Sega and Monolith bring first-person serial killer hunting fun back to consoles in Condemned 2: Bloodshot. Anti-hero cop Ethan Thomas is back on the streets—literally, he's pretty much a homeless drunk—and ready to punch out droves of insane bums, vagrants and derelicts. The star of Condemned: Criminal Origins returns filthier and boozier than before, this time as an overly grizzled ex-member of the Special Crimes Unit. He's on the hunt for another killer, one who has ties to his previous prey. Monolith looks to have paid close attention to the criticisms heaped upon the first Condemned, tightening up level design, adding online multiplayer and addressing the original's monotonous combat.
How successful were they? Very. Here's what we loved and hated.
* Improved melee combat: You may be controlling a drunk who couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn without a gut full of whiskey, but the hand-to-hand brawling is surprisingly stable. It may take some getting used to, but melee and the new chain attack combos can be very satisfying, in a bum killing sort of way. Condemned 2 keeps it fresh in the weapons department, with lead pipes, deer antlers, crossbows, assault rifles and exploding dolls a small sampling of your arsenal.
* Forensics is fun: Mostly logical puzzle solving blends in well with the game's atmosphere. Evidence gathering is challenging without being annoying, giving you a reason to play the game a second time, hoping for Gold ratings on all of your non-bum killing endeavors.
* Beard maps: Ethan's scraggly facial hair sets the bar for next-gen growth. In fact, the entire game looks pretty damn good, with good lighting, great effects and interesting environments. I found myself using my GPS receiver very rarely, as the levels have better visual cues than the first Condemned.
* Pacing: There's never a dull moment. Despite one very odd chase sequence, which forces some annoying trial and error, the game keeps you on your toes in an impressive way. Condemned 2's "emotional responses", essentially drunken snappy retorts, guarantee you'll never put the controller down. Optional sidequests give you something to do in the in-between times.
* Scary enough to keep the lights on: Some of the frights are cheap, but there are moments of horror brilliance in the first half of the game, the kind that made me restart the level so I could experience them again. Condemned 2 probably won't make you wet the couch, but sissy pants types need not apply.
* Can't see shit: Condemned 2 can be so dark at times you might have no idea what's attacking you or what you're looking at, leading to some desperately wild swinging. Maybe that's by design, but it's still a drag. The occasional frame rate sluggishness combined with overly excessive blur effects keep it from graphical heaven.
* Radio and TV transmissions: Trying to get reception via antennae is annoying enough in real life and the distraction of picking up newscasts doesn't add much value. Fortunately, you don't have to listen to them in their entirety to get the credit for these extra features.
* Deathmatch multiplayer: A superfluous punchfest that won't take up much of your Xbox Live time. Crime Scene gameplay is better than the deathmatch options, but you'll probably find more value in single-player.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is bloody good at what it sets out to do. It may not have the psychological horror chops of Silent Hill—it goes for some easy scares with its creepy clowns, animated dolls and constant gore—but it's certainly more fun to play than that series. PlayStation 3 gamers who never played the first Condemned may very well have no idea what the hell is going on, as Sega and Monolith don't expend much effort to get newbies up to speed, so arm yourself with a story guide if you're going in fresh.
It's not for the faint of heart and not for anyone looking to get their frag on with a set of brass knuckles, but Condemned 2: Bloodshot is a horror show of the good kind.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is developed by Monolith, published by Sega and released on March 11. Retailers for $US 59.99. Available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, reviewed on Xbox 360. Played single player campaign to completion, tested multiplayer modes.