Don't Go Into That Building? Why?! Because, It's "Condemned!"
And after running through the game, it must be said that this game does indeed have plenty of thrills to "boot." (Heh, heh, a wonderful "no-prize" to those people who can get the pun.)
Those looking for a completely radical shift in storytelling for survival horror games will be disappointed to discover that there really isn't much different here from the thousands of other horror games released in the past decade. You play as a cop (an FBI agent, to be exact), who has to investigate a murder scene that apparently involved a serial killer. Of course, the place you're going into happens to be dark, and you happen to be the only person who can do the job, AND, there's something rather supernatural about the whole thing. Sound familiar? I thought so. I mean, it's only the same backstory and setting that you can find in just about every other popular survival horror game. To be fair, the game takes a different turn after about the first level or so, when the story veers away from the traditional survival horror game formula and actually has more in common with movies like "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs," than games from the "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" series. Without giving too much away, you basically chase after a serial killer while trying to deal with your own personal demons (heh, heh), getting past crazed homeless people, collecting dead birds (not sure why...), and staying away from a local police force that mistrusts you. It gets rather interesting as you go on, and there are definitely some "holy shit" moments as you progress through the game's creepy levels.
As you chase after your suspect throughout the game's ten chapters, you are required to use some special FBI-issued forensic tools to collect evidence and track your target's trail across the game's expansive levels. Thankfully, because your character has good "instincts," you always know when to start searching for clues thanks to an onscreen prompt which alerts you to press a context-sensitive button in order to whip out a device. (Your character always knows what device to select, so you don't have to fumble around with the different forensic tools in order to get your evidence). The tools themselves range from a digital camera to a sampler, which evaluates a specific target's chemical make-up. All the information you collect somehow automatically gets sent over to a remote lab via a mobile videophone for evaluation. The tools are pretty cool, but by the time you get to the later levels, the whole novelty behind data collection gets rather old. Because of your "natural instincts," collecting evidence becomes nothing more than a glorified game of "find target, press button." Don't let the whole "evidence" thing fool you; you're certainly not being asked to use your brain to uncover clues. No one's going to mistake "Condemned" for "C.S.I.", that's for sure.
Some people have mistaken "Condemned" for a FPS, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, the game does take place in first-person, and you do get to fire off some guns every once in awhile, but this ain't no "Doom 3." Instead of going through level after level, blowing homeless bums and other freaky perps into smithereens, you are asked to completely beat the snot out of them using an assortment of wonderful blunt objects such as crowbars, pipes, street signs, 2x4s, and even mannequin arms. "Condemned" features an incredibly deep and realistic-looking melee combat system in which you have to learn how to find the right combination of attacking and parrying in order to defeat your enemies without sustaining too much damage. Each weapon you grab has its own set of attributes that affect your attacking speed, power, and ability to block. The enemies you encounter also tend to have some great A.I., so they will be doing everything they can to catch you off guard, including hiding behind corners, initiating head-fakes, cursing you out, and of course, stopping your attacks with parries of their own. However, you can always disarm your enemies using a tazer, which temporarily disables your enemies long enough for you to run up to them, take their weapon, and then use it against them. There is a catch with the tazer, however; you can only use it once before you have to wait for it to charge after about 30 seconds, so it's not like you can run through the game abusing it. With that said, the melee system is pretty balanced and certainly provides a rather different experience from games before it.
Sometimes, you'll run into actual firearms, but unfortunately, you're not allowed to reload in the game, so many of these guns are only good for about 5-7 shots and then that's it. At the very least, you can then turn the guns themselves into melee weapons, but only for a limited amount of time, as the guns tend to break after a few successful hits.
Graphically, "Condemned" is a great-looking game. It's clear that the people at Monolith spared no expense to use the 360's processing power to create the incredibly grotesque and expansive gaming environments that you'll run into over the course of the game. They also did some great things with the lighting; at some points you might find yourself literally jumping at the sight of your own shadow. And with the variety of locales that you'll go through from level to level, you'll certainly see first-hand the amount of work that Monolith put into making environments that'll make you want to play with the lights on, whether you're running through an abandoned department store, or an empty train station. Combine the graphics with the incredible sound that the game features, and we're talking 'bout a pretty complete package as far as "horror" is concerned.
For whatever reason, "Condemned" connects to Xbox Live to post "high scores," but honestly, I could really give two shits about how I compare with others at completing the game. It almost seems as if Monolith just put in the "high score" aspect of the game just to appease Microsoft's desire to have every game whore out Live. I mean, if you care about that kind of thing, go ahead and knock yourself out as you attempt to replay the game again and again to obtain a good global ranking, but outside of acquiring a few Achievement Points, there really isn't a good reason to replay the game again and again. Once you beat the game, you really have no incentive, from a "fun" perspective, to replay the game again. I went back through some levels to pick up some Achievement Points that I missed the first time around, and it certainly wasn't as fun as when I first played. It almost felt like it was a chore to go back to those levels. So, the game's replayability is questionable.
Speaking of Achievement Points, it's not too hard to obtain them, and unlike other 360 titles, each award actually unlocks special content within the game, such as "making of" videos, character and level sketches, "outtakes", and special FBI files that fill in some holes that were not explained within the main game's story arc. As a result, you actually have an incentive to obtain the A.P.s. The hardest AP to get is the Gold Melee Award, which rewards you for completing the entire game with melee weapons only. It's certainly not too hard to obtain, but unfortunately, there's a slight bug in the game that affects whether or not your 360 recognizes the Achievement. In this case, you might have to replay it over and over again just to get it to register, which is not fun at all.
"Condemned: Criminal Origins" is a great game that's certainly worthy of at least a weekend rental, if only to experience the kinds of thrills that the guys at Monolith have created on the 360. Average gamers should finish the game in about 15-20 hours, so it's certainly possible to finish the game in a weekend. Play this game with the lights off and the sound up, and I assure you that you will be playing one of the scariest games ever created. Guaranteed.
1) Decent storyline that will keep you playing all the way to the end.
2) Looks and sounds great.
3) Will scare your ass off.
4) Melee combat system is well-balanced, hard-hitting, and innovative. Getting hit with a sledgehammer never looked so damaging.
1) Some levels are just too big and dark for their own good; real easy to get lost. (ahem, Grid 4 Subway Tunnels, ahem)
2) At times, the game's checkpoint system proves to be incredibly annoying. You can't save whenever you want to, and instead, have to wait to reach a certain point before you can save. This can be real bad when you have to keep on replaying through hard parts over and over again just because you couldn't save.
3) Forensic tools get kind of old after about the 4th Chapter.
4) You get the feeling that there's going to be a sequel... too many questions left unanswered. Like... why the hell is everyone nuts in the first place!?
Shouts to Gamespot.com for some of the images posted here!