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Bone Crunch

Written By mista sense on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 | 4:40 AM

My review of Condemned 2 is up at Variety. My critical quibbles with it come down to intangibles; as far as playability it hits all the right notes and I've actually had some genuine shriek-out-loud moments with it. In fact, there are some things it does so well that I've not seen it yet in survival horror before, as far as crafting the atmosphere in a non-linear way.

The enemy AI is like a stripped-down version of BioShock's -- you won't sneak up on enemies going about their own business or doing anything but running at you with flying fists. But no two playthroughs of an area will be the same, which is always nice, and the enemies do use their environment in the same neat ways that the player does. They'll run away from you to go improvise a weapon from the environment, or will pick up ones that you drop. And one of the things I really like about this game is that there are just absolute tons and heaps of things you can use as weapons, many of which you can pick up or pull out of your environment (steam pipes that run along walls, wooden posts you can break off old beds) in a way that feels organic.

Since the core gameplay essentially revolves around beating people, this is a really, really cool thing. Incidentally, the melee is excellent. The timing is a little challenging in a way that feels like it's not quite my fault, but what I mean is the physics, the sound effects... deliciously nauseating. You really feel like you're hitting or being hit, with all the wet pop and crunch you'd expect. The environmental kills are fun, too, without ever entering Manhunt-area grotesquery. I mean, it's definitely an insanely violent and gross game, but it's realistic, not super-gratuitous for its own sake.

What I really like it for, though, is the way it demonstrates the potential of next-gen technology for survival horror. Like I said, the AI is smart enough that the experience is pretty non-linear. On my second playthrough of an area I'd already been through, I went into the filthy bathroom of a condemned hotel (now occupied by out-of-their-minds meth junkies) to get the health pack I knew was in the medicine cabinet. This time, in the mirror I saw not only my own face, but the reflection of the freak rushing up behind me. I totally screamed, I really did.

Subtler examples? Police radios tend to be left lying around as you explore the different areas. Each section of play is decently-paced, a rarity for the genre (I'm looking at you, Silent Hill), and much of that pacing revolves around the progress of a particular investigation -- and you keep tabs on what's going on outside your immediate area by catching chunks of the ongoing police broadcasts. So just when you're coming up on the area you just know is going to be awful, you overhear that the bad guys are on their way towards you from the outside, too. Very atmospheric.

The CSI-type stuff is fun, too. In fact, my major complaint with Condemned 2 just comes down to the fact that there's too much going on, and a lot of the game's elements just don't blend together very well. I wish they'd kept it more like a cop drama and less like a supernatural thing -- or if "cop drama" would have been too mundane for real horror, then make Ethan Thomas a paranormal investigator instead of an SCU officer. Yeah, I realize that would have brought it into conflict with the first game, but they've overhauled Ethan enough that I'm not quite sure why they didn't make a whole new character.

In other words, it's clear the designers had way too many pet ideas and were too attached to all of them to let go of any of them, and that hurts the game a bit. It must have been nightmarishly difficult to develop -- with so much going on, it's admirable they did such a clean job. But brawler fans will probably get annoyed with all the cutscenes, the nonsense plot, and having optional elements affect their weapon upgrades, and survival horror fans might find it a little too coarse and unsophisticated. Still, it's fun and I recommend it.

Anyway, I suppose I've already made it clear what I think about the game. From a review standpoint I was a bit tough on the inconsistencies, but there are some more details in the Variety review, if you're interested!

Also, whoever did the character models for this game? A truly worthy inheritor of the survival-horror Doberman, seriously, awesome. Resident Evil would be proud.

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