Review by nintendosega

"A very atmospheric, intense, and scary thriller that's a bit light on substance"

Condemned is an example of a game where the final product ended up not being equal to the sum of its parts. It does some things amazingly, and creates an atmosphere that's unlike any game I've ever played. I don't scare easily but this game is seriously scary. If you have never played a horror game that's ever scared you (I'm not talking about small jumps, I'm talking about the type of atmosphere that sends shivers down your spine or causes you to jump when you see shadows,) then Condemned is definitely worth playing for that reason alone. It's scary. It's also fun to play and moves at a quick pace, well, for the most part.

Ethan Thomas and his investigating team are at a murder scene in a building when all hell breaks loose. The killer shuts off the power and leads them through the dark maze of a building, eventually killing Ethan's partners. It's now Ethan's job to clear his name while solving a very bizarre murder from a smart killer who leads him through a series of deaths and psychotic drug-addicted killers to reach the game's very bizarre conclusion.

You explore dark and very industrial levels with nothing but a flashlight, a taser, and anything you can pick up: boards with nails, locker doors, paper cutters, metal poles, and even some guns, although they have very limited ammunition and you only get what's in the gun. The nameless city Condemned takes place in is in the middle of a serious drug epidemic, apparently, as junkies with some sort of serious virus constantly chase and try to hunt Ethan down. Whenever this happens you must fight them. Combat involves the 2 triggers on the controller; the L-trigger blocks, the R-trigger attacks. The combat system's definitely pretty fun, and there's a real sense of brutality in some of these kills, but it wears thin a bit fast, due to its very simplistic nature. By the end of the game, it's simply a matter of hitting the enemy, backing up quickly, waiting for him to swing and miss you, then hitting him back, and repeating again and again. The sense of satisfaction also isn't really there, as the enemies don't always seem to react differently when different weapons are used: a fireplace poker doesn't feel any different when smashed into an enemy than a pipe ripped off the wall. The way the enemies respond to the impact doesn't always make much sense either, and a series of context-sensitive actions feel tacked on. But overall, Condemned has a solid, if repetitive, combat system that begins to wear out its welcome as the game enters its second half.

All the environments in this game are stunning in their level of disrepair, even though but by the end of the game, when you visit places that range from "a library that burnt in a fire," to the grimiest apple orchard (yeah,) in history, Condemned walks the line of unintentional comedy just a little bit. But what's definitely not funny is the amazing sense of atmosphere. This is the type of game, through excellent sound design, very well-timed jump scares, and amazing lighting and polished graphics, that really scares you. I was scared of my own shadow, and found myself creeping around corners very slowly, afraid of what awaited at the other end. It's this atmosphere that Condemned nails perfectly, and it may be worth playing just for that. The game also features a fairly unique forensics system, in which you use a series of tools to examine crime scenes. It's a nice feature but it adds surprisingly little to the game, and even becomes tedious at times. There's a puzzle at the end of the game which requires you to wander through an (already) dark house with a black light looking for hidden clues to a pointless riddle that you're required to solve: tedious and frustrating. Luckily it's the only time Condemned tries something like that, but it ends the game on a pretty bad note, which is unfortunate.

Although the world of Condemned drew me in, eventually I began to get tired of these dilapidated environments and wished the game would throw something else into the mix and they really didn't deliver on that front. The story, leaves quite a bit to be desired, ranging from the Indigo Prophecy-like visions of the main character to some B-acting and some ugly, UGLY character models during cutscenes. The plot's convoluted nature in its last couple hours doesn't really help. It just never manages to make any sense, starting with Ethan becoming a suspect to begin with.

And it's overall the lack of compelling narrative, as well as lack of gameplay variety, that sinks Condemned: It's a one-trick pony. You slowly creep through these environments (sprinting is done by clicking the analog stick, an uncomfortable action,) and take out these enemies with a solid but fairly unsatisfying combat system, and you do this again and again and again. The forensics system attempts to break up the monotony, but the nature of this system is such that it basically does everything for you, causing it to feel more like a pace-killer than something Condemned truly benefits from. Still, I had fun through a large portion of the game, mostly due to the extremely intense and scary atmosphere, as well as the simple but effective gameplay and some surprisingly disturbing cutscenes. These things alone should recommend this game to some people, and it's worth a look if that's what you're into. But with its repetitive gameplay and environments, short length, weak narrative, and tedious final couple of hours, Condemned just doesn't quite make it. The potential's there, though, for a truly excellent series here, and I'm eager to try out future installments. I was definitely intrigued by this world and the fact that the game really is scary as hell should be an indicator that horror fans should at least give it a rental.

Note; this game is so dark that at first, I could see NOTHING until I went to the options menu and adjusted the brightness. Most dark games prompt you to do this at the start as some TVs display certain tones differently than others, but Condemned didn't, and as a result, I could barely see anything in the game until I went to options and adjusted the brightness. Definitely don't forget to do this if necessary.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/29/08, Updated 11/22/10

Game Release: Condemned: Criminal Origins (US, 11/16/05)

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