None of this surprised me. What did was the game’s opening, with Condemned’s hero, Ethan Thomas, now a deranged, mangy alcoholic living rough on the streets until caught up in a cycle of escalating urban violence, seemingly exacerbated by the appearance of strange sonic devices around town. The initial sequences have a bizarre nightmare logic to them, as realistic settings give way to a dark fantasy world of thick black ooze and strange liquid creatures, leaving you wondering whether the events are actually happening or just a figment of Thomas’ diseased imagination. Play it alone, late at night, with the lights turned off and headphones on (as I did) and Condemned 2 really can be powerful stuff.
But it’s not long before the problems that dragged down the original game reappear. Basically, there’s a lot of combat to wade through, and arguably too much for comfort. You’ll work your way through foe after foe, desperately pushing for the next checkpoint, occasionally being battered down by particular hard nuts or just sheer numbers. It seems like ages before the game throws in its first forensic investigation, and even this is almost embarrassingly paint-by-numbers, as if Monolith no longer trusts the knuckle-dragging audience that embraced Condemned’s tramp-battering to put together any clues on their own. The game still has effective moments of creeping tension or seconds of brilliant shock value, but by the time you’ve reached the end of an escape from a crumbling hotel, Condemned 2 feels like its settling in for a long, repetitive grind.
And the more it goes on, the more you’re struck by the game’s absurdities. Why do Thomas’ old police chums trust an unwashed, broken, delusional alcoholic with vital missions, let alone a riot gun? Why is it so much work to navigate the various labyrinthine settings? When held feet away from your objective by some ridiculous barrier, why can’t you just barge that hotel trolley aside or enlarge the hole in the dilapidated wall with your current blunt instrument. The answer is, of course, that this would frustrate the game’s spectacularly linear level design – but that’s not an answer that we’re so happy to hear in this day and age.