Any game featuring a struggling alcoholic beating tramps to death with prosthetic legs in a crack house was never going to be a barrel of laughs, but we were genuinely shocked by the uncompromising bleakness of Condemned 2. If you like your games dark, gloomy and guaranteed to depress, then, boy, are you in for a treat.
You play as Ethan Thomas, a former FBI forensics expert forced into a life of tortured alcoholism after poking through one too many crime scenes. Crash Bandicoot he ain’t, and he’s hard to like or empathize with - especially when he’s murdering innocent bystanders in pubs because he thinks they’re monsters.
The game takes place in Metro City, a festering dungeon of sunless despair inhabited solely by drunks, tramps, junkies and murderers. You’ve been dragged out of the gutter by the police and forced to work on another case, which means reliving the hell that sent you mental in the first place. The game is one part FPS, one part beat-‘em-up and one part puzzle game, blending crime scene investigation with punchy - and horrifying - violence.
The fighting is brilliant. You can feel every horrible impact, from the dull thud of Ethan’s knuckles to the cold, wet clang of a steel pipe, and you’ll find yourself wincing with every swipe. Each of Ethan’s fists is controlled with a separate button, and you can mix and match to perform combos. If you have a weapon equipped, either button swings it, and if you have a gun one is for aiming and the other is for shooting. It’s incredibly simple, and unnervingly intuitive.
There are also context sensitive environmental attacks to indulge in. Beat someone up enough and they’ll fall to their knees, letting you drag them to certain parts of the level and, for example, slam their head against a toilet, sending bits of skull and brain flying absolutely everywhere. The character animation and physics give the game a real sense of weight and each battle feels sharp and visceral. How did this manage to get past the censors when Manhunt 2 didn’t? It’s an odd world.