Monday, March 31, 2008

You may notice that the guy's eye is white as porcelain... So that's not the Bloodshot they're talking about...

I finished Condemned 2: Bloodshot over the weekend. It was late at night and I was alone in the dark. Of course I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Not only was Condemned 2 a damn good game but it was the perfect way to cap off this terribly long, bleak, and depressing winter. If I could complete this title with my sanity intact then I had hope I could get through March without descending into a Jack Nicholson-like episode straight out of The Shining.

Developed by fear aficionados Monolith and published by ye olde tyme Sega of America for both the PS3 and the X-Box 360, Bloodshot seems poised to up the ante on a modest original title that became a sleeper hit. I own and loved the first Condemned: Criminal Origins and have loaned it out twice to friends so that they may attempt to enjoy it. One returned it days later saying there was “no fucking way” they were going to complete it. My second victim wasn’t even able to manage speech in this regard; he just handed it back in, shook his head and literally sputtered something unintelligible.

The mood and atmosphere of Condemned is simple to explain if you’re not familiar with the series. Condemned is a video game attempt to capture the essence of films such as Silence of the Lambs or Seven. You play a detective in a Serial Crimes Unit and you are hunting mass murderers. You serve and protect in a fictitious city that has succumbed to all manor of urban blight and social decay. The crime scenes are all abandoned, derelict, and well… condemned. Within these ghettos and urban ruins psychosis, violence, and death have taken over. While solving crimes you go mad and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Parents you’ve been warned: Condemned is a relentless and unrepentantly violent hobo killing simulator. The weapons of choice are whatever you can find within the crumbling environments; boards with nails through them, plumbing pipes, axes, hammers, toilet seats, prosthetic arms, gumball machines - if it’s not already clear by now this is one grisly product. It is however gripping, anxiety-filled stuff.

Mixed in with the disturbing bum fights are crime scenes that your character must investigate with special tools a la C.S.I. As gruesome as the head bashing is, the collecting of evidence and solving of crimes is thoughtful, interesting, and a great break from the horrifying action. Of course the crime scenes are the leavings of serial killers and so if you’re put off by close-up photography of a severed head or passing a UV light over a maimed corpse then you will find this aspect of the game just as disturbing as the rest.

So if you didn’t know already this is what these games throw at you and they do a really good job of it too. The first Condemned was rather basic in its controls; we’re talking two buttons that you have to push at the right times for the most part. The difficulty lay not in mastering the controls but in mastering your fear and Condemned can play your emotions like a fiddle. In order to appeal to the experienced gamer the second Condemned title added some more variety and options to the player. The main character, presumably a rookie leg-breaker in the first game is now a force to be reckoned with in the back alley death-match circuit. You don’t just beat a hobo until he stops moving, oh no, that’s for rank amateurs! Now you dispatch them in style by ramming their heads into urinals or television screens. In this way the game becomes more of a martial art or arcade styled game but I don’t think it suffers any because of it. When a game moves from a niche into the mainstream it needs to expand on its premise and Condemned is doing a fair job in that regard.

The crime scene investigation aspects of the game were also expanded and in this they did a masterful job. Once you arrive at a scene your office will ask you a number of questions revolving around the particulars of the incident and you must treat it as a puzzle, unravelling what truly happened to create such a mess of blood and entrails. The game rates you and unlocks better police equipment that you can use throughout the game. The combination of swinging heavy implements and deductive reasoning gives this title some nice variety. It does a good job keeping you off balance and guessing at what comes next.

I liked the cultish conspiracy story that Condemned 2 told and I thought that some of the environments or levels were among the best I’ve ever played. The game had some minor bugs and glitches, things quality assurance and play testing should have caught, but certainly not enough to detract much from the overall effectiveness of the game. As well I hear the on-line extras they added are a waste of time but I don’t play these kinds of games to be communal at all; horror is an intensely singular experience.

So if you like the survival horror genre then I highly recommend this one, it is right now the scariest and goriest franchise out there. Other horror classics like Silent Hill and even Resident Evil couldn’t hold a candle to the scariness of the first and this new one just blows the old competition out of the water.

Here are a few other things I found floating around the Internet lately…

Barack Obama’s speech on the State of Racism in America

I’m putting this up here for posterity. I hope you’ve heard the story of Obama’s pastor preaching some inflammatory remarks and rather than simply disowning the reverend the presidential candidate explained how things came to be this way. We haven’t heard anyone speak like this since Trudeau, Kennedy, or Dr. King and that’s why it’s worth pointing out. His thoughts and experience on race is most honest and insightful. A lesser candidate would have simply thrown their old family friend under the bus but Obama sought to elevate the dialogue instead. This is well worth the read.

Frontline Double Documentary: Bush’s War

All told this is something like four hours of quality viewing. If you’re fine with watching the program in ten minute segments on a small screen then it’s all at the link ready to go. Otherwise try to find the full version on-line. P.B.S. has been creating great documentaries on the Bush Administration and its running of Operation Iraqi Freedom for years now and this one is the whole succinct package. The first two hours are amalgamations of numerous documentaries they’ve made on individual topics or people. The last half contains quite a bit of new material. So far it seems that this is the definitive version of events; of the run-up to war, its initial execution, and a play by play of what all went so terribly wrong. Again well worth one’s time.

A Manned Mission to Mars may have to be a one way trip…

I found this thought provoking and in line with topics I have touched upon in the past. This essay goes over how vastly more feasible it would be to engineer one-way trips to Mars. It’s the getting astronauts back which make the voyage prohibitive and so in the name of human exploration volunteers would be asked if they would be the first to colonize the far away planet. These people would probably not come back and would probably not even survive to their full span of human years. It is a hell of a thing to ask anyone.

The article rightly points out that this wouldn’t be the first time this kind of high risk exploration has been undertaken. There were no guarantees even when crossing weeks of ocean to hopefully reach one of the newly discovered continents and who knew what lay in store for the pioneers. The reality of space travel is so much more daunting than anything we’ve done before and this is what may be necessary to even start. It beggars the question of course: Would you go if asked?

I don’t believe in god but when looking at our solar system I always am always forced to re-evaluate my stance. It’s like the planets are a treasure trail laid out right where we need them. Each one has something we desperately need; water, metals, various combustible gases. If we made it to one it could re-supply us in order to get to the next. If we’re going to get them - and let’s be clear, we NEED them - the sacrifice is going to have to be monumental.

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