Condemned then. Chances are if you have a memory of the original Condemned: Criminal Origins it'll be a hazy thing consisting mainly of beating tramps to death with locker doors. You probably won't remember the story either, since towards the end of the game the plot collapsed like so much dunked digestive. The narrative never quite managed to make two more interesting characters than 'The Locker Door' and 'The Tramp's Face'.
But you should feel sorry for Condemned, if you can find it in that shrivelled, raisin-like heart of yours. Monolith only had 15 months to throw it together, not to mention no prior experience of developing on the 360, yet despite it all it was being ambitious. It wanted to make a first person brawler, something we'd only been able to glimpse in The Chronicles of Riddick the year before, and it wanted ithe action punctuated with CSI puzzling sections. Monolith imagined the whole thing wrapped up in an overly dark and real underworld with the most gritty and tactile combat in modern gaming, and wanted Criminal Origins to be the first game in a grand and in-depth series.
Put like that, maybe you'll be happy to hear it's taking another swing at it, intent on hitting all the targets the first game missed. And since hyperviolence was about the only target the first game got a bullseye on, the plan is to take that to the next level. This time around, as one of 40 environment kills, you'll be able to get a tramp in a choke hold, drag him over to a filthy toilet, drown him in the bowl and smash his head on the rim. Hooray!
"It's a toilet!" One of the lead developers at Monolith told us, with a wry smile. "When you do it, you'll laugh."
Is Monolith worried about getting banned after what happened to Rockstar? Not in the slightest.
"I know if you took down bullet points of what you saw in the game it'd sound horrible", the Monolith rep said. "But if you were to play it you'd see that there's nothing really mean-spirited about what we're doing, and there's almost a hint of humour about what we do. I don't think we have the same kind of worry as a game like Manhunt. That had that streak in it that was... almost pure evil.
"And we're being pro-active about this. Whatever we do we're running by the certification people. If a red flag comes up we're going to address it, we're not going to get to the end and have some big media blow-up."
So now we can all be snug in the knowledge that Condemned 2 is definitely coming, let's talk about what it's bringing.
Condemned 2 picks up a little after where Criminal Origins left off. In fierce Metro City, protagonist Ethan Thomas's life has fallen apart and he's gone from FBI Agent to tramp, which should please anyone who ever compared the original game to a bumfighting sim. You'll spend a little time enjoying the horrors (fights) of life on the street before you're re-hired by the FBI, who apparently have no qualms recruiting a seven foot tall bungalow of a homeless man with missing fingers and who reeks of whisky.
That's about all we know about the plot for the moment, but you can probably assume you get re-hired because the city's continuing its strange and horrible descent into chaos, and only you can hit junkies in the mouth hard enough to save the day.
What we can tell you about is the new CSI detective sections, which look great. Gone are the set pieces where you're told to use pieces of your gear in turn to solve the mystery. In Condemned 2 they're genuine puzzles, with you inspecting the crime scene with your own two eyes and having to answer a series of multiple choice questions about what you think went down.
In the example we saw, Ethan spent a while trying to identify the victim through his face and notable features (the victim's, not Ethan's. He's not that good), before finding the victim's police badge and using the serial number to speed up the process. The cause of death was correctly identified as a gunshot exit wound, which players would be expected to figure out just by getting up close and looking. Then Ethan was asked if the victim had been moved, to which he almost answered no before using his UV torch and finding a trail of blood, showing the body had been dragged onto the floor from a couch.
There's no tedious trial and error involved, either. You get one shot at most of the questions, and this adds a nice feeling of tension to the proceedings. The unfortunate flip side of that is that the process becomes slightlyunforgiving of stupid mistakes, so you'll probably want to check for, say, breasts before you call in the body as a late 20s male.
As fun as this all sounds though, it'll remain a cute break from the brutal fight for survival you'll be enjoying. On that front things are a little more familiar, with impossibly loud and smoky (and sparse) guns, dim lighting, satisfying sound effects and a joyous sense of weight. Our pet Monolith developer had this to say on the subject:
"I am not knocking Bioshock, because Bioshock for me is way up there. But when I'm hitting a guy with a pipe, I want to see that guy spin around and spit teeth."
Quite so. But you'll be doing more than just hitting guys with pipes (and planks, and spades, and bricks, and baseball bats, and and and). Now the combat system includes the new environment kills I mentioned before, which can be brought in once you've got someone restrained using the new holds available. On top of this you've now got shoves, elbows and kicks, and it all comes together to create a thing of beauty. When the dev playing managed to do well in the scraps we saw, Ethan was like a monstrous force of nature, shoving unarmed psychos to one side so he could kick their buddy in the stomach, then picking their makeshift weapon off the floor and alternating his swings between the two of them. Mr. Monolith had something to say about that, too.
"We took it to the level where you start feeling an emotional response. When you get hit, you wince. When you hit someone, it's like 'Oh my God I'm an animal.' "
So, yes. Condemned 2 is coming, as well as a Condemned movie, so here's hoping that given the development time it needs this is a series that can work. No One Lives Forever proved that Monolith has the capacity to realise its great ideas. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine Condemned 2 ending up very solid indeed.