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Review: Condemned: Criminal Origins



Introduction:

Games by Monolith Productions have long been known for their high quality, and alternating quirkiness and violence, depending on the series at hand. Through the making of such classic franchises No One Lives Forever and Blood, they quickly established themselves as masters of art of crafting PC first person shooters. However, the last time they made a horror game was Blood 2, which was released way back in 1997. Quite some time has passed since then, so, when F.E.A.R. and Condemned, two first person horror-shooters, were announced one couldn’t help but wonder if they still had “it”. Well, F.E.A.R. was released on the PC a couple months back to rave reviews, raising the expectations for Condemned even higher. Taking influence from such pivotal horror movies as Silence of the Lambs and Se7en with a healthy dash of CSI and hobo bashing thrown in for good measure, Condemned certainly has a recipe for success. But is Monolith able to pull it off?

Gameplay:

In a move sharply departing from other first person shooter titles, Condemned’s fighting is focused squarely on melee combat. Sure, there is a gun here and there, but for the most part you will be wielding pipes, sledgehammers, and anything else you can find laying around. Almost anything that looks like a weapon is a weapon, if you think something looks dangerous, walk up to it and hit A. Chances are you’ll pick it up. Upon walking up to a possible weapon a small dialog will appear in the upper right corner of the screen displaying the statistics of the new weapon as compared to your current weapon. Stats include factors such as speed, damage, and reach. Upon equipping a weapon you have a multitude of ways to use it. Pull the right trigger, you swing the weapon. Pull the left trigger, you block. Hit the left shoulder button and you have access to a stun gun which is incredibly useful for, you guess it, stunning enemies. Pressing the right thumbstick will also kick, allowing you to nail any enemies getting a bit too close for comfort.

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This may not seem like a lot of options for attacking, and it isn’t, but that doesn’t matter once you get into the thick of battle. Your enemies in the game are homeless people who have gotten their hands on an assortment of vicious weapons, all of which you can steal from them. The story goes that your character, Ethan Thomas, is on the case of a serial killer, The Matchmaker, who enjoys setting up his victims in elaborate death scenes encircled by a throng of creepy mannequins. During an investigation of one crime scene, things go south for Ethan, forcing you to go on the run from the very people you used to work for. To prove his innocence, Ethan must journey into the slums of the city and through abandoned malls and schools. To make matters worse, these are the very locales populated by the aforementioned homeless people.

But these aren’t the funny homeless guys found on the streets of Seattle singing bad renditions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, oh no. These are the bloodthirsty, super-drug enhanced, and utterly insane homeless people who want to kill you. Walking down a dark corridor, they will leap out from nowhere and go for the jugular. They use anything they can get their hands on for a weapon, from paper cutters to desk drawers. If you take away their weapon by stunning them and stealing it, they will leap at you and rip you limb from limb. To defend yourself against these lawless cretins, you have to keep your wits about you. You have to be aware of when they are about to strike, and hit block at just the right time to parry their blow, allowing you to follow up with a strike of your own. Every hit of a weapon feels unbelievably real, character models reel from each hit, and take appropriate damage. Hit someone in the face and you might see a tooth or two fly. Hit them in the chest and a bloody streak will appear right where you hit them. A goodly amount of blood will fly out to boot. The gameplay here is just inherently fun, and I never found myself tiring of it at any point.

And what of the firearms in the game? They certainly take a backseat to the melee weapons, but they are also extremely useful. Guns in Condemned cannot be reloaded, the ammo that it is loaded with when you pick it up is the ammo that it has, period. There’s no reloading. While this may seem obnoxious at first, it is extremely beneficial to the game as a whole, as it keeps the focus on the game’s glorious melee combat and keeping things fresh by mixing it up. Guns are very powerful, taking down enemies in just a shot or two. And, when you’re low on health, they can be a lifesaver by keeping enemies at a distance. But once you use up the ammo, they aren’t completely useless. No, instead they can be turned into a melee weapon. With a simple press of the right trigger the gun goes into melee mode and the shotguns spins around for some stock bashing action, or the handgun becomes ready for some pistol whipping fun. However, once you run out of ammo on a gun you have to look for a better melee weapon, as using firearms as melee weapons will damage the gun itself, eventually rendering it useless as both a gun and as a club. The implementation of guns in Condemned really couldn’t be better. Without them, gameplay could feel stale. If they were more prevalent, there would be no reason to use melee weapons. As is, it strikes the perfect balance between the two: freshening up gameplay without detracting from the focus of the game.

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There are also some CSI-like scenes sprinkled throughout the game, all controllable by you. Upon entering an area with evidence, a dialog will appear directing you to hit X. Upon hitting the button you will pull out the correct evidence gathering tool, such as a UV light to detect blood or a DNA gathering apparatus. Whenever you collect evidence, it will be transmitted via cell phone back to the FBI lab for analysis. These scenes are entirely linear, but the crime scenes are all so shocking and spooky you won’t mind a bit. These scenes really feel like a playable scene from Se7en and it’s simply a blast to be able to play through them in the first person perspective.

As previously mentioned, the game is largely plot focused. The story itself is a roller-coaster of a ride all the way to its breathless conclusion. Levels in the game are also quite diverse, though individual stages can be construed as repetitive. However, that is not the way this reviewer sees it, at least. The environments of Condemned are hyper-realistic, which is one of the reasons they are so damn scary. The flipside of that realism, though, is that some areas can be slightly repetitive. But honestly, to anyone who has ever been in a school building (which is hopefully most of you reading this article) or office building, how isn’t it repetitive? The hallways repeat themselves, many of the rooms look largely the same, and the walls are all painted the same color. It is in replicating these environments that Condemned instills its players with a sense of terror. Walking down the halls of Condemned, you notice eerie similarities to your elementary school. You notice an escalator in the mall that looks just like that mall you visited a few months back. There really aren’t much of any problems with Condemned’s gameplay, it’s great fun.

Graphics:

Painstakingly crafted, uncannily life-like, and scary as hell. If you are familiar with Urban Exploration, you’ll know what to expect. If you don’t, Urban Exploration is where people enter abandoned buildings, poke around, get creeped out, and take pictures. Google it for a myriad of deprecate-looking areas. Now look in amazement at the similarity of many of those environments to the environments of Condemned. The levels of this title were obviously extremely well researched, and it’s also obvious that the artists on this project were universally top-notch. Aside from the brilliant environments, the character models also look great, and are extraordinarily well animated. All of the AI in the world wouldn’t matter if it was deployed unconvincingly, and that is certainly not the case here.

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The only issues with the graphics of Condemned is during the sporadic cutscenes that help drive the story- for some reason the character models look strangely average during them. They don’t look horrible by any means, but the in-game sequences look far more impressive than the cutscenes. It’s hard to imagine why this is, and in all honesty there’s no reason why many of the cutscenes are there to begin with. Some of the cutscenes just wouldn’t work from the first person perspective, such as those that take place away from your character’s viewpoint. However, for those that involve your character, which most of them do, there is no reason that they can’t be handled in the first person ala Half-Life. That’s really the only criticism here though, everything else looks superb.

Audio:

Every creek of the floorboards, every footstep, and every broken bottle comes alive thanks to the sound implemented here. Everything in Condemned sounds spot-on perfect, and voice actors are all excellent to boot. Opponents yell out in bloodlust, and it all sounds great. The music is always in the background, setting the mood with some good horror ambience- it fits in perfectly. There’s really just nothing to complain about here, good stuff all around.

Controls:

Groundbreaking. Melee combat has long been the bane of FPS titles. As a general rule, if it isn’t the plasma sword, gauntlet, or impact hammer, then it’s going to suck. Thankfully, suck is the last word that comes to mind when playing Condemned. Melee combat is simply flawless, you feel in control of every blow, and when you bash a hobo’s skull in with a steel pipe, you feel as if you just bashed a hobo’s skull in with a steel pipe. Blocking, swinging, firing, kicking, and tasering have never been so much fun.

Replay:

This is really the only problem with Condemned- there’s not much of any replay value. After you finish the game, you’ve finished it, and unless you are deadset on acquiring every achievement, there is no reason to play through it again. Much of the fun of the game is playing detective and figuring out the story as you go along. Problem is, once you’ve figured out the story, you’ve figured out the story. This problem could have been made less severe by increasing the importance of a key choice made late in the game, but for inexplicable reasons, the ending is the same regardless of the choice you make. Weird.

Another problem is that there’s no multiplayer functionality here. While in most games that are as plot-focused as this one, that would be understandable. Here, though, the gameplay is just so much fun it is hard to imagine how it wouldn’t work in multiplayer. It doesn’t take much- just have a round coliseum type room, throw in four players and some pipes and sledgehammers lying about, and let players go at it. The fact of the matter is that there just isn’t much replay here, period.

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Summary:

Condemned is currently one of the best games on the Xbox 360, bar none. It has exceptional gameplay, tight controls, beautifully scary graphics, and a soundtrack to wet your pants to. Unfortunately, a lack of replay value is just inexcusable when there are so many basic ways they could have enhanced it. In the end, however, the core game is simply brilliant. No one has ever made a horror game this good; it will have you on the edge of your seat until the breathless conclusion. If you are looking for something to play for weeks on end, then this isn’t a game for you. If you’re in the market for a brilliantly executed, and brutally violent, horror game for your 360, then this is for you.


summary
Total Score: 9.2
The final score is not based on an average

Written By: coolp
Submitted On: January 17th, 2006

Readers: 3859

  Gameplay

9.5  

  Graphics

9.6  

  Audio

9.5  

  Controls

9.7  

  Replay

6.2  


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