Here we go again—another game by Monolith, another creepy scare-fest. Remember when they made the campy and fun No One Lives Forever? No? Well, they did, though it seems like a long time ago. Lately it’s been all dark and gruesome, and Condemned 2: Bloodshot, the sequel to 2005’s Condemned: Criminal Origins, has got both of those in spades. Though not as novel or scary as the first game, Condemned 2 delivers another dose of hard hitting melee combat, survival horror, and plenty of stuff that’s just plain messed up.
Bloodshot is a direct sequel to Criminal Origins, putting you back in the shoes of now former Serial Crime Unit agent Ethan Thomas. This installment takes place a year after the events of the first, and Ethan hasn’t been doing very well in the interim. Simply put he’s a drunk, he’s lost his job, and he’s living on the street. He looks like the deranged homeless person he is and, oh yeah, he’s hallucinating. Good times. But when a person from Ethan’s past goes missing he’s called back into service by the SCU and reluctantly begins another set of bizarre investigations. Similar to the first game, Bloodshot has you make your way through a series of dilapidated locales, trying not to get your head bashed in by the crazed hobo population who inhabit these bombed-out rat’s nests along the way. Ambushes by psychotic bums and paranormal weirdoes are a constant threat, and the level of tension as you traverse each area is incredibly high.
Though it reveals a considerably greater amount of actual information than Criminal Origins, Bloodshot’s story isn’t nearly as intriguing as its predecessor. Where before there was a tantalizing hunt for a devious serial killer that teased with scraps of the supernatural held just out of reach, here there’s nothing but full-tilt weirdness with way too many beans spilled way too fast. That it then degenerates into nonsensical pseudo-science and resorts to playing the ultra-cliché nefarious secret society card doesn’t do it any favors either, proving sometimes less is more when our own dark imaginations are concerned. Likewise the investigations in Bloodshot lack the impact of Criminal Origin’s ultra disturbing serial murders—finding a cop who’s been shot or even a decapitated woman doesn’t even begin to compare to the freakishly macabre scenes left by SKX—and while they do feature a new mechanic that requires you to answer questions based on what you detect the answers rarely matter aside from the rating your given at the end of the mission.
Combat in Bloodshot will be instantly recognizable to anyone who played the first game, and is probably this game’s greatest strength. Your main armaments for the majority still consist of whatever you can grab along the way, be it a lead pipe, a 2x4 with nails sticking out of it, a bowling ball, or a bedpost. New to the series is a combo system that allows you to deal more damage by mixing attacks in certain patterns without getting hit in between, but realistically block-attack-repeat is almost always your best option, making the rest amusing but ultimately superfluous. There are also a bunch of new environmental finishing moves—a potpourri of smashing, throwing, and impaling foes on, in, or over objects in your vicinity—but it’s just another momentarily amusing albeit not terribly substantial addition to the combat system. Even if these “improvements” are a little thin though, bashing bizarre misfits with improvised weapons is just as visceral and intense as it was before and the brutal in-your-face street fighting is just as good. Firearms are also mixed in a little more frequently, and a couple of levels even feature gunplay extensively for a nice change of pace.
In addition to the story mode, some extra game modes have been thrown in to bulk up the total package somewhat this time around. One nice feature is a practice arena where you can work on your bum-fu skills against different kinds of baddies wielding different kinds of weapons, but the handful of other single player challenge modes are nothing special. A quartet of multiplayer modes have also been thrown in, but not too surprisingly they’re fairly lackluster. Melee-based combat still doesn’t fare too well online, where even the hint of network latency makes it comically awful, and the game modes featured don’t play as well in practice as they sound in theory. Deathmatches, team and free-for-all, are about what you would imagine—a bunch of yahoos running around swinging sticks haphazardly—and the other modes don’t fare much better. Bum Rush pits fragile infinitely respawning bums against super armored cops with only one life, while Crime Scene has a team of bums hiding evidence from a team of cops, and neither comes together very well. Good multiplayer takes better balance and refinement than what Bloodshot has to offer, and after the brief period of novelty passes there really isn’t anything here to sink your teeth into.
As sequels go, Bloodshot is sort of a mixed bag. Chances are if you liked the first Condemned you’ll like the second, even if it doesn’t pull it all off with the same panache. Those dying to know more about what was going on behind the scenes in the first game are likely to learn a lesson in be careful what you wish for. The levels are well done for what they are, dark and creepy and full of things that go bump in the night, even if they are a little contrived and a little too murky. Where Bloodshot really excels is in its expert use of the first person perspective, the tension it builds, and the savage brutality of fighting for your life against some of the freakiest, most profoundly disturbing enemies to ever “grace” a game. Though it fails to soar to new heights, or even achieve the same altitude as the original, it still has enough of what made the first game a survival horror classic for a new generation to be enjoyable. If you like being freaked out and beating stuff up, Condemned is still where it’s at.