Review by Brad Da Man

"Brutal combat and top notch A.I, but lacking greatly in the scares department."

Condemned: Criminal Origins was probably the first title I heard of for the Xbox 360 that I was hanging out for. Previews I read indicated it was ‘More gruesome than Manhunt', that it would ‘scare the player out of their wits', that the player ‘had to use high tech forensic technology to look for clues at crime scenes'. Now, I was a fan of Manhunt. Glorious executions, fun gunplay, you really felt like the little guy in a world of big bad crims.. That game caused a euphoria of paranoia and excitement that had me on edge for the entire duration of the game. Flawed, definitely, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. So it's understandable that when I read that Condemned was more gruesome than Manhunt, I was expecting something macabre, bloody and disturbing. But did Condemned deliver with all these promises? Read on to find out!

You are thrown into the role of FBI Agent Ethan Thomas, and the game kicks off with you called to the brutal murder of a person in the bad part of town. You walk through a derelict building to reach the crime scene, which is very atmospheric and works well in setting the tone for the player; Tension and uneasiness. After a little bit you come to the murder scene and discover the body of a woman on the floor, and a creepy mannequin sitting at the table above her. Without spoiling much, things soon turn a take for the worst and you find yourself having to defend yourself with your pistol and a small arsenal of ammunition..

The first crime scene is where you are first introduced to use those ‘high tech forensic tools' promised by the game developer, Monolith… What Monolith forgot to say is that the game automatically chooses the forensic tool for you required to examine the scene of the crime… Understandable for the first one or two clues you need to search for, or as a way to introduce you to all your tools you have access to, but this happens for the entire duration of the game.. While kids who are looking for a quick way to find the clues would like this, I found this to detract from some of the fun in discovering things for yourself. I would have much preferred having to decide which tool was appropriate for the type of clues you're looking for, much like the game Still-Life.You're barely doing any detective work; rather you're being babied through the game.

One feature of the game I think worked relatively well is the ability to rip things right out of the environment and use them as a weapon. See that fuse plug in the power board over there? Yours for the pickings. The steel pipe connecting the piping on the wall? Yours. The metal sign pointing you in the direction of the subway? Take it. Many weapons can be found littered around, you just have to keep an eye out for them! It works well. However if you are holding a pistol and want to pick up a plank of wood or a pole, then you are forced to drop that pistol. That's right, you can only carry one weapon at any given time. Understandable if it's two melee weapons we're dealing with, but not even being able to holster a pistol when you're an FBI Agent? Come on! Granted you are always armed with a stun gun as a secondary weapon but still.. Only one weapon isn't cool… Another gripe is if you find another pistol on the ground.. In any and every other game you would be able to collect the ammo from it right? Not in Condemned. You have to drop your current pistol if you want to have the ammo from the other pistol, but by doing that you can't have the ammo from your old pistol.. In short you can't combine ammo from the same type of weapon. Very disappointing.

All action is viewed in first person view, which works really well, even when beating the **** out of a random. Combat is full on. It's furious, fast paced and brutal. Your enemies won't be waiting for you to make the first moves, no Sir, they'll come out of the shadows and smack you across the back of the head if you're not on your toes. But you can deal back the heavy blows just as hard, and cause some serious damage. And when you connect a blow with their face, it both feels and sounds solid. The hand to hand combat is some of the best seen in first person games. But the weapons, while handling good, don't look that great at all and are nowhere near as detailed as other aspects of the game.

Which leads me on to the A.I, possibly the best part of the game. You'll find yourself facing off against hordes of twisted, deranged foes, each and every single one posing a serious threat to you, even if you're just facing off against one of them on their own. It's no easy task clobbering them, and you certainly won't be finding enemies who will stand there accepting the blows to their heads. Even when you've landed a hurting blow and they're recoiling from it, don't think you have the upper hand now.. They turn that recoil into their next attack and launch more lunges at you. They'll fight back, use cover and the shadows to their advantage, and they'll always try and get the advantage over you. They appear from nowhere, screaming cuss words as they run rampantly towards you brandishing their weapon of choice. They really are quite scary and when you aren't fighting them (The game doesn't just cheaply throw enemies at you left, right and centre which is a good thing), you will be anticipating/bracing for their attacks!

While the game looks pretty, the levels you find yourself surviving in are rather bland and very repetitive. Sure, they look nice, but there's only so many congested halls and abandoned buildings one can explore through before it gets old… They get very boring when there's no enemies around, especially when you have to backtrack a little. The pace of your character is frustrating, he ambles along slower than a tortoise which I suppose is understandable for the situation he is in, but when you try to sprint his sprint meter lasts for only five seconds at best, and when you are sprinting the control of the character become rather erratic since you use the same stick for sprinting and direction.

Graphics 9/10. Levels are rich in detail and do their job in making the game give off a creepy feel. The way the levels light up in the direct path of your torch is fantastic, and the shadows they cast are done with amazing realism. Enemies also look great and are very scary to look at. Weapons, on the other hand, look very average, as do some of the N.P.C's (Non Playable Characters)

Sound 9/10. The sounds in this game are terrific. The creak of floorboards, shattering of glass, sounds of weapons against another skull, very nice. Voice acting is decent too.

Controls 8/10. No major gripes with the controls, the only one being the way you make the character run.. You have to hold in the left stick (which you also use to walk) which can be very tedious at the best of times. It just doesn't function that well at all. Blocking can also be difficult to pull off occasionally.

Story 6/10. While it starts off great and is fascinating, the story doesn't really develop. Rather, it just hints/teases at possibilities, but never gives a direct answer or explains things fully to certain key elements. It does have some nice twists through it, but this all let down by the ending. Quite dissatisfying.

Gore Meter 6/10. I'll put it bluntly, in terms of gore this has nothing over Manhunt. On the off chance you bring a crim to his knees during attack, you have the option of four execution type methods (Two of which aren't even executions.. ).. But since the game is in first person all you see is your camera going close to their face and crack next thing you know they're on the floor. It doesn't give the player a feeling of satisfaction in performing one, so it's rather pointless. They're very ordinary. As for belting them in combat, sure there's some of the red stuff, but barely any. Gore wise the game is very disappointing. ‘More gruesome than Manhunt'? Please! The game relies on cheap scares a lot of the time too, like a shutter banging shut in the wind, or after a prolonged scene of floorboards creaking and scary music all you get is a rat scuffling out..

Fun Factor 7/10. At the start of the game, all you'll want to do is run around beating all the psychotic lunatics with whatever you can grab your hands on, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. But it becomes old as the hours tick on, and can start to feel like a bit of a chore towards the end of the game. All you want to do is get to a certain point which is right in front of you when two crims jump out for the attack. “Oh joy, this again…” That's how I was at the end of it all.

The game does have achievements to unlock which can be fun to collect, but don't really offer anything that rewarding for doing so except a few points for your Gamer Profile on Xbox Live.

Overall 7/10. The developers focused too much on the combat/A.I and nowhere near enough on the other aspects of the game. Fun to start with, but starts feeling old and repetitive by the end of it. Forensic tools, a big selling part of the game, have been designed for toddlers to use. However it is enjoyable for a play, just don't be expecting anything as gruesome as Manhunt. I'd recommend giving it a rent over the weekend over purchasing it, however it does have some replay value in the form of 50 unlockable achievements.

All in all, Condemned is fun, but it could have been so much more..

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/30/06, Updated 03/31/06

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