Fight Club that has various mini games to keep players interested long after the closing credits have rolled.
With so many plusses on this game's card and hardly a negative mark to be found, Condemned 2 has surprised and satisfied this gamer at nearly every turn, met or exceeded every creepy criteria, and remained in my PS3 longer than any other game I've played since buying the system.
Basically, to sum it all up, this game rocks -- and on multiple levels!
James Maddox is a writer based in Marietta, Ohio. His experience living and dealing with gamers in Korea has uniquely shaped his opinions on games and the industry.