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Condemned: Criminal Origins Review

publisher: Sega
developer: Monolith
genre: Shooters

PIV 2000, 512MB RAM, 8GB HDD, 128MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Apr 11, 06
» All About Condemned: Criminal Origins on ActionTrip

Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of those games that came out of nowhere for me. Hell, I remember even writing about it quite some time ago, but as it goes day to day, you process so much of this information, some of it is bound to get lost. And so, upon actually getting my hands on the copy, I was completely oblivious as to what it had to offer.

That said, it was a nice surprise to play a quality game that was flying under the radar for me for all these months.

Published by SEGA, who are breaking into the PC market in a major fashion, and developed by Monolith Productions, (you know these guys; the ones behind the FPS smash hit, F.E.A.R.) Condemned: Criminal Origins could best be described as a first-person survival horror game.

The player is cast in the role of an FBI agent, who has been (wrongfully) accused of murdering two of his colleagues while on a crime scene, while investigating a brutal murder of a young woman. The murder they were investigating is the work of a crazed serial killer, dubbed The Matchmaker. Seeing how this is a survival horror game, deeply rooted in fiction, there's naturally more to these murders than meets the eye. Birds are dying all across the city from brain hemorrhage, and ultimately you discover that you have been chosen to play a pawn in a supernatural game of life and death.

The story is in many ways clich'd, though *it is* suspenseful. Ironically, the suspense is what keeps you going even though the actual plot that develops seems rushed and full of holes. Let's just say that you'd have to be 12 years old to buy into the chain of events that unfolds in Condemned. Not to mention that the "acting" of the virtual characters is often in stark contrast to the gravity of the situations they find themselves in. "Hi, you just woke up after witnessing the murder of two people. You were lying crawled up in your bed and having terrible nightmares, and now you see me, an old man, sitting on a chair next to your bed, IN YOUR FREAKING APARTMENT." And our hero goes, "Oh, hi there; and who might you be?" Dude, A COMPLETE STRANGER IS IN YOUR APARTMENT AND YOU DO NOT KNOW HIM! DEATH SURROUNDS YOU AND MONSTERS, AND MYSTERY. SHOULDN'T YOU, OH, FREAK THE HELL OUT A LITTLE?!

On the plus side, the guys at Monolith have gone out of their way to present a really original take on the first-person genre. Much like what Headfirst has done with Call of Cthulhu, Monolith tries to create the ultimate illusion of being in character. Hence, the crosshair is turned off by default (though you can turn it on if you so choose), and the standard "jumping by pressing the space key" is canned in favor of a more adventure-ish approach. Players are required to press the action key in order for their character to duck under an object, jump down off a ledge or climb up or down ladders. What this creates is the impression of controlling a regular Joe that is not super human and has a hard time dealing with the physical demands of the chase. This feeling of being completely in character is only amplified by a number of carefully scripted in game sequences. For example, when a deranged hobo or monster whacks you from behind with a crowbar and you go tumbling down the stairs, all the while the camera follows what your character would see at that moment. Or when you see a particularly gruesome scene and actually see yourself vomiting on the ground.
This "enhanced FPS angle" ties in to another crucial aspect of the gameplay, which is the combat.
Like in any good survival horror game your choice of weapons is extremely limited and so are the bullets. You will run into firearms along the way, but it's usually the objects in the environment that will play the key role in getting rid of the baddies. See a large pipe? Grab it and get ready to whack people on the head with it. Melee combat is absolutely critical for this game. It is *extremely* gory, to the point of feeling almost realistic, and the actual mechanics of whacking people and blocking their attacks are done in such a way that they make it fun for the player. Condemned appears to be using the F.E.A.R. engine, and so the AI ties in to this as well. In relation to the melee combat, your attackers will know when to try and block your attack, or step back when you've taken a swing.

Another relatively original aspect of gameplay is the use of inspection tools that will help you track down the killer and collect enough evidence to clear your name. As you'd expect it, you still have a comlink with your "inside girl" at the FBI, though the game doesn't make *any* effort to explain why in Earth would she trust you after receiving reports that two FBI agents were whacked with your gun.

These nifty tech gadgets look nice and all, but, sadly, they don't really add much to the gameplay. Condemned is not big on puzzles, so the inspection tools will be mostly reduced to a cameo role of "just another novelty that looked really good on paper."

In regards to the level design, Condemned is essentially a very straightforward and linear game. In that sense, the game follows the principles of more conventional FPS titles. Much of the game takes place in dark and damp corridors, subway stations, manors, sewers and such, and as you can imagine, the rather limited scope of the latest 3D technology from Monolith makes the flashlight your best friend in the game. On the upside, this does raise the tension to the point of making the player a bit jumpy and on the edge of their seat - a must for a survival horror title. Monolith also uses many of the same tricks we've seen in F.E.A.R., like sudden flashbacks, or triggering seemingly random events in the environment (coupled with some cool light play) that scare the shit out of you as you are making your way through a trashed interior of a decrepit building. Still, the rather claustrophobic nature of the levels, combined with the fact that, artistically, the game has much of the same ambience throughout, made it a lot less exciting than it potentially could've been.

Overall, however, Condemned seems like a good buy, or a rental at least. Performance-wise, it is a hardware hog, and this seems even less justified than in F.E.A.R., where the special effects seemed beefier and more spectacular.

If you are looking for a good survival horror title with a unique twist, however, I definitely recommend this one. It's not the second coming or anything, but it's good enough to surprise you in more ways than one.


8.0   Very Good

Unique concepts put you completely in character, melee combat, scary and extremely moody with a relatively suspenseful story;

After a while, the environment might feel monotonous, hardware hog, poor voice acting, the usefulness of inspection tools, low replay value.



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