Retro Review - Condemned: Criminal Origins (PC)

1198895353-00Gaming is full of dark and creepy titles. From Alone in the Dark to Resident Evil and Dead Space, we're not without our choice pants messing games. One title, however, decided to go a slightly different rout, bringing you close and personal with horror.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is rather unlike any other horror title this player has experience. Unlike other horror FPS titles such as F.E.A.R. and its sequels which allow you to stand at a relatively safe distance from your enemies as you battle them, Condemned instead forces you to get right up in their mutilated faces. The reason for this is that Condemned isn't so much a first person shooter as it is a first person basher. The game's most unique feature is that it focuses on melee combat. While guns do appear in the game they are far and few between thus the majority of the combat sees you wielding a plank of wood with nails through one end, a crowbar, steel pipes or any other manner of blunt trauma inflicting items you can lay your hands on. But more on the combat later...

Who Turned Out the Lights?

You play Ethan Thomas, a Serial Crime Unit investigator who has just arrived at the scene of the latest grizzly murder by a serial killer known as The Match Maker. After collecting evidence from the scene, one of the officers accompanying Ethan smells cigarette smoke. Believing the smoke must be that of their suspect, they decide to split up and go after him. You can probably guess what happens next; the killer shows up, takes Ethan's weapon, kills the other policemen and then high-tails it, but not before throwing Ethan out a window. Ethan awakes, somehow back in his apartment, and is contacted by a mysterious man who informs him Ethan is wanted for the death of the policemen shot by the Match Maker. Ethan decides to prove his innocence by tracking the Match Maker down and bringing him to justice.

Perhaps not the most original of story set ups, but it soon come to light that there is another serial killer at work. Add to this some strange phenomenon sweeping the city that is changing the lost and displaced of its population into blood lust fuled lunatics who will kill anyone they lay eyes on, and you and Ethan have your work cut out for you.

As this synopsis suggests, Condemned: Criminal Origins thrusts the player into the dark, seedy and very, very violent underbelly of fictional American city "Metro City." It's a fascinating, and rather scary, place to visit. You really want to be playing this game with the lights out. The game oozes atmosphere and every location you visit, including train stations, sewers, a deserted farm and a particularly creepy condemned shopping mall, is filled will foreboding rooms and corners. You'll be walking through hallways, everything quiet, when suddenly a blood curdling shriek or a spine chilling laugh will cut through the silence. At various points during you exploration you'll be able to hear the crazed of the city moving about in the buildings you visit, but you never see them. The result is a rather unnerving experience as you expect to be set upon by a group of iron bar wielding maniacs around every corner. And when the enemies do come bursting out of the shadows it's a stressful, frightening experience.

The combat in Condemned is a hard thing to rate. On one hand it's fast and kinetic. Enemies rush you, screaming with weapons raised. You've only seconds to block their attacks and retaliate or you'll receive a blow to the head. Given the close quarters combat the game features it really feels like you're fighting for your life. When you're set upon by several enemies things become very stressful in that brilliant 'bloody hell, get me out of here' way that some video games do so well. Your adrenalin kicks in and you find yourself truly engrossed in the experience. For all its visceral quality, however, there are problems with the combat. Ethan just doesn't seem to move fast enough, even when wielding the lighter weapons. This makes timing your blocks and counter attacks something of a gamble. However, if you do time things right you have a wonderful set up to take down your enemies.

Gameplay Video

The variety of weapons in the game is quite generous. From the aforementioned plank of wood, crowbar and steel pipes you also have axes, pistols, shotguns and even mannequin dummy arms. Each of these has its own set of values; how fast you can swing it, how much damage it does, and so forth. As such, depending which enemy you're up against, the most powerful weapon may not always be the best. Weapons deliver a satisfying crack when you connect with an enemy and, conversely, if you are hit you can almost feel it as the screen goes blurry and the point of view wields as Ethan reels from the attack.

One of most interesting elements of the game are the CSI elements. At various points in the game while looking for clues on the killer you'll be prompted to pull out one of your investigative tools. These let you find blood prints that was been cleaned away, take forensic photos and other clever police-y type things. While this does break up the combat and is initially interesting you'll find these become somewhat repetitive. Also, the fact that the game tells you when to pull these tools out ruins any element of investigation on the player's part. This is a shame, as having a slight hint that there might be some evidence around and then using the tools to see if your suspicions are correct would have felt a lot more natural and added a nice element to the game play.

Criminally Ugly

One thing that can be safely said about Condemned is that its characters are ugly. While you may not really notice it during game play, in cut scenes it is terribly obvious just how unattractive the character models are. While this is fine for the villains, it has to be said that Ethan looks like some poor bloke who fell out of the gaming ugly tree, hit every branch on the way down then, when he landed, the tree fell on him. Unfortunately, the cut scenes pull you right out of the game, ruining any atmosphere that was built up during the levels. Thankfully, however, the various environments are quite lovely in their dark, murky, blood stained way.

Condemned is something of a mixed title. While it's combat ideas are interesting they are not completely successful. It can be hard at times to successfully block attacks due to Ethan's slow movement and it only takes a few hits to take him down, meaning that taking on groups of enemies is often harder than most boss fights. Speaking of bosses, the final boss is quite easy to defeat once the trick to him is discovered making for something of an anti-climax to the game. However, the game's atmosphere is entirely compelling and you're always curious about what terror awaits you around the next corner. In this sense, Condenmed'sexploration elements are quite successful will pull you through to the end of the game.

Condemned may never be considered a classic, but then it is doubtful that its creators were ever aiming for that high goal. The game feels very much like a leap of faith, an attempt to bring something new to an often well-trod genre and the developers should be applauded for this. While certain aspects of the game are less successful than others, it can be safely said that Condemned is a game that fans of the horror genre will most likely find worthy of putting the time in to complete it.

Last Updated ( 08 December 2011 )  

Joe Douglas

A lover of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and dusty old video games, Joe is a Sega man through and through. Combining his love of collecting and blue hedgehogs, Joe runs the site SonicCollectors on which he attempts to build a database of Sonic merch. He is tolerated by one cat, two dogs and his girlfriend.

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(Link to this comment) MegaDrive20XX 2011-12-10 20:00
I loved the first game, it was the sequel that made me wonder what went wrong? Oh yeah, adding the worst thing you could ever do to a good Criminally Insane game...was to pull a "Steven Spielberg/George Lucas" stunt...
(Link to this comment) kritiker 2012-07-17 07:05
Played it several times on XBox 360. Great game, a little unfair and hard sometimes, but very spooky and gruesome.

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