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 empathise with - especially when he's murdering innocent bystanders in pubs because he thinks they're monsters.
City of the damned
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. It's the best first-person melee combat we've seen since Chronicles Of Riddick on Xbox. 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 o and u, 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 o is for aiming and u 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 BBFC when Manhunt 2 didn't? It's an odd world.
Shame about the shooting. The aiming's dodgy and guns only have limited ammo. You can steady Ethan's hands by drinking booze to calm him down, but we still prefer the harsh thump of a baseball bat to the game's range of shotguns and pistols. Headshots, however, are awesome - aim it right and your enemy's head will pop open like a balloon full of mince and chopped tomatoes. Eugh. Luckily, there's more melee combat than there is shooting.
A crime a dozen
But when you're not piling a crystal meth addict's face into a television set, you're scouring Metro City for clues using your forensics skills. When you enter 'crime scene' mode you can use the o button to focus in on pieces of evidence and then report back to the police about what you think it means. The more accurate you are, the better your investigation score. So if you look at a bullet hole, you have to gauge whether it was an entry or exit wound and what type of weapon was used. The amount of detail in the crime scenes is incredible, and it feels like an interactive version of Kevin Spacey's serial killer movie Seven. You can also use tools like a UV light to reveal hidden clues and blood spatters. It's really quite ace.
You will have noticed that this is Condemned 2. What happened to Condemned 1? Well, it was only ever released on Xbox 360, which makes following the story of the sequel somewhat difficult if you've never played the original. The scripting and cut-scenes are incredibly vague and you'll be constantly baffled. "Why is the city covered in sticky black muck?" you'll muse to yourself. "What are those monsters made of oil?" "Who the Hell am I?"