Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 07/07/08

You have to think to yourself, "What would a serial killer do?"

Before the Xbox 360 was released, one of the titles that I was awaiting more than any other game was Condemned: Criminal Origins. I scoured the internet for previews and I read any magazine article about it that I could find, and since I am a major horror buff, I had a good feeling I was going to absolutely love this game. When I finally got my hands on it, I was immediately impressed, but also a little disappointed at the same time.

Unlike most games in the survival horror genre, Condemned is a first-person shooter. Unlike most games in the first-person shooter genre, Condemned’s combat is focused heavily on melee weapons. So, how do you exactly describe what this game is? I would describe it as “Oblivion meets Halo meets Resident Evil” if I was absolutely pressed, but even that would be somewhat inaccurate as Condemned is definitely its own breed of game.

Just because Condemned doesn’t have a real focus on using guns, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any guns at your disposal. Pistols are available to you as are shotguns, plus some other weapons, but the guns aren’t as useful as they could be except for some key moments throughout the game. Enemies are a little too fast sometimes to really get off with a well-placed shot, but on the bright side, guns are extremely powerful and take enemies out easily. Enemies that have guns themselves are the kinds of enemies that you will usually be using a gun to kill, but like most survival horror games, ammo is in very limited supply.

Like I said, melee weapons are the focus in Condemned and there are plenty of melee weapons that you can use to batter your enemies. You can use the butt of a gun to whack an enemy in the face, but less traditional melee weapons include various boards, shovels, pipes, axes, etc. Enemies can also collect these melee weapons that are strewn around the environment, so the game kind of feels like Dead Rising in that you can use a lot of objects in the environment as weapon, but with smarter enemies.

Hand-to-hand combat is also possible, but somewhat flawed. Blocking an opponent’s attack is essential to any hand-to-hand situation, but blocking an opponent’s attack is somewhat hard to pull off. You can kick your opponent around and use your fists to punch them pretty much wherever you want, but these attacks get repetitive and watching the same animations over and over makes the combat get pretty boring. So, to spice things up a bit, when an enemy is on their knees you can perform a more brutal finishing move, but after you do so many of these they start to lose their magic, too.

Some weapons are used purely to get you through a door, like axes, and aren’t that useful to use as weapons as a result. Weapons wear down and break, but there aren’t that many enemies in the game so you’ll rarely be in a situation where you actually are killed by an enemy because your weapon broke. However, it is kind of disappointing that the game is a little too easy for you to die very much.

A taser is available to you and it is a very useful weapon, essential to successfully killing an enemy, who are usually fought one at a time anyway. The taser is used to catch an enemy off-guard, leaving them susceptible to a nice melee attack to make your life easier. As you play through the game, you’ll get an upgraded taser that will make enemies fall to the ground.

Ethan, the protagonist of the game, is a forensic investigator, meaning that not only does he have a flashlight at his disposal, but he also has a variety of forensic tools available to him. When you are in an area that there can be some investigation going on, Nathan will inform you, so you know to pull out your investigation tools to start looking for evidence that will be analyzed by your friend Rosa.

Looking for fingerprints and blood traces isn’t the only thing you can do in Condemned. Another large part of crime investigation is by taking pictures of the crime scene and you will use the clues that are given to you during these investigations to find out where you need to go next and to solve puzzles in the game (there are very few, however).

Broken up into levels, Condemned doesn’t manage to get away from the annoying “collect things” trend found in first-person shooters that are obviously trying to be a little bit like platformers. Metal pieces can be found lying around in the environment as well as dead birds. By collecting these you can unlock some extra, though not very satisfying, content.

Condemned provides a very interesting horror story that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat, plus it’s scary as hell. An alternate ending is available, but is extremely lackluster compared to the canon ending. Ethan Thomas is a forensic investigator who has put away plenty of serial killers in his time and is currently in pursuit of Serial Killer X, a serial killer who kills serial killers. Ethan ends up being framed for the murder of two police officers and after being rescued by an old family friend, goes on an investigation to discover exactly what is going on and what are Serial Killer X’s motives. Not since Silent Hill 2 has there been such a great horror story in a video game.

Condemned also provides the goods in the graphics department as well. All the environments are insanely terrifying and everything looks almost disturbingly realistic. Lighting is done in an ingenious way and the game suffers from a very low amount of glitches or mishaps. While the earlier levels do look a little bland, the later levels are amazingly detailed and equally scary. Honestly, I’ve never really been that scared by a video game until I played Condemned.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack really isn’t that fear-inspiring, but the voice acting is brilliantly done. Dialogue is disturbing enough and the sound of a 2x4 whacking across a person’s skull is always disgusting. Condemned did the audio well, but if the soundtrack was better then we’d be dealing with a game that would only be described as survival horror nirvana.

Condemned is a major letdown when it comes to length. The game is roughly eight hours long, but with varying difficulty settings it may take longer. There are plenty of unlockable features, but none of them are really worth it since it’s mostly concept art and production videos. A weird thing about Condemned is that while it does utilize the Xbox 360 achievement system that gives games a load of replayability, it only has 970 points worth of achievements unlock, as opposed to 1000 points like most games. I don’t know what the developers were thinking, but that is just stupid.

While I had much higher expectations for Condemned, it still proved to be an extremely enjoyable experience that was a blend of a few different game genres. Some of the combat could have used some work, but overall the game was a smooth ride. Environments could have been more varied and the soundtrack could have been better, plus the game definitely could have been longer, but overall Condemned is a terrifying experience that is easily the best survival horror game to be released in a long, long time. It’s good to see that Monolith, who developed the less than mediocre F.E.A.R. game, have created a great first-person shooter that is just ripe for starting a franchise. I can’t wait to play the sequel.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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