Condemned 2: Boodshot
Genuinely disturbing horror videogames are something of a rare breed. Sure, it's relatively easy to create a cheap surprise effect that makes you jump in your seat, or craft a certain level of disgust with a barrage of unsettling imagery. However, in terms of generating - and sustaining - a genuine level of unease and even fear, few games get close to what Monolith has achieved with its brace of Condemned titles.
The key to the success of Condemned 2 is that it plunges you into the depths of an unsafe environment and then proceeds to batter your senses with a range of hugely unpleasant experiences - a bit like joining a Doctor Who discussion forum. Although firearms are included in sections of the game, the majority of the combat in Condemned 2 is uncompromisingly brutal hand-to-hand stuff. Blows from your opponents hit home with an unprecedented feeling of impact, accompanied by a vicious ferocity that means you never quite know just how badly you're hurt. More than that, exploding slime-ghouls apart, you're never fully aware of how much health your opponents have left and for how long the violence is going to continue. You find yourself kicking a downed opponent about just to make sure he's dead. It's all very cool actually; certainly the purest form of survival horror I've played to date.
Key to the game's eerie effectiveness is the use of Monolith's proprietary 3D engine, Jupiter EX. Dark, fetid, rotting and filthy, the graphics do a great job of dragging you down into the mire, increasing the psychological pressure still further. Furthermore, the use of a rarely seen engine also means that the game has a look and feel all of its own - a refreshing change after the deluge of Unreal Engine 3-powered releases that have appeared recently.
Bearing in mind the PC and Xbox 360 origins of Jupiter EX, the question is, just how well does the game translate to PlayStation 3? The answer is, surprisingly well. First off, any difference in the colour levels of the two machines (something very important in Condemned 2) is basically taken care off by getting the user to calibrate their monitor the first time the game is started. It's something of an essential exercise as default settings on 360 are impenetrably dark over HDMI with full-range RGB. Once into the game proper, performance is very similar indeed. As is increasingly becoming the norm with many cross-platform projects, there's a puzzling lack of anti-aliasing in the PlayStation 3 game, and the frame-rate is a touch less consistent, but for the most part, everything runs nice and smoothly regardless of which platform you're playing. Special effects are used very well and extremely judiciously, and it's one of the few games where motion blur isn't overdone, feeling far more natural and realistic compared to, say, the equivalent Unreal Engine 3 effect.
The only other issue gamers appear to have been having with the PS3 game is some kind of audio distortion when playing over HDMI, taking the form of a weird clicking or a split-second of white noise. There are also drop-outs over Toslink optical audio, none of which is a problem for Xbox 360 owners. It was barely noticeable for me (but a quick Google shows that many appear to be experiencing bigger problems) but the fact that the game's been out for a while now with still no sign of a patch really isn't good news, nor shows Monolith or SEGA in a particularly good light.
Of more importance, there's not a huge amount of game to enjoy here, and the online options aren't really worth bothering with at all, but despite this, there's something very special about Condemned 2. In putting these features together, I'm astounded at the sheer volume of FPS titles being pumped out, and quite dismayed about the lack of creativity in the genre. Outside of the AAA quality range, we're swiftly approaching the point where after you've played one, you've basically played them all. Despite its sequel status, Condemned 2 is an object lesson in creating something that feels fresh and worthwhile and as such, is well worth a look.