Condemned 2: Bloodshot
As haunted houses go, Condemned 2: Bloodshot knows all the tricks—especially the cheap ones. The urban setting of Condemned 2, which is trapped in a "permanent state of Halloween," has the most lovingly wrecked bathrooms this side of BioShock. And there are visual effects to spare, from hallucinatory visions to enemies that spring out of nowhere, or vanish in the blink of an eye. More than once, you'll literally be scared of your own shadow.
But Condemned 2 is far more of an action game than a terrifying thriller. You play Ethan Thomas, a cop-turned-dead-drunk bum who actually has to keep drinking to keep his aim steady—although why use a gun when you could swing a deer antler, a foosball rod, or an exploding doll? These kinds of clever ideas make Condemned 2 better at quick jolts than deep dread. The story is simple and silly, with sloppy explanations for its supernatural and hallucinatory phenomena, and several sections that serve no purpose except to give you more chances to run around in the dark. It's no coincidence that the best level, which takes place in an old hunting lodge, has the least mumbo-jumbo. Better writing would have given all those creepy lighting effects a purpose, and easy fights and generous save points take all the fear out of dying.
Beyond the game: Condemned 2 carries on the first game's tradition of letting you beat the crap out of homeless people, although a few of them know how to fight back—like the drunk guy at a museum who's stumbling around in a full suit of knight's armor.
Worth playing for: Every time you find a crime scene, you actually have to work out the evidence for yourself: Report the wrong facts or misinterpret a clue, and you'll be penalized for not paying attention.
Frustration sets in when: The maps are littered with annoying little glitches or hard-to-spot barriers, like stray chairs that block your passage, or 12-inch boxes that a grown man somehow can't step over.
Final judgment: A series of amazing shocks that are never quite worthy of suspension of disbelief.