Condemned: Criminal Origins rolled onto the scene for the Xbox 360 launch as one of the initial titles available in 2005. It was published by Monolith, who also released F.E.A.R. a year after Condemned’s release. For me this was an intriguing game because it was a first-person psychological horror game with a dash of CSI aspects thrown in there. The main emphasis for this game was on melee-based combat, puzzle-solving and searching for clues/evidence.
You’ll be playing as FBI Agent Ethan Thomas who has been assigned to a case of increasingly frequent serial murders in the fictional city of Metro. The game starts out by arriving to the newest crime scene of a serial murderer named the “Match Maker”, who is named for the way he positions the victims with oddly disfigured mannequins. During the investigation of the crime scene, it turns out that you and the police aren’t the only ones still at the scene of the crime. In pursuit of the suspect, Ethan soon ends up separated from the rest of the group and is ambushed at the potential suspect. You are caught off guard, stripped of your gun and end up in some serious crimes. Ethan is then left on the wrong side of the law and sets out to clear his name with the help of chief lab tech Lt. Rosa who is there to help and analyze what he finds in hopes to figure out who framed him and the reasoning on why they did it. By the time you reach the end of the game you will have tracked the mystery man through the sites of his criminal origins and in the process wondering how your sanity is holding up when you stumble across something much bigger.
Condemned is played in the first-person perspective, but while there are some guns in the game it is quite far from being considered a first-person shooter. You rely more on improvised weapons that are just about everywhere in the environment. You can use anything from metal pipes, two-by-fours to even sledgehammers and fire axes, there are even some creepy weapons such as mannequin arms. Each weapon has its positives and negatives with differences in speed, range and power, but the difference is negligible so it’s really up to you which one you prefer to use. You’re only allowed to carry one weapon at a time and the more you use that weapon the more damage it takes, leaving you to soon be forced on finding a new weapon.
Blocking is something that takes some getting used to as you need to find the perfect timing. Block too early or too late and you end up getting hit and taking some damage. The downside to performing the block maneuver is that it wears down your weapon faster, so you’ll end up having to look for new weapon sooner. Timing in general is something to get down when it comes to attacking your enemies. A quick kick can stun them for a second giving you an advantage to make your move. Time it wrong though and you’ll take quite a bit of damage as a penalty. You’re even dealt some “finishing” moves to perform. If you bring an enemy down to their knees, you can choose which move to perform by using the D-pad. The last thing you’re equipped with is a stun-gun/taser that is quite effective to take down enemies with a possible one hit, or buy you some time to deal the final blow. During my playthrough of the game I rarely took advantage of blocking, but used my taser rather often with good success. Despite a game that has a lot of emphasis on melee combat, there isn’t much depth to the fighting but what combat you encounter, it is surprisingly satisfying.
A neat aspect to this game that I liked the most, even if you don’t get a lot of freedom, is the parts where you get to collect forensic evidence to further along the story. At certain points in the game you’ll come across areas and crime scenes where you’ll have to gather up evidence. The game helps you out a little by giving you an on-screen cue when the time to pull out your forensic tool and get to searching. The game will automatically pick the correct tool needed for the situation, so there’s no guess-work for you. What would have made things a little more interesting and engaging is for the game to let you decide what tool you needed for the scenario and what evidence to gather, but having the game decide does help move things along.
While I’m sure when Condemned was first released the graphics looked great, they don’t hold up too well by today’s standards. The game looks dirty and filthy, but I have a feeling that’s intentional because of the environments you’re in. The character models are rather blocky and jagged at times. The variety in settings is actually rather good though. You’ll find yourself roaming around a creepy apple farm, an even scarier department store with mannequins and a run-down subway station with underground tunnels. Condemned uses the same game engine as F.E.A.R, another Monolith game, and looks decent for a game released seven years ago, but nothing to write home about. The various lighting in the game does look great though. The dark areas in the game can also add to the creepy factor and suspense. One thing that stood out and is kind of random was the color of the main character’s nails during scenes where the phone or a forensic tool was being used. They weren’t a natural skin tone, but more of a dark brown and I found it quite odd every time I saw it.
The sound in this game is probably what stands out the most. You’ll want to be sure you have surround sound when playing this game to hear all the little noises that you possibly can from the 5.1 mix. There is little to no music in the game but does do it’s job of setting the mood to the game. There are also plenty of sound effects and dialogue where no sound effect is too small to hear. Anything from a rat rummaging in the trash to a crazy person running to attack you. The low point of the sound would have to be the voice acting, while not terrible it isn’t the greatest either. Overall though it is a great sounding game that needs to be played with the volume turned up.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a well-rounded launch title for the 360, and is what I consider to be an underrated game that was over-shadowed by other games. With a different angle to a psychological horror game it is a game that should be given a chance by everyone, especially if you are a horror fan like myself. It isn’t too long of a completion so it’s not a daunting task to undertake. While not the best game I’ve played, it was entertaining enough with its twist of adding forensics into a game.
- Creepy atmosphere with good tension building
- Interesting story
- Graphics are choppy and bad character animations
- Melee combat can be clunky