Review by NaughtyCalibur

"Condemned: Criminal Origins is a terrifying and brutal thrill ride with a terrifying and brutal lack of variety."

What it's about: You play as FBI agent Ethan Thomas - a member of the Serial Crimes Unit (SCU) - and you've just been asked to investigate a crime scene. But, after investigating the scene and getting your evidence analyzed Thomas and his fellow officers are under the impression that they're not the only ones in the building. Things go from bad to worse as Thomas tracks down the suspect and has his gun forcefully stolen from him by none other than the suspect himself. Soon after, two police officers are killed, and since it was with Thomas' gun he has just become the FBI's best suspect. The bureau has kicked him off the team and is hunting him down like an animal. Ethan Thomas is on a fight to prove his innocence, even if he has to do it on his own. Even if that means running into a lot of dangerous psychopaths along the way.

Story 7/10 - Condemned plays out like a cross between Se7ev, The Fugitive, and one of Wes Craven's earlier [better] films. This doesn't add much to the gameplay, and sadly, doesn't add that much to the story either. Condemned teases you throughout the entire course of the game. Only letting you know what you need to know, or rather, what it thinks you need to know. This works sometimes, but not the majority of the time. Too many plot holes start showing up rather early into the game, and since the story never even tries to patch some of them up you're left with a lot of unanswered questions in the end. Not a whole lot is known about our hero Ethan Thomas except that he has a "gift", according to the mysterious Vanhorn character who supposedly is trying to help Ethan. However, this gift is never really explained. It is quite clear soon after the story begins that Ethan has some sort of ESP, but the why's and how's are never mentioned. Later in the game it's discovered that the government has a file on Ethan Thomas, hinting that he was an experiment for the government, but Ethan didn't even know the file existed. This is yet another element that comes into the story with the intention of getting your mind cracking to solve it's mysterious purpose, only to vanish and never be spoken of again. The story is, in that sense, very similar to an M. Night Shyamalan film, and like an M. Night Shyamalan film, Condemned even tries to shock and awe you with an amazingly original twist ending, but if you had half a brain you saw it coming from a mile away, and even if you didn't it was still executed so vaguely that you would probably miss it's purpose anyhow. Then there is this back story constantly being thrown in your face during load screens about dead birds, and how their deaths have something to do with a supernatural force of some kind, and how that same supernatural force has also risen the crime rates in the area which points to the idea that it's a contained threat. Yet once again this rather strange but interesting concept doesn't get solved, or even mentioned, in the game. It's just left there wide open, leaving only your imagination to close up the plot hole. Yeah, Condemned has a lot of greatly executed scenes and even more greatly executed scares, but when it's all over it's too little, too late. With so many wasted plot elements I couldn't help but feel as if the true killers in Condemned were the writers themselves.

Gameplay 8/10 - At first glance Condemned can be mistaken for a horror FPS ala Doom 3, but sitting down with it for just a few minutes and you see that it's something more along the lines of Escape From Butcher Bay. It may be in first person and may let you use fire arms, but Condemned is anything but a FPS. With that said, Condemned is along the lines of a Silent Hill game, just in first person and a little more down to earth when it comes to it's enemies and environments. The gameplay in Condemned is split up into two different categories. If you're not bashing crazy hobo's over the head with a steel pipe then you're probably collecting evidence to send over to Ethan's friend and lab worker, Rosa, via cell phone. The evidence collecting portions of the game can be a little boring and tedious, but that's not such a bad thing if your heart is racing too fast. When you're asked to collect evidence it's usually the only time you're given a break from busting heads. There are various types of evidence you will need to collect throughout the game. These things run from photographic identification, finger prints, DNA, and even marks made on victims bodies or the environment. Don't worry if you didn't go to crime school or aren't taking notes during each episode of CSI you watch though, because Condemned makes the process of evidence collecting simple for anyone to do, but still maintains it's complicated look to add to the experience and feel of the game. The process is made even easier when Ethan gets one of his ESP moments (which he gets a lot) and sees where the evidence is. It's too bad that these helpful aspects are forced on players though, because I'm willing to bet there are at least a few people who bought this game hoping they could brush off human remains looking for that needle in a hay stack for hours on end on their own. Sorry, but this just isn't that game. Evidence gathering is so easy it almost feels automatic. When entering an area where evidence is present the view will transition itself into a strange grainy filter and Ethan will automatically pull out the tool he needs to collect the evidence in the area, and you'll pretty much be pointed to where the evidence is because if you leave the evidence area everything goes back to normal and Ethan puts away his tool. Once you take the picture or sample of the evidence it sends directly to Rosa and a little chat is initiated. Luckily the combat in Condemned is a little more involved than the forensic stuff. Ethan's quest for innocence takes place in a really, REALLY bad town. Filled with crack heads, socio-paths, homeless people, and freaks who are all out for blood. Ethan will need a weapon at all times to defend himself, and he's not picky. Condemned first became pretty popular before it's release because it was said you can use virtually anything as a weapon, and that's not too far from the truth. There will almost always be a blunt object you can pick up, rip out, or steal to bash a few faces with, and each one has it's own set of attributes, and some even serve purposes outside of beating people to death with them (go figure!). You can, for example, rip a steel pipe from the wall, or take the top off of a school desk and use it as a whacking board. You can even rip off mannequin arms, and break a piece off a cloths rack to use as a weapon. There is a good amount of variety there, but there really isn't much to choose from when it comes to fire arms. The standard pistol is there. There is a shotgun, a rifle, and a submachine gun, but that is basically it. Condemned isn't a FPS though, so this doesn't really hurt the game that much, and because of the way the gameplay is you will find that melee weapons are far more useful in this game, and you'll rarely have a fire arm on you anyways. I'll get to why in a bit. Ethan does have other means of taking down enemies as well. He can kick enemies if he's unarmed, but I'm unsure why he can't punch them instead. He also carries a taser on him which is undoubtedly the most useful piece of equipment you'll have in the entire game. By stunning enemies you gain the upper hand indefinitely. You'll be able to get in a few extra blows, or even steal the enemies weapon out of their hands and use it against them. If you stun enemies badly enough and bring them to their knees you can perform a finisher. You get to choose between four different finishing moves, each one more brutal than the last. For example, you can break an enemies neck with your bare hands, or smash your head into their face violently. It's really all up to you on how you get rid of them. The enemy A.I. is usually very good. Enemies all seem to have somewhat different personalities. Some will run out at you in full force trying to kill you, while others may be a little less brave and hide behind a pillar or wall and wait for you to come to them. If an enemy drops their weapon or you steal it from them they will immediately go and pick up another one off the ground, or use the same methods you use and rip one out of the wall, off a desk, etc. If they're unable to get away from you to grab a weapon they will still defend themselves in a craze by lunging at you and trying to attack you with their bare hands. Some enemies go down easier than others, and some enemies aren't only focused on you. It's quite common to get into the middle of a fight between two hobos, and quite fun to watch them duke it out until the death.

As I mentioned before, the combat system does have a lot of variety, but it's the depth of it that lacks in it. Much like the annoyance given to you in Doom 3 where you had to constantly switch between gun and flashlight, Condemned forces players to constantly pick up and drop weapons, whether you like it or not. The main issue here is that Condemned only allows you to hold one weapon at a time. Don't expect to be carrying around a pistol and a shotgun, or a fire arm and a blunt weapon, because it just can't be done. What makes matters somewhat worse is that the shooting aspects of the game don't take from FPS's when they really should. Ammo is extremely scarce and separate between guns. You can't pick up or even find ammo boxes, and if you see another pistol laying on the ground you can't take the ammo out of it and place it in yours. You'll have to just drop the one in your hand and pick up the new one. Having to trade a pistol for a pistol or shotgun for a shotgun can definitely get on your nerves after a while. Luckily, the combat system allows you to use any fire arm as a blunt weapon, pistol whipping enemies as an alternative to shooting them and wasting much needed ammo, but even this isn't as useful as you may think. Unlike the melee weapons you find in Condemned, the fire arms aren't very durable. Using the butt end of a pistol or shotgun as a weapon only damages the gun itself, and eventually the gun (and apparently all of the ammo in it's clip) will just break making it totally useless. This is only made more frustrating by the fact that some areas in the game can't be reached unless you have the specific weapon needed. For example, you may need a sledgehammer to break the lock off a gate, or a fire-axe to cut down a door to progress through the level. So if you have a weapon that you don't want to part with you'll have to drop it and constantly run back to where you dropped it at and pick it back up, but once the chapter is done and over with it will all have been in vain anyways, since you start off unarmed at the start of each chapter, which is also a little disappointing at times, especially since most chapters all blend together. Ethan can't even hold first aid kits which you will find throughout the game. This means you just have to heal when and where you find them. Some may argue that these things add to the strategy of the game, but I say it only takes away from the realism of it. While all of this may seem rather tiresome or annoying, it's draw backs never make the game feel cheap. For the most part, enemies have the same limitations as you do, so you won't be having to go up against baddies with dual-wielding sub machine guns with infinite ammo. The biggest thing that stands out about Condemned is how well it's melee combat feels. Every blow feels and looks bloody and brutal to the point that the combat alone can get your heart pounding. When Ethan is hit in the face with a wooden board or steel pipe you can almost feel the agony, and even the anger that comes afterwards from just getting hit in the face with a blunt object. Before Condemned, Escape From Butcher Bay was probably the #1 game when it came to melee combat. Condemned has beat EFBB hands down in that department. Condemned isn't an especially long game though. It's spread into ten rather short chapters and can be beat in 10-15 hours, give or take. I personally completed the game in 11 hours, but if you're trying to search every nook and cranny for dead birds, metal pieces, and other forms of achievement award unlockables then I'd be guessing the game will be a little longer.

Visuals 9/10 - Condemned is a great looking game without a doubt. The map designs are solid and true to their name. A broken down school looks like what a broken down school in a bad part of town should look like, and a house out in the peaceful countryside never felt so creepy. The lighting and shadow effects all look quite nice, but it's without question that the Xbox 360 can produce better. The character models could have used a little more work though, as they look like something out of a newer Xbox game rather than the high quality Xbox 360 game that Condemned is aiming to be. The physics in the game are quite nice too. Almost everything in the environment is movable, and the way enemies move and fall is believably accurate. Condemned could have used a few more animations for combat, but that doesn't hurt the gameplay too much. All around though I doubt you will find a whole lot to complain about when it comes to the visuals that can be found in this game.

Controls 8.5/10 - Condemned controls quite well for the most part. Every major action is assigned a button such as using the taser or switching your flashlight on and off, but the one thing that did feel a little off to me was pressing in the right analog stick to perform a kick. It didn't seem like a good button choice since I found myself accidentally kicking enemies when I was frantically trying to block and evade their attacks. This can make things a little bit annoying since kicking leaves you open for attack for a moment. Also, depending on the weapon you're using, blocking can feel pretty unresponsive at times. I would press the block button three or four times before the poor bastard finally decided to cover his bloody head in defense. Other than that the controls were pretty solid, and didn't cause me any issues.

Sound 9/10 - Here is where Condemned takes center stage and shines. The audio in this game is brilliant right from the start, and if you don't have surround sound then you will be missing out on half of the reason you bought this game - to get the crap scared out of you. The voice acting isn't always on the mark. Sometimes the dialogue is delivered too humorously for the moment it's in, but that's all forgiven when enemies are shouting profanity at you while hiding out in a room or running at you with a loaded shotgun. I will warn you now, the F-word is used quite a lot in this game. So much in fact that during my time of playing the game and attempting to count how many times it was said I lost count. With that said, it's pretty obvious this game is not for kids and the sounds alone can be pretty offensive to some people, but that's half the fun anyways, right? The sound effects in the game are all very crisp and clear. You can hear every footstep, every bottle or can that hits or rolls across the floor. You can even hear an enemies heavy breathing when they know you're near. Once again, these sounds are only worth while if you have surround sound, or at least some really good speakers. The ambient noises are great as well, a lot of which sound very similar to games like Silent Hill or The Suffering. To make things even worse (in a good way!), the sounds of combat sound gruesome with a capital G. The grunts, the loud sound of metal smacking against flesh and bone. It all sounds great, and it's all enough to make the squeamish a little nauseous. But to be honest, Condemned is one of the few games out there that I don't even suggest playing without surround sound, so if you don't have some, get some.

Reply Value: 8/10 - Aside from the alternate ending and achievement awards there isn't much reason to play Condemned more than once. The alternate ending wouldn't actually require you to play through the entire game again anyways, but if you just want to pick the game back up after it's done just so you can bash some hobos face open then that's fine, and I wouldn't be surprised if you did since the combat is actually quite addictive due to it's brutality. However, chances are once you're done finishing the game it'll take a lot more than the combat to get you back in the action, and sadly nothing else is really offered to you. No cheat codes, no weapon unlockables, no bonus chapters. Nothing. With a game that has no multiplayer or Xbox Live features, and is barely 15 hours long, this is a shame. It would have been nice to have something extra given to you after your hard work, but oh well.

Overall Score 8.2/10 - When it's all done and over with, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a terrifying and brutal thrill ride with a terrifying and brutal lack of variety. Yes it's violent. Yes it's scary. Yes it's shocking. But in reality, that's all it is. Is this bad? Not at all. Condemned just suffers from being only half or so of what it could be. It's a game with a lot of mystery and adventure, but lacks the explanation and content needed to make these aspects stand tall among the mountains of shock value laid on the players. Because of this, Condemned can be viewed as nothing more than another game designed to teach teenagers how to be killers. But who cares? To put things into simpler terms, the only draw backs here is that the games too short and the combat is too limited. With all else aside, Condemned is a great game, but an ever greater rental. A week is more than enough time to beat it, and enjoy it.

The Sweet - Combat is gory, disturbing, and oh so sweet.

- Evidence collecting is made simple.

- I got to use the word "hobo" four times in this review!

The Good - Enemies are smart enough to back off, grab a better weapon, or hide if necessary.

- The sounds alone are almost enough to scare the hell out of you.

- If the storyline is confusing you or you feel too many questions have been left unanswered then you can visit the main site for Condemned to check out some extra back story on what was given in the game. Still though, it's not quite enough to fill all the gaps, but it sure was nice of Monolith to do.

The Bad - Not Xbox Live enabled. Do you have any idea how sweet it would be to hunt the dark alleys for enemies with a team of human players over XBL? It'd be like a first person multiplayer version of Manhunt.

- You can only hold one weapon at a time.

- The storyline has more holes than Swiss cheese.

- For those of you who enjoy spending hours trying to solve a puzzle or mystery: Evidence collecting is [unfortunately] made simple.

- I didn't personally have this issue, but a lot of people have been saying that it's easy to get lost in the games sloppy maps. Coming from a person like me who gets lost and stuck in every installment of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, I don't think Condemned is a rat maze as long as you're not rushing through it like a rat in a maze.

The Ugly - Firearms break too easily if used as a melee weapon.

- Why can't I use my shotgun to shoot and break that lock instead? Why force me run through the map looking for a sledgehammer? Why axe the door down when I can just as easily bust it down with my sledgehammer? This makes the game feel frustrating and linear all at the same time.

- Why can I only punch an enemy in the face on special occasion (IE: when they're on their knees)? What Ethan, don't want to break a nail or risk bruised knuckles?

- This goes for just about every horror game, but if you're not the type of person who gets scared from games like Doom 3, Silent Hill, or The Suffering, then Condemned might not scare you either. If so, then this game is mostly going to be ruined. Getting scared half the death is most of the fun, and if you're not feeling it, then you're not enjoying it like the rest of us.

- The F-bomb is dropped a LOT in this game. If profanity bothers you, then I advise playing this game with the sound down.

The Wished - I just wish Ethan had more mobility. He can't crouch unless prompted to. He can't aim his blows or weapons especially well. He can't jump, roll, or dive. And he can't transform into a monster when made angry. He's just below average. He'll never make it as an action hero...

You May Also Enjoy - Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (XB), The Suffering (XB/PS2/PC), Doom 3 (XB/PC), F.E.A.R. (PC)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/14/06

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