Review by xenodolf
"I haven't savagely killed so many homeless people since playing 1988's NARC."
Similar to Breakdown and to a lesser extent, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Condemned: Criminal Origins incorporates beat 'em up game-play into a first-person perspective with gun-play shifted to a secondary emphasis. The element of survival horror (instead of Sci-Fi like the aforementioned games) is the running theme - with the protagonist facing off against numerous enemies in mostly dark environments, usually armed with a short-ranged weapon instead of being accessible to a stockpile of firearms and the like. Since the game is primarily focused on a one-versus-many melee attack scheme - I will take the liberty of reviewing it as a modern brawler.
The story starts off rather cliche - featuring a detective assigned to a crime scene left a serial killer known as "The Match Maker". Without spoiling anything - the detective finds himself isolated from his professional colleagues and alone in his hunt to track down this killer. I became more interested in the story about half-way through the game when it took a turn for a more creative approach. However, when the final battle has finished and the credits roll after the last scene - very little has been explained. There are some un-lockable reports that try and detail what exactly happened, but the plot is vague and I'm hoping that the sequel will improve on this area.
For the most part, the visuals are great looking for a 360 launch title - and still look impressive two years after its release. There is a nice array of enemy designs, with ragged, filth-caked clothes and some models having facial builds that break away when damaged. The environments are desolate, often derelict buildings permeating in poverty and neglect. Some of the other reviewers thought the settings looked too similar, but I disagree. I think (with the exception of the final level) all the stages felt realistic and didn't come off as a bunch of rooms simply strung together. The character models of the protagonists and his associates weren't as good - especially when their faces were zoomed in upon during cut-scenes. They, along with a couple of objects in various levels - had kind of low-res bumpy look to them that came off as gritty rather than flesh or wood. Lastly, some of the minor details like shadows and plumes of blood came off a bit jagged. Overall the graphics were good, but seem carried with them the flaws common-place in the previous generation of gaming.
There isn't much noticeable music in Condemned, aside from the warped repeating record that droned on in Bart's department store and the occasional dramatic notes that creeps in while you explored. The sound effects were pretty good, and there was even some Silent Hill-quality ambient noise in some of the later levels. You'll be put on edge by the sounds of rustling, creaking floors, and whatnot - waiting to see if some hobo with a pipe is lurking in the shadows. The voice-acting isn't as good as the other portions of this area, the protagonist and main villain not as convincing as they could be.
There were a couple of times I felt bogged down while trying to fend off an enemy's attacks, and once or twice I was caught on a piece of debris or in a narrow passage. Other than that the controls were top notch and lacked any kind lag and had no delay in command input.
Imagine a first person shooter where guns were dispersed at uncommon intervals and the majority of the combat focused on battles short ranged weaponry like pipes, axes, and fire extinguishers. The limited firearms become even more precious when you're unable to reload them - and must either discard the empty guns or wield them as blunt objects. There is no inventory system, so any new weapons you find will replace the current one - which is tosses onto the floor. Be wary that anything you leave behind is fair game for the enemy to equip himself with as well. The A.I. is very impressive - acting in a realistic manner of hunting for objects to harm you with instead of simply materializing with something already in his hand (most of the time at least). This can lead to you ambushing them as they try to pull something off the wall, or as I mentioned before - result in you getting shot by the same gun you discarded earlier. In a throw-back to Doom, if you can manage to get one enemy to accidentally injure another - they will attack each other in retaliation until one dies. The player must navigate run-down locations, searching for clues to lead him to a serial killer by scanning blood and bodies with portable crime scene tools. While it was interesting to view the forensic findings in a CSI meets Se7en manner - trying to track down blood trails and searching for small "hot spots" sometimes got on my nerves. The entertaining bum-bashing is also interrupted by cut-scenes and radio transmission that you cannot skip - meaning that on repeat plays I'll have to plan my bathrooms breaks while the protagonist and his lab assistant ramble about stuff I've already heard. Despite my couple of complaints, Condemned remains of a solid game that helps further expand the survival-horror genre to the first person perspective while catering to my beat 'em up needs.
Replay value 4/10
There are two possible endings for Condemned, although they only differ in about 3 seconds of footage. The 360 achievement goals will have you playing through the game a second time (which won't be as fun now that you know what enemies appear when). Still, you can breeze through the game once or twice more without it becoming a major chore for the most part.
Condemned serves as one of the better launch titles that have come to be in the past decade - and is already expecting an upcoming sequel. I hope the issues I took with Criminal Origins are corrected while the brutal brawling mechanics are improved or at least resemble this game's. Is Condemned worth a purchase? I'd say yes - although you will probably have completed everything within a week, tops. As of writing this review it sells for less than $20 at most retailers, so you purchase it now or wait for it to drop a couple more bucks. Even if you don't want to buy it, I believe the game warrants at least a weekend rental.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/28/07
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