Plenty of blood and brutality in ‘Condemned 2’

This murder mystery game demands a strong stomach

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What defines “horror” — monsters surprising people by jumping out of shadows and closets, or blood and guts with generous amounts of graphic violence? Games like “Condemned 2: Bloodshot” understand the most effective form of horror is a combination of the two. Yet it doesn’t forget the true purpose of a video game: to entertain.

That a video game can even claim to be legitimately scary deserves merit. Technology has advanced to a point that makes realistic shadows and lighting possible, allowing Monolith’s sadistic visions for the game to come to fruition. It offers just as much, if not more, visual gruesomeness and otherworldly paranoia as any “Saw” or “Ring” film.

Things aren’t as nerve-wracking as they sound, though. Players will fight back against the horrors as Ethan Thomas, a former forensics expert turned homeless alcoholic who finds himself helping out the SCU informally to solve a murder mystery. Unsurprisingly, things are not as simple as they appear. And I’ll leave it at that, to avoid spoiling the experience.

Most of the gameplay in “Bloodshot” consists of beating up other things with fists and blunt objects in first person. Enemies retaliate faster than Ethan can throw a second attack, so blocking and parrying are crucial skills for survival, with thankfully generous timing windows for both techniques. The bludgeoning is satisfying enough that the general creepiness and horror won’t discourage players from coming back for more.

Ethan gets a gun every now and then, but the multitude of melee weapons steals the show. Their sheer variety provides plenty of brutal satisfaction, and they’re lying all over the place. Lead pipes, rebar, two-by-fours with nails, fire axes, electric conduits, bricks, bowling balls, bedposts, paper cutters, baseball bats ... just to name a few. A museum full of medieval weaponry? Hell yes.

Controlling Ethan can be somewhat troublesome, unfortunately. He can run, but not backwards, making it difficult to get out of an enemy’s way before he strikes. The aiming sensitivity and turning speed also take some getting used to.

Forensics tools (camera, UV light, etc.) were a minor consequence to the gameplay of the original “Condemned,” but the sequel requires more critical thinking on the part of the player. Other characters will, at some points, ask you to describe your surroundings or recall past events to the best of your ability. Characters’ names, story details and visual clues are all fair game. By the end, you’ll probably wish the game had told you, “Pay attention — there’s a quiz on this later.”

The core experience is enthralling, but for some reason, Monolith thought placing optional collectible items to destroy around the levels would be a good idea. The feeling of “I need to survive this hellish nightmare and get the hell out of here,” contradicts the feeling “I better take a few minutes to find that hidden item first,” yet the game encourages both.

“Bloodshot” offers online multiplayer modes, but the game’s up-close melee nature makes the standard death match affairs fairly pointless and boring. “Crime Scene,” on the other hand, is raucous and sadistic fun — a dangerous game of hide-and-go-seek where the shadows are dark enough to conceal other players, making cold, calculating surprise attacks the name of the game. A surprisingly worthwhile addition overall.

“Condemned 2: Bloodshot” earns its M rating with flying colors; it’s a true test of intestinal fortitude, though not in its difficulty but in its explicit gore and brutality.

Those with the necessary stomachs and desensitization toward violence will find “Bloodshot” an excellent and rewarding experience from start to finish.

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