I went into this event not even knowing if this game would be present or not. I made a conscious decision that the two games I wanted to spend the most time with were Kameo, and this one, because I was still undecided on both, and I wanted to know if either were worth a purchase (coincidentally, these two games were the two most impressive overall).
I save Condemned for last because it really surprised me with how great it was. I think a whole new genre of game has been invented here, and that’s saying something. It’s not really a first person shooter. When you get a gun, you don’t know how much ammo you have. In other words, there’s no HUD that pops up to help you out. You have to use your shots wisely, and realistically, the gun does pretty much maximum damage (read: if you shoot someone, they die. You don’t have to unload a whole clip in them like in some games).
There’s also these forensic elements added to the game. You have many tools at your disposal. You have this little PDA thing that sort of keeps you in touch with someone that’s helping out your investigation. You have a black light for looking for fluids and evidence that’s hidden from the naked eye. There’s also some other type of greenish light tool that does something else. There’s also an odor sensor type thing that can pick up smells and gases. Then you have some type of camera with which you can take pictures of the scene. I’m pretty sure there are others that I’m leaving off. These are just some of the ones I saw. Now some of this may seem convoluted, but the game is really good at making it user friendly. So for example, you’ll walk into a “hot” area and you’ll see a prompt that says “Press X to collect evidence.” You automatically take out the right forensic tool (there’s no deciding which one is appropriate). Once you take out the right tool, it’s up to you to find the evidence, and it’s pretty fun. For example, under the black light, blood will glow, so you bring out one of the tools, and using the thumbstick, you capture all the evidence on the LCD screen of the device. When all the evidence is on the screen, a little green light will light up on he device, and you press a button and it begins analyzing it. At this point, usually someone on your PDA device will contact you to give some interpretation of the evidence you just found. This part of the game seems totally fresh, and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it in a game before.
One of the best things about this game was its ability to set the right mood using visuals and sound. This game rivaled Kameo for the best graphics of any game at the event. The two games had such contrasting art styles that they are hard to compare. Where Kameo is light, bright, and fantastic, Condemned is dark, gritty, and realistic. Condemned has a subtle film grain effect over the entire screen. It similar to the effect seen in the next generation Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Throughout the game (I couldn’t follow the story exactly because of the loud music), but I think the main character starts losing his mind or something. So every once in a while, the game will use some cool visuals to portray his insanity. It reminded me a bit of Eternal Darkness (great game!) where you start to see things that aren’t really there. Plus, there are flashbacks in the game, and they use a visual filtering effect too (more film grain, overly washed out-saturated light, etc).
Light and shadows are extremely important in this game, and it’s good to see they are used well. As the character, even your body casts shadows on things as you walk past lights. It was hard to hear at certain points, but I believe it works into the story that your character (Detective Thomas, I think is the name) is afraid of the dark. This is funny and fitting for the game, because it’s a dark game. You have a trusty flashlight with you, and it’s much better integrated into the game than the one in DOOM 3. It’s more effective in two ways. It’s not only a little brighter, but at times when you enter areas, and I suppose the game wants to freak you out, it will also flicker and stuff, which adds immersion to the game, and freaks you out.
Out of all the games there, this one had the best textures of all of them. Wood actually looks like wood. Steel looks like steel, and cardboard boxes look like cardboard boxes. In the past, all the textures in a game appeared to be made of the same material (some would say “plastic”). In Condemned, all the textures are great, and it really helps the immersion. I just wish I could have played this one longer with the headphones on, because you could tell how important the sound design was to the overall game, and without it (with the loud music), the overall effect was lessened, but you could still tell it was a great game.
I remember seeing videos for this game and being rather impressed by the visuals, but I was curious as to how the gameplay would be. Well, I have no more worries, because it’s pretty good. Other than the forensic investigative elements, the action in this game is very well paced and methodical. Some might call that slow, but when you add that pace to the creepy mood created by the lighting, shadows, and sound, you get something very special that feel different than any other game I’ve ever played. The pacing feels this way, because unlike most shooters, you don’t run around everywhere. You actually walk. Clicking down the left thumbstick will allow you to run, but doing so brings up a little bar beneath your health bar in the top left corner of the screen. You run out of “sprint juice” after running for about 15-20 seconds, so this also adds to the realism. This bar refills automatically once you start walking again.
The use of weapons in this game is also innovative. Unlike other first person shooters where melee weapons seem to take a back seat to the guns, this is not the case in Condemned. In fact, the melee weapons in this game are more prominent and are used much more often than guns in the game. While you can’t pick up and use every single object in the game, you get the sense that you can use post of them. For example, you may have a crowbar, but there’s a gas pipe attached to the wall. Well, you have the option to rip it out and use the pipe instead. You might be asking yourself why use the pipe when a crowbar is useful? Well, each weapon is rated in four categories (power, speed, block, and something else I forgot). If you have the crowbar, and you walk to the pipe, the game will automatically pop up a little box that tells you what are the advantages and disadvantages to having the pipe over the crowbar. This box isn’t intrusive, and it quickly gives you the info you need (there will be a + next to the power and block, but a – next to the speed / all telling you visually that the pipe is more powerful and it blocks better, but you can do faster attacks with the crowbar).
There’s also some strategy with the weapon choices (you can only hold one), because there that the sledgehammer is needed to get through. Or you may have a chance to get a gun, and you want it because it’s pretty much an instant kill if you’re accurate. However, doing so means may be a padlocked door that tells you (via an onscreen prompt) you have to give up your current weapon. This is a tough decision, because the gun may only have two rounds in it. However, if it goes empty, and you’re fighting, don’t fear. All weapons can also be used as melee weapons too. The weapons I saw were two different pistols (a revolver, and a .45 semi-automatic). There’s a 12- gauge shotgun, and stuff like sledgehammers, a crowbar, and a fireman’s axe. Then there’s things that are just lying around the levels, like a small lead pipe, a larger pipe that still has valves on it. There’s a gas pipe that’s very heavy. Then you can grab signs off walls and rip things out of them. It’s very real feeling. And thankfully, you have your new best friend at all times. This is the non-lethal electric tazer. It shocks enemies so they can’t move, and then you can beat on them all you want.
Let’s talk about fear. This game is more effective (even more so than Doom 3) at creating fear in the player. I think part of this lies in the fact that this world is modeled and textured so well. But the world of the game seems real. You aren’t some super warrior fighting Hellspawn on Mars. You’re an FBI/CSI type detective, and you’re running a forensic investigation. The shadows, lighting and sound are all top notch. But the AI is also good. The enemies are formidable. They are scary. Here’s a funny story about that.
I was playing and another guy was watching. The room was loud and full of people. In the game, it was dark, and I was searching around with my flashlight. I was just about to look over a balcony that was over a stairwell. Just as I reached the edge, a psycho guy jumped up and tried to grab me. Both the other guy and myself went “Oh *****,” and jumped back. If I was not in a crowded room, and I could actually hear the game, I probably would have soiled myself.
The enemies also will just pop up in a window and freak you out. Or one will just run by and it will sort of make you gasp. Or you may see a shadow, and then not see an enemy for several minutes. The reason you gasp is because the enemies are not push-overs. They can hurt you. The combat mechanic is actually similar to the one in Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. You can swing your weapon and do power swings. You can block, and if you time the block, it will sort of make the enemy stumble a bit, and leave him open for a split second to a counter attack. And there’s plenty of blood. It will go onto the floors and walls, and even transfer to the weapon you are using at the time.
Someone joked there aren’t enough games in the “beat crazy hobos with pipes” genre. While that’s funny, Condemned certainly fills that void, and does much more. While Kameo might be the best overall game at this event, I had the most fun and spent the most time playing Condemned: Criminal Origins. This game went from barely being on my radar to the game that I want the most for the Xbox 360.