Review by Leper_Lord

"The first horror game of the Next Generation... and it is damn good."

Review: Condemned Criminal Origins

Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of the first titles to hit Microsoft's next generation console, and while the game is a very good experience for the horror and mystery aficionado, small details and aspects of the game prevent it from obtaining a perfect score.

Condemned places you in the shoes of Ethan Thomas, a skilled FBI agent assigned to the Serial Crimes Unit, a field of work where he has shown his true talents as an exceptional detective and criminologist, forging an impressive list of solved cases and, inevitably, drawing unwanted attention. As of recently, however, there has been a rise in petty acts and violent crime through the city, specially in the rundown areas where the police rarely drive to... there are talks about something in the air or water, -or maybe a drug-, that might be responsible for this wave of animalistic violence that is consuming the minds and bodies of bums, vagrants and other derelicts of society, but nothing is certain. To make matters even worse there is a serial killer on the loose, known simply as “The Match Maker”, who likes to kidnap women and set their mutilated corpses into bizarre artistic compositions. As Thomas, you are given the task to track down and stop this serial killer before he continues terrorizing the city, however things will start to become stranger as you follow the steps of this deranged monster.

The gameplay is presented in a traditional First Person Shooter interface, with the exception that this game emphasizes melee combat over gun combat. This is an approach that has been tried in a few other games lately, with 2004's “Breakdown” as the first successful example and it works wonders with Condemned. The world is surrounded with plenty of weapons to choose from, ranging from logical object-weapons like sledgehammers, axes and crowbars to unorthodox object-weapons like desk tops, drawers, and even dismantled paper cutters, amongst others. Because of the nature of combat, you are limited to carry just one weapon at a time, although you can always take a new one as you go or even take it off the hands of the very people who are attacking you. Since the game world is literally made of weapons there will always be something to get your hands into, but don't think that this will be enough to stand your ground... combat in Condemned has to be timed and well thought before attacking, since your weapon's weight influences your performance based on the weight of the enemy, blocking, etc. This adds an element of strategy and intelligence to combat and you'll have to exercise extreme caution when you are fighting more than one enemy at a time, often relying on the environment and their very own aggressive behavior to put one or more of them to rest.

This does not mean that fire weaponry is not present in the game, and when you get your hands in one of guns you'll find they do pack a punch, but these weapons are usually scarce, with incomplete ammunition (The only full clip you'll ever have is the starting one with your default .45 in the first level) and all of them are one time wonders, meaning that once you run a clip dry, you cannot reload. Fire weapons in the game are limited to the .45 handgun, a revolver, pump action shotgun, double barreled sawed off shotgun and a machine gun of sorts. Once you run out of ammo, you can always use the weapon in melee form, so you will always have something to defend with, at least before the gun breaks apart from constant hits.

What makes this game unique is the use of forensic tools that aid you in your search for the Match Maker. Drawing from a wide range of shows and movies, Ethan Thomas carries a bag (He literally does) with all kinds of high techy gadgets used by detectives and criminologist in the crime scenes; we're talking about stuff like UV lights, laser cone lights, gas spectrometers, etc. A typical scenario will have you in a room or large area searching for clues, such as dried blood marks, chemical residues or fingerprints. This approach is both innovative and, sadly, limited, since you are not given free use over your forensic tools but are only able to use them in scripted areas of the game... not only that but the game will automatically give you the tool you have to use instead of being you the one in charge of choosing and experimenting with the tools. This reliability on the game might be seen as a good thing by some, since it saves you time in choosing the tool; however one cannot do but think that this feature could have been implemented better, allowing the player free use of the tools whenever in the game, going as far as using them to unlock secret areas, bonus material or even alternate endings.

Another small problem that is more like a whiny complain, but still it feels important, is the lack of a duck function. Agent Thomas can neither jump nor duck, and although I have no problems with him not jumping (It's not like Bureau agents actually do jump a lot while in service) I do mind him not being able to duck. The thing is, the graphics on this game are gorgeous and there are certain elements that are so nicely done that, hell, you really do want to have a closer look at them. For example, there is a corpse found early on the game, and you need to run a test over it to find any evidence; the most realist thing to do would be to duck over it and run the scan, however Ethan stands very still while doing so and if you want to see some of the details closer, you just cannot do it.

The game will take you to a variety of urban locales, such as abandoned buildings, constructions sites, an abandoned shopping mall, metro stations, etc. The details in the levels are very well done and there are several eerie aspects in each level that will definitely make your skin crawl, things such as the twisted artistic sensibilities of the serial killer or the thugs around you, strange and cryptic messages scratched in walls and blackboards, rooms plastered with photographs or newspaper cuts and mysterious shadows around the place. In more than one occasion the game's settings will remind you of the original Silent Hill for the PS1, but this does not mean that some of the areas are without fault. Without spoiling anything, the abandoned shopping mall could have used more variation with their mannequin models, for example.

As with almost all good horror oriented games from the last seven or so years, Condemned has a dark ambient music score, combined with a somber instrumental score for various points in the cut-scenes. The music is in charge of Nathan Grigg and his in-game ambient compositions are very minimalist, heavy with bass tones and eerie sounds... this minimalist and repetitive approach is reminiscent of various dark ambient projects and has a very strange eerie and primitive quality that often reminds me of the stuff by projects such as the now defunct Aghast or some of the work by Schloss Tegal.

Along the game you will encounter several groups of demented people, all of them dangerous, and they range from the simple hobo-looking tramps to the really deranged ones with mutilated bodies and cracked skin... to make matters even more horrifying, they all are human, despite what the appearance and attitude of some of them might indicate, and thinking about the mental health of the more depraved is enough to send chills down your spine. And that is the thing that makes this game so successful, knowing that what you are up against is something wholly grounded on Earth.

The game is a very good combination of horror and madness that when successfully applied make games and movies good shocking experiences. The game draws inspiration from many TV series and movies, such as Suspect Zero, CSI, The X-Files and Millennium (Chris Carter's ill fated apocalyptic crime series that fed on the End of the Millennium paranoia, pretty good series if you can watch it) and it should be a very addictive game for fans of horror, mystery and just damn good gaming.

The few negative details noticed on this review are not the things that lower the score of this otherwise perfect game... that is the fault of something else, something pretty bad actually. Play through it, play all the way and you will see something so out of place (and I mean SO OUT of place) that it might be enough to make you wonder just what the hell were the developers thinking when they thought that one up.

The game time can range from eight to ten hours, although it could double if you are thorough, so unless you like intense horror games, you might consider this game as a rental. Whatever the case might be, Condemned is a game that surely will satisfy they needs of next generation gamers hungry for a good horror experience.

8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/03/06


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