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Condemned: Criminal Origins Review

Developer: Monolith Software Publisher: Sega
Release Date: November 16. 2005 Also On: None

Monolith Software flexed their thriller muscle with this year’s hit PC shooter, F.E.A.R. That game featured disturbing scenes, incredibly intelligent A.I., and beautiful graphics that simply blew away the PC crowd. Their newest game, Condemned: Criminal Origins, looked to do the same thing to gamers on the new Xbox 360. After playing through Condemned, I’m starting to think that Monolith has this shooter-thriller genre mastered. Condemned is a hell of a good game, and an extremely thrilling one to boot.

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You’re thrown into the role of an FBI Agent sent into seedy, addict-infested environments in order to investigate the murders of a serial killer. After the events that take place during the first level, which I won’t ruin for you, your investigation turns into an all-out manhunt for the killer (or killers) as well as a battle to uncover the mysterious abilities and secrets you possess. The story is very intense, and sometimes when you’d least expect it, your character will have a flashback or he’ll black out and a dream sequence will give you a clue of what’s going on. The ending is very abrubt, unfortunately, but I would be absolutely thrilled to see a sequel, and the ending hints towards a possibility of that.

The gameplay is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a game. Let’s do some roleplaying. Completely unarmed, you walk into a dark room that is dripping with grime and muck, and there is trash and debris scattered all over the floor. As you slowly step around, you hear a crash. You look around, and your heartbeat steadily increases as your flashlight does a minimal job of helping you see the different nooks and crannies of the room. The only way forward is the door across the room, but it’s heavily shadowed and deep down inside, you know there’s something waiting nearby to kill you. To protect yourself, you rip a pipe from a wall and proceed forward, quickly glancing around and checking your rear for ambushes. Your character’s breathing gets harder and naturally your senses react, as your heartbeat continues to raise and you continue forward. You approach the door, and you feel that sense of security and accomplishment–but WHACK, you flinch as you’re clubbed by an enraged drug addict that is madly swinging a wooden plank at you, all the while loudly screaming obscenities. That increased heartbeat of yours turns into a pounding, and alongside flinching your reaction is to swing that pipe as quickly as possible. You’ve been hit, but you eventually overcome and finish off your attacker, who was a mere swing away from killing you. Taking a second to breathe, it hits you–you’re safe for now, but you only went through a single room in the many levels of Condemned: Criminal Origins. You open the door and in front of you is a whole new room and a whole new experience.

That’s how Condemned plays out. There is never a dull moment in the levels, and even when there aren’t enemies trying to beat the hell out of you, you are completely unaware of what might be in the same room you’re investigating. During some of the down-time, you do detective work and try to uncover different pieces of evidence that propel the story. You’re given access to different tools, like a laser gun that detects chemicals and a blacklight that highlights biological leftovers. Unfortunately, the investigating is pretty straightforward, and unlike the combat, it isn’t possible to be very creative with it. Still, it progresses the story, and serves as a nice breather from swinging at and blocking enemies. There isn’t much else that fluctuates the gameplay experience, but it never got old for me.

The fighting in Condemned is best described as being “in your face”. That’s what made me flinch so much when I played it–it feels like the angry inhabitants of Condemned are breathing down your neck the entire time they’re around. Fighting them feels very real due to this, and landing a solid blow to an enemy results in it recoiling, recovering, and counterattacking or running away from you. Once they’re ready to attack again, you’ll have to block and counterattack to stay alive. It’s unwise to underestimate even an unarmed enemy, as the intelligent A.I. will tell the opponent to rip a board off of the nearest wall and continue attacking if they lose their weapon or it breaks. With all of this melee, some gamers might wonder where the guns went. Every once in a while, the game will treat you and you’ll find a pistol or shotgun laying around. You’ll never find ammo in the game, and with every gun, you get what you see. This changes up the experience a little and allows you to pick off your enemies from farther away, but once you’ve used up the ammo, it’s back to clubbing enemies to death.

I’ve said that the environments in Condemned are dark and seedy, but I don’t think words can truly capture the feeling that the graphics convey. Just as you don’t know when to expect an enemy in a room, you’ll rarely come across a room that doesn’t have something to explore. The darkness of the game doesn’t tarnish how great the graphics look, as the shiny, glossy effect makes everything look wet and grimy and the weapon models are nothing short of perfect. The flickering of light in some of the rooms makes everything much scarier. The graphical achievement that Condemned does best is creating an ambience that will scare you even when there’s nothing going on. Visually, the only downfall is that the character models in cutscenes look blocky and the lip sync is a little off in some scenes. As you might expect by now, the music and sound effects make the game a lot scarier than anything else. It’s the lack of music that sets the mood, and the intensity of the sound effects make the action feel even closer to you. When you’re hit by an enemy and your character reacts, he doesn’t just make a grunt noise or a yelp in pain–his agony is as perfectly recreated as the actual beating noise that came from being hit by the enemy’s weapon. At the same time, landing a clear blow on an enemy sounds as gruesome as can be, and it intensifies the combat even more. I didn’t get a chance to play this game in 5.1 Dolby Digital, but I’d say it would be one of the more thrilling games to play in surround sound.

In the end, the slow pacing might turn off gamers looking for a straightforward shooter. The game isn’t very long, either. Including all of the deaths and retries that I had during the game, I finished the adventure in about eleven hours. There aren’t any other gameplay modes, so once you’ve finished the single-player game, you’ve experienced everything Condemned has to offer. Does this make it a bad game? No. Is it still worth buying? I’d say so, especially if you’re a fan of this type of game. If you like to breathe heavily and feel your heart pound, this is definitely the game for you. The story will captivate you and the ending will have you excited for more. The unique gameplay, thrilling story, and disturbing graphics make Monolith’s Condemned: Criminal Origins worth playing, and as an Xbox 360 launch title, it’s one of the top five in my book.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 5
Final: 8.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide