Condemned: Criminal Origins Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 9.0
Gameplay : 8.5
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.8
Review by Andy Levine
While it’s interesting to play your favorite sports game or a cool shooter on your 360 just because the graphics are much improved, this hasn’t stopped some developers from creating exclusive titles that aren’t ports. One such release is Condemned: Criminal Origins, which puts you in the shoes of agent Ethan Thomas in his struggle against the FBI, strange addicts, and himself. Although the lack of any multiplayer component severely takes away from its replay value, Condemned still delivers a bone-chilling adventure that shouldn’t be missed.

Without giving too much away about the story, Condemned is all about an FBI agent who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result, he must fight his way through ten dreary scenarios in order to solve a crime and clean his record. The story itself is quite captivating, making it easy to get hooked until you finally put an end to all of the murders. Playing this game the first time through is a haunting experience that doesn’t scare you just by throwing things in your face, but rather by the atmosphere created. Whether you swear you just saw a junkie walk by, or if you think a grisly looking mannequin just gave you a dirty look, a lot of your time can be spent cowering in fear.

The visual styles help develop the scary aura due to the high level of realism. All of the levels are dimly light, making it necessary to check around every corner for any hidden lurkers. Most of the time your flashlight will be your only light source and it’s essential for maneuvering around burnt down buildings, abandoned schools, and other similar environments. Enemies dripping in blood can strike you in the head and blur your vision, making it all the more satisfying to snap their neck and kick their lifeless corpse to the side. The character models are crisp and there are hardly any jagged edges with an HDTV, so the game as a whole looks sharp.

Almost anything you see can be used as a weapon, including pipes, fire axes, shovels, locker doors, and even a variety of firearms. Whenever you come across a new item, a menu will pop up in the corner and compare it to your current one based on speed, damage, ability to block, and reach. For example, a crowbar is fairly light but doesn’t deal a whole lot of damage, while the sledgehammer is almost guaranteed to kill in one hit but takes a while to swing. Pistols, shotguns, and even sub-machine guns can be wielded, but due to their limited ammunition supply, you won’t be doing too much firing. Still, guns can also be used as melee weapons, but if you bash up too many enemies they will eventually break. Instead of just being able to stick with the same weapon for an entire game, certain context-specific areas require a certain item to be used to get past an obstacle. Overall, there is a vast selection of tools you can use to bring down your foes in surprisingly pleasing ways.

The actual combat system is simple to pickup, yet it offers plenty of depth as well. Essentially, the right trigger is used to swing your weapon while the left trigger blocks. Pressing down the right analog stick will perform a kick, allowing you to string together combos efficiently. The left bumper button can be used to Taser enemies, leaving them stunned and unable to move for several seconds. For the most part, you should be able to get one or two swings in before an enemy fights back, in which case you’ll either need to run back to dodge his attack or attempt to block. In order to block, you must press the trigger right before he makes contact, otherwise you’ll be left wide open and susceptible to a lot of damage. However, if you do manage to pull the block, your opponent won’t be able to fight back for a little bit. Most importantly, if you manage to bring an enemy to his knees without killing him, you can perform a finishing move by pressing any direction on the D-pad. Whether you want to snap his neck or deliver a blow straight to the face, finishing baddies off is eerily satisfying.

The levels flow in such a way that you follow a linear path while uncovering clues and killing anything in sight. Occasionally, you need to break out forensics equipment in order to examine a crime scene so you know where to go next. All you have to do is press ‘X’ to take out the automatically selected tool, and then randomly search an area until you find the area that glows a certain color. After applying the appropriate zoom, you can relay the evidence back to the labs and have it examined for any clues. One gadget that detects odors can even be used to track down birds, which are hidden items in the game that reveal secrets about the storyline.

The best part about Condemned is exploring new areas without having a clue as to where you need to go. Sometimes the game will have a random person appear for a split second or have someone run across the screen real quick just to keep you on your toes. Soft, ambient noises are also haunting and help build up on the overall intensity. Leaking pipes, random footsteps, and sporadic yelps can make it scary to move on. Sadly, this also works against the game, because there is very little replay value. Once you already know all of the surprises, plot twists, and enemy locations, it can be overly repetitive to deal with the same situations more than once. Despite this, playing Condemned the first time through is nothing short of spine-tingling.

Although the proliferation of triggered events and lack of any multiplayer are certainly turnoffs, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a title that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. It is by far one of the scariest games of all time, and its innovative combat system and captivating storyline make this game one hell of a ride.