Hopefully that title has explained perfectly what this analysis is all about. I just finished Condemned 2 a few days ago, I actually picked it up a few weeks back but I was waiting to see if I could get Condemned 1 first. Unfortunately I just got to playing Condemned 1 and I’ve committed sequel sin by playing the second game first. In a previous entry I talked about what I loved about Metroid Prime and Stalker as FPS. In many ways Condemned 2 is what I want to see more of from the FPS genre however that doesn’t mean this is a perfect game. For a title that deals with mental disorders it is apt that the game suffers from multiple personality disorder.
Condemned 2 is a FPS horror, beatemup adventure title that sets you in the shoes of Ethan Thomas, who after the last game has hit rock bottom. A strange force is causing people to become increasingly violent and deranged and serial killers are out in force and it is up to Ethan to figure out what is going on. First I want to comment on how disgusting the game looks… in a good way. Dealing with deranged psychopaths does not take you to the upper crust of society and you’ll be exploring derelict buildings. What I enjoyed about Metroid Prime was how it not only allowed you to connect to the character but also with the world and Condemned 2 is the same way.
I love how Ethan is more than just a pair of arms in the game and the interactions with the world are a nice touch. Ethan can pick up a variety of objects to wield in melee as well as using firearms. Guns in the Condemned universe are incredibly powerful and even Ethan will go down after taking a few shots, to balance that ammo is scarce and in a moment of terror it is easy to waste all your rounds. Close ranged combat has degrees of depth to it, you can counter and set up combos and there are special moves that can be used when a bar is filled up. Also you can throw whatever weapon you have at enemies to either knock them down or daze them. Besides fighting people in dark alleys the game also picks your brain to figure out what is going on.
As you are exploring the various environments you’ll come across investigation points in which your job is to figure out what is going on or ask the questions that get the best responses. Unlike the first one, this time your investigation tools can be used at will. These sections can be about determining what happened at a crime scene to finding an important clue to proceed. What is interesting is that the game rates you on how accurate you are on a scale of one to five, one meaning you have no clue and 5 being you are red hot. These sections are a great way to flex your thinking process and break up bashing people in the face nicely. I do have a few issues though; first being that the game has a habit of asking you things that most of us would not know. For example I don’t know the difference between a stab wound and a gunshot wound and being graded on that knowledge is a little unfair. Next, there are times in the game that because the camera would not zoom in far enough or give me a good viewpoint I could not see what they wanted me to find out requiring me to guess. Unfortunately this is not the only design faux pas committed by Condemned 2.
Returning to my first paragraph Condemned 2 has a bad case of multiple personality disorder and tries to do too much. There are some things that just do not gel correctly and action and horror are one of those pairs. To have action the player must be constantly assaulted by foes and put in dangerous situations. To have horror there must be a build up and time not being attacked and each fight has to be special. No matter how freaky the situation is, being attacked by twenty similar foes kills the tension in the room. The designers tried to push action to the forefront and in the process pulled away the curtain to show the puppet master. The game heavily relies on scripted encounters for attacks and eventually I lost all sense of horror. One section had me attack from both in front and behind at the same time, except I already cleared out everyone behind me and this was just the designer pushing a button to create tension. Another poor example is when I was in a bathroom and an enemy appeared behind me, first time it was a little scary but next time I turned so fast that I actually saw the enemy poof into existence because I triggered it. Besides this the game commits a cardinal sin of game design.
(Spoiler Warning: the next two paragraphs go into detail about two sections of the game, which is the only way I can deliver my example. I will not be spoiling anything plot related but if you want to avoid being prepared for this then please skip the next two paragraphs.)
One of the later levels takes place in a museum which is overrun with crazy people who just so happen to have broken into a medieval weapons exhibit. About 3/4th of the way through you are attacked by a bum completely decked out in a suit of armor sporting a battle Axe. You can attack and counter his blows and the game shows things register but at this point you cannot hurt him. Your only option is to run past him to a wooden walkway that when he crosses he breaks through the boards.
After a few more sections you are attacked by him again, this time you are stuck in a huge room and have to fight him. It seems the only way to win is to wait for him to get his weapon stuck in the ground and attack him in the back. Nowhere in game does the game give you any clues that the rules of engagement have changed and this kind of event only happens one time. The part that annoys me is that later on in the game you run into encounters that you have to run from and the game actually tells you that you have to run for these sections.
The best moments of Condemned 2 are when every mechanic gets equal time in the spotlight, when I’m creeping through abandoned buildings looking for clues and on the lookout for someone to jump me. Unfortunately as the game moves on it becomes more action focus, a problem seen in Manhunt 1. The final 2 levels of Condemned 2 have no investigation points whatsoever and the last level is gun heavy. I’m also not a fan of how the story developed in the game but to explain why would be far too spoiler filled for this entry.
I finished Condemned 1 the other day and I find it interesting to compare the two. Condemned 2 is easily the better game design wise: the mechanics are more refined, investigation points and so on. However I found the level design in the first one to be more organic, both games rely on scripted events and enemy placement but Condemned 1 was better at hiding the puppet strings in a sense. In the first one I felt that I was at war with the denizens of whatever rundown building I was in, in two it felt that I was battling the unseen gaze of a game designer placing enemies in my way. I also should note that combat was spread out more in the first one then it is in the second and even the final level that is combat heavy still paces the fighting out.
Even with my complaints I enjoyed Condemned 2, not too many FPSs allow the player to connect with the world and when all the mechanics are in play, the game is great. I do wish that more games incorporate close combat move sets beyond just holding down the attack button. I hope that Monolith is working on a third one and can take the lessons learned from 1 and 2. Because the world needs more games that let us fight deranged hobos with gum-ball machines and bowling balls.