On top of this, the atmosphere rarely hits the heights it did in the first game. A trip through a burning doll’s factory has its moments – particularly once the establishment’s nasty little denizens come crawling their way towards you – but is it a match for the mannequin-haunted department store of the original? Not on your Nelly. An exploration of a mysteriously deserted agency building also has its share of chills, with the game throwing in every blurred-vision, creepy static, weird stuff going on at the edge of view trick you’ve ever seen in a Japanese horror film. But then the effect of this is spoilt by a shockingly ham-fisted stretch of more conventional FPS gunplay. For every genuinely engaging puzzle or nice bit of criminal investigation, there’s a dumb boss battle, a tiresome gang brawl or a bit where you just can’t work out where you’re meant to be going or what you’re meant to be doing – partly because the game can be absurdly sensitive about where you have to stand to invoke a particular action (you can only crawl under or climb over objects at particular scripted points).
Does this stop Condemned 2 being a hugely potent nightmare experience from time to time? No, but like a lot of nightmares it doesn’t really hold up to close scrutiny. More seriously, you have to wonder after a while what the pleasure is in playing the game. Condemned 2 is so dark, so gruesome, so relentlessly violent, remorseless and lacking in any discernible humanity that it’s actually a pretty unpleasant experience for much of its running time. I won’t go all moral about it and say ‘ban this sick filth’. Tastes differ and if you enjoy bludgeoning hundreds of people to death in a variety of brutal ways then this may be the best title you’ll play all year. All the same, I can’t say it’s a game that leaves me feeling good. Maybe that’s the point, but if so then I’m not sure that the game has any other effects to compensate. Great works of horror can be exciting or cathartic. They can confront human fears or obsessions in really powerful and interesting ways. Unless you’re really, really concerned about urban breakdown and the hoodie menace, I’m not sure that any of the above can be said about Condemned 2.
It’s frustrating, because Condemned 2 is not a shoddy effort by any means. It even packs in an online mode this time, though I suspect the emphasis on melee combat means that it won’t be a keeper long term. Let’s not be too downbeat. In two games, Monolith has started to build a world and a mythos that – pushed in the right direction – could be a Western rival to Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Project Zero. What’s more, the team is getting elements like the melee combat system, the atmosphere, the visual style and the forensic stuff absolutely spot-on right. If it could just get the rest to fall into place, then a Condemned 3 could really be a stunner. Condemned 2, however, is another case of close, but no cigar.
Another superbly atmospheric chiller with moments of real inspiration turns into a disjointed, repetitive, maniac-battering slog. Fans of torture porn might enjoy the effective scares and imaginative violence, but Condemned 2 isn’t the game it might have been.