Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Xbox 360 look - Condemned 2: Bloodshot

The original Condemned was a pleasant surprise for early X360 adopters and PC gamers. Combining brutal first-person combat with murder investigations and a twisted story it made for quite a popular title. Like nearly every other game this generation a sequel has been developed, released, and talked about. Is this game worth the $10 and several hours I spent on it? 

Ethan Thomas has seen better days. When not slumming in the streets he's picking fights with his personal demons and working on his neckbeard. Somehow things manage to get even worse and he's selected to help his old colleagues solve some murders, find some people, and uncover an ancient cult out to rule the world. Fans of the first game have noted time and time again that Bloodshot's storyline is ridiculous and they're very much correct. But in all honesty as a reader of this site do you even care about the story? All it is is an excuse to pick fights with the homeless.

This game is played from a first-person perspective and takes place over several stages of varying locales. Despite the premise of the gameplay each level still changes up quite often and more often than not the player will find themselves wrapped up in story elements rather than focused on the combat & exploration. The process is seamless at least and every stage features several elements to them to keep them fairly lengthy and well-designed. 

The player controls Ethan and his array of moves. While our anti-hero is incapable of ducking or jumping he can sprint for a brief period before tiring out. It's tricky to get used to at first since when sprinting Ethan always runs forward when you press the button. Using the right & left triggers he can punch while pushing in the right analog stick allows him to kick. Holding both triggers causes him to block and if you time it right the enemy will stumble, allowing for an easy counterattack. There's also a sprint attack for getting in quickly. By performing certain combinations(a handy list is available at all times) Ethan can gain damage bonuses as well as build up a special meter that consists of three blocks. When these blocks fill he can trigger combos that act as QTEs. These can either do serious damage, cripple the enemy which slows them down, or simply kill them. When the enemy is to the point of near-death they'll be on their knees and have a dazed look. Here you can grab them and finish them off using something from the environment. There's really not any strategic advantage or scoring bonus for doing these things though, which makes them rather pointless(unless you're a fan of violence). Health is determined by three bars at the top of the screen. How it works is that if you take damage as long as there's a little health remaining in a bar it'll eventually refill itself. If not there are plenty of healing kits scattered around that fill any empty bars(also if you die you restart the last checkpoint with full health). 

Ethan has an incredible variety of weapons to choose from. Standards like bats and pipes populate the stages but the real fun is finding all of the random objects that can be used as weapons. One stage has the player break into a museum where they'll find tons of broadswords, battle axes, and so on. Other objects like locker doors, bowling pins, antlers, bricks, and so on can all be used. These weapons have varying stats in power, durability, speed, and range so it's always best to seek out what's comfortable. Weapons can also be thrown for hitting faraway enemies and certain objects. Unfortunately for whatever reason the developers insist on also having a lot of guns in this game. These run the gamut of shotguns, assault rifles, and pistols. Ammo is quite limited since they tend to only be found in marked lockers or off other guns but towards the end of the game the focus is shifted towards shooting instead of melee which is very disappointing. 

Ethan isn't limited to merely killing though. He has four readily accessible tools for investigating crimescenes and generally getting around. The UV light is handy for seeing things in the dark(like blood and so on), the camera can take pictures of various interesting things, the spectrometer helps Ethan track certain objects, and finally a GPS that works as a map and also can set waypoints. All of these tools are necessary for figuring out the crimescenes Ethan will stumble over. These investigations are also constantly graded and the player must correctly figure out things like the cause of death and the identity of the person from the various clues scattered around. In order to achieve the highest detective rating for a stage all of these as well as discovering the locations of news reports, sonic emitters, and other objectives. Achieving the Gold rating in each stage leads to upgrades and other bonuses.

The foes of Bloodshot are certainly out there. Most of the time they consist of the homeless. These guys have been twisted by some ghastly experimentation and will fight you or whoever they run into. For the most part they behave similar to the player in combat. They'll even seek out new weapons if you manage to break the one they currently have. While most of these thugs look very different from one another and have different attacks the strategy for them remains the same. Time your block to open them up for a counterattack, repeat, do the occassional combo, and that's it. It gets more interesting when multiple foes are around as you can even hit two or more at a time with a single strike. Unfortunately for the most part combat with these guys is really shallow. The game mixes it up frequently by employing the use of bosses. While it's nice to have variety in foes at the same time these boss fights are more about figuring out their solution rather than mastering the intricacies of fighting. One boss for example you have to throw exploding dolls at while another you have to wait for them to perform an attack that leaves them open. There's very little in the way of fights that actually require the understanding of the supposedly deep combat system in place. There are also a couple of enemies that simply can't be killed, which creates for some interesting scenarios(since it's usually instant death if they catch you). 

Bloodshot offers a host of additional modes. The biggest addition is multiplayer and if people are still playing it today I recommend checking it out. There's a large variety of modes and I particularly enjoyed the "Bum Rush" where one or two players with a large amount of health & strength have to kill as many weak players as possible before succumbing to the onslaught. It's a shame though that 90% of all X360 multiplayer games lose their player-base after less than a year(or even less than a month). Then again when your competition consists of Halo 3, The Call of Duty series, and a handful of others there's not much you can do.

An arena mode is also available for fans of the combat. This singleplayer mode challenges the player to attain a high score under a variety of conditions. Most of these can be boiled down to simply beating up as many people as possible and there are leaderboards tracking the most successful endeavors. Here is where the actual depth to the combat shines since unlike the story mode the player can't rely on a readily available supply of health, they're frequently outnumbered, and they're actually rewarded on how well they fight(as opposed to just being rewarded for detective skills in story mode). It also helps that this mode makes the silly story easier to ignore and there are no guns. 

First-person melee is always a tricky subject to deal with in terms of mechanics and Bloodshot is no different. Alot of the time it seems like the range to hit someone from is larger than expected. In fact over the course of my playthrough I instinctively chose to block everytime someone takes a swing, even if it looks like it's from far away. Even if it looks like they're several feet away they'll still recoil like I was nose-to-nose with them. On the other hand if the enemy takes a swing and I don't block for the most part no damage is done provided I'm some distance away. It's rather odd how that works out(even if it is to the player's benefit). When watching two people fight each other it looks more sensible but I guess that's just how perspective works. 

While aesthetics don't affect the gameplay I still found myself taking issue with a number of aspects of this game. A lot of the mystery and fear in this game is lost when I realized that "oh it's just some big cult behind everything". I have a big enough fear of simply being harassed while walking through streets at night so naturally being jumped and killed for no reason should have been really scary. It's that fear of the unknown but once the game tells exactly what's going on it devolves into a standard "good vs evil" tale. Instead of implying something more sinister like all of this is in Ethan's head and he's just beating up random people he percieves as demon's it just becomes something traditional and dull. Speaking of Ethan he looks really idiotic and like some test subject to appeal to an "Xtreme" crowd(it doesn't help that every other word out of his mouth is an expletive). 

So while I think Condemned 2 is definitely worth $10 I can't say for sure if it's worth the time. Fans of the original will be most likely disappointed with the story and characters in the sequel and if there's nobody playing online that rules out the multiplayer at well. It seems like such a waste considering that the fighting is decent enough and the arena modes inject quite a bit of life into the game. Unless you're the type of person who is tired of seeing guns in every game they've purchased this generation I can't quite recommend this one for any serious amount of play-time. 

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