STAFF REVIEW of Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360)

Thursday, November 24, 2005.
by Tony Ingrassia

Condemned: Criminal Origins Box art Let me start by saying I?m a big fan of the Horror genre in all of its formats, movies, games, you name it. Let me elaborate a bit on that point, I like to get scared, not grossed out or shocked , but really scared, and in my book there is nothing scarier than things that you can perceive as real. I?ll give you an example. While characters and creatures like Jason, Freddy Kruger, or the Alien form Alien are scary I?m much more uncomfortable and truly scared watching a movie like the Exorcist. I mean, if you believe in Heaven and angels you must believe in Hell and demons.

Alright, I think you got my point; I don?t want to turn this into religious education. Condemned by Sega uses this formula flawlessly, not going down the path of the usual horror genre like the Resident Evil series, but on a path that?s not only disturbing but rooted in a world that you would have no problem accepting as real. Abandoned buildings, subway stations, and dark alleys are all very real places and I?m sure if you have ever been walking around at night, most of us have experienced that uncomfortable feeling and glance over the shoulder for a seemingly unknown reason. This is the environment you step into in Condemned.

The story revolves around the main character Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent investigating a rash of brutal murders and a growing oddity in the derelicts and low life?s that populate the disturbing sub culture of the city. While on the crime scene of a brutal double homicide a chain of events unravels leaving agent Thomas on the ?Hunted? side of the law and having to prove his innocence. This is the driving force behind Condemned. A very tried and true formula, but the mission you are about to embark on is an entirely new wrinkle to the genre.

As agent Thomas your left with few friends to help you through this ordeal, you must use your forensic skills and instincts to solve this mystery and clear your name. The game takes place in some of the most graphically stunning run down areas you have ever seen. Your best friend is a flashlight, and whatever you can scrounge up as a weapon. The areas are fully interactive, you can pick up just about anything as a weapon and a small chart appears giving you stats on the item in comparison to what you already have with a plus or minus sign, comparing the damage it can inflict, the speed of use and how effective it is defensively in the form of blocking. This by the way is a very important element of the game, blocking, learn it well it will save your life.

Melee combat is more the norm in Condemned adding to the already tense situation you find yourself in, it?s one thing to pick an enemy off with a head shot from long range, and it?s an entire new feeling being forced to go toe to toe. You do have guns in the game but ammo is scarce and so are the guns, again, reality. You?re probably not going to find a ton of ammo in an abandoned warehouse or a gun for that matter but you can rip a piece of conduit off the wall and swing away. Agent Thomas? other inventory consists of his forensic tools that range from being able to detect odors like decomposing flesh to inferred cameras to detect clues not readily visible to the naked eye. Which brings us to our heroes? instincts? We all know FBI agents need to use there instincts a bit while trying to solve cases, Agent Thomas is no different, clues are very important in Condemned and at times you need to take a good look around and see what is unseen, you go through this slowed down/flashback type scenario hinting that there is something worth looking for in the area, that being said, the usual ?solve the puzzle to progress? is not in place here. You can wonder away from an area with nothing if you prefer, but in the end it may be that key piece of evidence you needed.

Of course it wouldn?t be much of a challenge if there weren?t some deranged lunatics wondering around, sprinkled with a few serial killers and just plain crazies. The AI in Condemned is great, these freaks will attack in packs, destroy fuse panels to kill the lights, go into a frenzied attack if cornered, lure you into areas and will take off down a dark corridor if their at a disadvantage.. All of this adds to the suspense of the game, you know that these guys are waiting for you, you know it, you just saw one run across the hallway in the distance, and then you get that ?Oh Crap? feeling in your head that is not only disturbing but fun at the same time. Melee combat is pretty straight forward, as I said earlier you need to learn to block to survive. Another one of your more useful tools is your taser, it can slow down your attacker so you can either get away or finish him off. The attacks in Condemned come without warning form just about anywhere, no little compass with red dots as the enemies here folks, they are brutal and fast paced and if you don?t react quickly your sure to pay the price with your life, keep on your toes even when analyzing clues with your forensic tools, the AI really doesn?t care that you?re busy with something else.

Well since we are officially now in the next-gen system let?s talk about that. If you want a glimpse into what the 360 is capable of producing pop Condemned into the system, yes it?s early and the characters aren?t quite at a Pixar level but this is defiantly a sign of things to come on the new system. Condemned shines graphically, for a game that spends a lot of it?s time in the most dank, dark, and unsettling places you will ever spend time in you will be amazed at the detail and fluidity of the game. Running at 720p is a thing of beauty showing every little detail there is to see, toss in Dolby Digital and be prepare to jump from your seat not once but a few times during your romp through Condemned, not to mention that looking over your shoulder bit. Condemned rounds off the package with some great voice acting that reads more like a movie script than the usual repetitive stale game dialogue, and the story, while sometimes confusing, truly keeps you pushing forward. Condemned also boast the new ?Achievement? system on XBL, ranging from clues found to hidden Xbox 360?s that earn you detective badges.

Condemned may not appeal to everyone, but it looks great and is truly a solid sign of not only the future of gaming on the Xbox 360 but hopefully a new direction for the horror genre, I would highly recommend horror fans pick it up and enjoy the uneasy feeling that this game is sure to provide. In my opinion Condemned is one of the better launch titles on the list, not without a few minor flaws, but they are so minor I don?t even feel they are worth mentioning because they are based on preference rather than being deterrents to the overall experience of the game. So make sure you got fresh batteries in your flashlight and settle in for an intense, exciting, experience that is sure to have you slowing down your pace a bit to make sure the boogie man isn?t around the next corner.


I wouldn't change a thing.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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