Monday, July 13, 2009

Beaten : Condemned 2 : Bloodshot

It's taken me a few weeks after encountering the Condemned 2 Lost Saves Bug to get back to the game, taking every precaution to avoid a recurrence, but now that I have I can say I'm glad I did.

Condemned 2 : Bloodshot is a true sequel, taking place some time after the first game, with the main character now a smelly drunk. He again gets pulled into the city's worst neighborhoods for a creepy adventure that, thankfully, explains some of the unsolved mysteries of the first game while taking the story into a whole new direction.

When I say a whole new direction, I mean it. The story that unfolds is fantastic, with characters that come and go and motives that are revealed over the course of the game. As with the first Condemned game, the adventure takes the player through some unique and varied levels, such as an abandoned doll factory and a derelict bowling alley.

There's even a cool revisit to a part of a level from the first game, which might sound like a lazy design decision at first, but instead makes sense in terms of story, as well as earning a lot of points for having the corpse of an enemy boss from the first game lying right where you left it.

The melee combat that made the first title a refreshing landmark is expanded on greatly in the sequel, with all sorts of combo attacks added, as well as quicktime event kills and environmental kills to keep things interesting. There are more guns on some of the levels, so much so that the player can complete the level fully armed.

Sadly, but probably smartly, the taser got nerfed. It has limited charges in Condemned 2, so batteries must be found much like ammo. And when aiming anything, it's a good idea to be a little drunk. That's right, not since The Bard's Tale games has the player actually needed to keep drinking to play more effectively.

The investigative stuff is back, this time with four selectable items : A GPS, a spectrometer (it picks up sounds and smells), a UV light, and a digital camera. All of them are used in creative ways to get through the game, and the player is scored on their investigative prowess. Investigations really add a lot to Condemned games, but with both of them I was left wanting more.

The game's autosave system works well enough, but sometimes has rough checkpoints that put the player strangely far back from a critical point. Another complaint is the lack of a target reticule for throwing items. There are times in the game where an item must be thrown very precisely, and only the flashlight can provide any guidance on where to aim - and it sucks for that.

I dub Condemned 2 : Bloodshot as "The Game That Doesn't Want You To See", as the player is often in areas that are so dark that the flashlight doesn't help, or subject to sonic waves that distort everything, or forced to wear a scratched-up, vision-impairing oxygen mask. It's just silly sometimes, but I suppose it all makes sense.

Another minor complaint is that the character of Rosa has changed from a chunky, motherly, African-American woman in her thirties to a skinny African-American woman in her twenties. None of this is explained.

Minor complaints (and the major one) aside, Condemned 2 : Bloodshot is a great sequel that certainly expands on the combat, the characters, and the story started in the first one. The ending sets up for one hell of a sequel, too, and I certainly hope that there is one in the works. The two titles of the Condemned series make up this gaming generation's premiere horror experience, and there's certainly potential for it to become a trilogy that will be talked about for years.

Beaten : The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion

Well, it wasn't King's Field, but it was still an epic, well-crafted gaming experience. Back in April I took the plunge and picked up The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion : Game Of The Year Edition for my XBox 360, and a few days ago, I finished it - for now.

When I first bought it, I only played through the tutorial, and then set it aside to play some other games I had received for my birthday. I knew that Oblivion would have a steep learning curve as well as bucketloads of content, so I put it off until about a month ago, only stopping for a week to play Ghostbusters.

Oblivion has a vast land full of cities, people, and points of interest, all meticulously engineered to create a richly complex virtual world. People come and go about their daily business and the player does, too. None of this is particularly new in adventure games, but the depth and detail in Oblivion really set it apart. It is without a doubt the premiere fantasy RPG of this generation.

There are quests just pouring out everywhere you go. In addition to the main storyline involving an invasion by the nightmare realm of Oblivion and its denizens, I quested through the Fighter's Guild, Mages Guild, Arena, Thieves Guild, and Assassin's Guild storylines, each almost big enough to have made their own game. You get missions with each of these, and as you progress an over-arching storyline emerges. The Thieves Guild was my favorite of these, with a great twist-ending.

There's so much to do beside these quests, and even though I beat the game, there are many more of these standalone tasks I've left unfinished. In addition, the Game of the Year edition I purchased comes with both expansions, which I'm sure offer even more hours of gameplay. I finished all the main game and guild questlines in around 70 plus hours of play.

The player can go about all of this either in first-person (like the above-mentioned King's Field), or third person, and the combat is in real-time, with swords swinging and spells flying. The inventory, map, and other screens are a complex set of interfaces that take some time to master, but it's not overly clunky or cantankerous.

The game advises players to save frequently, and I couldn't agree more. Make multiple saves, too - don't just allow the game's autosave mechanism to write over the same ones, as the game's hyper-complexity can create situations where you wish you had a earlier save available.

For example, I took on one of the side quests early in the game, which sent me to a tomb full of vampires. In this game world you can become a vampire by just swordfighting with one, and I contracted vampirism. A few days later, sure enough, my life became a nightmare, with people running away from me and a serious aversion to sunlight making my normal questing and travelling a living hell. I found out that there was a cure, but I was required to gather so many items that I found it insanely hard. I choose to go back to a save before taking on that original quest, losing about two days worth of play. I really didn't want to play as a vampire.

The game had some challenging parts and some easy parts, all of that determined by what skills and items I had, as the creatures you fight are generally scaled to your own level. The ending was epic, if brief, and the game goes on, with so much more to do and see, that it's almost like an MMO.

I'll be returning to land of Cyrodiil for more adventures at some point, but after nearly a month in that land, I need a break. The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion is a massive masterpiece, complex but fun, rich and full of detail. My only disappointment is that it wasn't a King's Field game, but then again, only From Software can make a King's Field game, and they're not doing that anymore.