Review by KeynoteImpaler
"Condemned: It's kinda like CSI meets Silent Hill with an Elder Scrolls-esque combat system and it's damn good!"
As far as survival horror meets first-person shooters go, Condemned: Criminal origins is a fun, engaging, and at times terrifying romp through the dark side of humanity. For purposes of simplicity I have divided my review into the usual list of categories.
Story - A book that is missing a few pages...
In Condemned: Criminal Origins, you play FBI Serial Crimes Unit investigator Ethan Thomas, a detective who investigates serial killers and, without giving too much away story-wise, you may just have met your match.
The story itself is well written, although at times a little sparse in the details department. It does compel you to keep pressing forward though. Thankfully, the loading screens reveal further details of the story and, if you are good at finding them, collecting the metal pieces found in the game will net you more information in the form of classified black documents.
Otherwise the story, which gives glimpses into the minds of those who kill for the sake of killing, is a refreshing turn from the casual virus-infected monster storyline's of past survival horror generations. You won't find zombies here, but instead people who have been driven to the murderous madness that their fragile minds were just barely keeping restrained.
Gameplay and Controls - The meat of Criminal Origins...
For the most part, this is a first person shooter style game with a twist or two to keep things interesting. Throughout much of the game you will have to fight complex and balanced AI that knows more than just the usual run up and hit you routine. If you just run around like an idiot you will be ambushed and likely killed. Your arsenal of weapons is varied but it isn't what you would expect.
There are a few street-grade firearms, but they are few and far between much of the time and to make matters worse, the ammo within each weapon is all that you get. No reloading after you empty the clip of your 9mm, it is effectively useless except for pistol whipping your enemies. For the times that you do have a gun though, they are simple to use and control well.
Thankfully there are an array of melee weapons to be wrenched and pried from the walls and hands of your opponents. For most of the game you will be beating the hell out of enemies with pieces of 2x4, pipe, electrical conduits, and locker doors to name a few. Each weapon behaves differently and has unique stats. Combat with these weapons is well executed and forces you to keep constantly on your toes, dodging and blocking, rather than just standing there pounding the attack button mindlessly.
Furthermore, you can only carry one weapon at a time. And you thought two weapons in Halo was limiting... This further increases tension as there are times when you must carry a certain weapon to be able to open a specific pathway, so learning how to use whatever you have well is key to staying alive.
You also have a taser that can stun your enemies, rarely killing them, and you can even disarm a stunned enemy giving you a quick advantage. This can be abused somewhat but, it is limited to being used once every few seconds by a rechargeable battery. There is also a kick that you can perform by pressing the right stick and four unique executions that you can use when an enemy falls to their knees. These are brutal, but can get a little old after awhile. Overall, the combat is frantic and smartly executed and the AI is fierce and intelligent. One thing I would have liked would have been to have more access to hand-to-hand combat.
Finally, the most unique gameplay aspect of Condemned is the forensic investigations. Throughout each level you'll use a few neat gadgets to gather DNA, take crime scene photos, and even use UV lights to find blood spatter as well as a gas spectrometer to find methane exuding corpses. These moments, although brief, are nicely thought out and well done. They add a unique flair to the usual survival horror formula.
Sound - Scaaarrreeeyyy...
The music in Condemned is well done and fits the mood well. The music in the abandoned department store in particular, is chilling and memorable. The music is subtle and adds to the ambience. The other sounds, footsteps and creaking noises, scraping sounds, etc. do a good job at making you wary. Guns sound good and melee weapons thunk nicely in combat.
The voice acting is well done for the main characters, but if they sound familiar it is probably because they also double as voices for other characters and thugs as well. Other than the limited cast, the acting is well done with few exceptions.
Graphics - That looks gross...
While the game is a few years old and some of the graphics are a bit dated compared to the advances of newer titles, I was impressed. Everything in the environment looks gritty and realistic. The characters look more human than than the usual "hey don't I Look heroic?" characters in many games today. They aren't pretty, they're just people. The enemies have ten to fifteen or so different models so they don't get too boring.
The lighting is well done, and is intended to give that dim feeling rather than a freak out because you're in the dark feel. The lighting for the forensic tools is cool, and looking over what was moments ago a clean white wall with UV light and finding a huge spatter of blood makes the game that much more engaging.
Re-playability- To re-play or not to re-play?
Without a guide it is unlikely that you will find all of the items and achievements in one go so there is some motivation to replay for achievements and to fill in some missing pieces of information in the game. The scares won't be as exciting, but the combat is still a lot of fun. There are two ways to end the game as well, but they don't change enough to necessarily warrant two play-throughs though.
Fright Factor - Is it scary?
Most of the enemies are just slightly deranged looking humans, so they aren't usually scary, but there are a few jump scares since you never know when someone might jump out and ambush you. The story is frightening at times but probably won't give you nightmares if you've ever watched a documentary on serial-murderers before. The real scares come from the sounds, occasional visions or hallucinations, the limited amount of weapons you can carry and deciding whether to take a weapon you want, or one that you don't want your foes to pick up.
Personally, having played a few survival horror franchises in my time, this games scares are above average.
Overall - The final verdict
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a refreshing dip into horrifying waters. The combat system is satisfying, the sounds and graphics add to the game without taking first place from enjoyability, and it is a quick scare that can be completed in six to ten hours. You won't be bored, so pick up this great game before you enjoy the sequel.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/24/08
Game Release: Condemned: Criminal Origins (US, 11/16/05)
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