CSI meets Call of Duty
Condemned: Criminal Origins is the predecessor to Condemned 2: Bloodshot on the Xbox 360. It was kind of pioneering on its release in 2006 as managing to combine the genres of a FPS game with forensics and mystery solving of a CSI game, firmly placing it in the hallowed halls of the Survival Horror genre. It’s very original I have to say, and keeping in the survival horror style, there is next to no ammunition throughout the game.
You play the role of Serial Crimes Unit investigator Ethan Thomas, who is framed for killing his partner and another beat cop as a mystery assailant uses his gun to shoot them. This puts you in a rock and hard place was with help from forensics expert Lieutenant Rosa, you must investigate the clues left behind from the mysterious assailant who killed the cops and framed you for their murder.
The ambience throughout the game is dark and chilling with fantastic use of suspense in places, which really gives you the feeling of being totally alone. The flashlight you have is pathetic and like a Silent Hill game, are completely unable to see further than a couple of metres in front of you. All the enemies however do tend to make noise when trying to find a place to ambush you, which just adds to the paranoia this game creates. The forensics are very basic, and not very challenging compared to the sequel. You have a plethora of stupid and crazy gadgets making you out ot be like Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters and every piece of “evidence” seems to encompass an incandescent glow under UV light. The sprint function is pathetic to say the least. Incorporating a clunky control of having to hold down the left analog stick to sprint, you also get a beige bar appear under your health gauge on the left hand side. The sprint will last about 3 seconds enabling you to run a whole 5 yards if you’re lucky, let alone be able to change direction adeptly. You’d think being an FBI field agent you’d have a decent level of fitness wouldn’t you?
There are two types of combat in this game, firearms and melee. The firearms are relatively rare but you can find them all if you look hard enough and not race through the level, however upon obtaining them, they usually have something pathetic like 4 rounds of ammo before running out leaving you to use them as a melee weapon. The melee weapons in turn are pretty ubiquitous, as with most things you can just pick them up or rip them from the wall to use them as a weapon. This ranges from 2×4 planks with protruding bolts, iron bars with concrete aggregate stuck to the bottom to comedy weapons like mannequin arms and chef’s cleavers. Seeing that you will spend the majority of this using melee weapons, you have to get used to the timing of strafing and blocking. Strafing needless to say is backing off and avoiding the hits from the enemies and timing is critical but you can easily get caught into a corner and battered into oblivion rather easily, leaving the last resort using the block button. The timing of this is very erratic. Instinctively pressing the button as the blow hits doesn’t always deflect the hit, as you have to have the peak of the block coincide with the peak of the hit, otherwise you will take damage.
The damage detection in this game are very biased towards the enemies as they will always block repeatedly and counter with Zorro-esque precision leaving you flailing your melee weapon about like blind canoeist in a jelly river. Blocking one of their attacks according to the manual should leave them stunned and open for a counter attack, but in reality that’s just a lie as they continue to attack you repeatedly even if you block. Many enemies always have firearms too which never seem to run out of ammo and you’ll spend a lot of time in cover waiting for them the reload. But this is another inconsistency, they can unleash a frigate amount of bullets at you but when you pick up their weapon there’s always only about 2 bullets left. The only advantage with the combat is that you have a taser, and this will save you life on multiple occasions. Zapping an enemy with the taser stuns them allowing you to grab their weapon off them leaving them unarmed. Unlike Condemned 2, you are literally defenceless unless you get a weapon, as Ethan cannot fight unarmed.
The level design is frustrating and identical in places making it easy to get really lost in the suburban labyrinth with no landmarks. There’s no map either so you have to almost recognise your route through the darkness. The main gripe with the level design is the doors. Certain doors can only be opened using either a sledgehammer, fire axe, crowbar or spade; but none are interchangeable. For example a wooden door according to the game can only be opened with an axe, thus me assuming that a flimsy door is inpenetrable to a sledgehammer. Really. Maybe I’ve been playing Red Faction: Guerilla too much to assume that a wooden exit door can’t be felled by a 14kg hammer. The hammer is for removing padlocks, which can’t be removed using a crowbar. Who the hell made the rules for this up? It’s like if two idiots were trying to work out the rules for stone+paper+scissors using only the medium of dance in a rollerdisco which is only playing N-Dubz. It sucks and it’s stupid, and ultimately it’s annoying.
The obligatory collection missions are just stupid and pointless as you have to collect pieces of metal and carcasses of birds throughout each level, not that it tells you, you find out that you picked up 0 out of 6 at the end level only for me to have to look up what on earth I was supposed to pick up in the first place.
Condemned has got a very intricate storyline and seeing that I played this series backwards by completing the sequel first, see how well the storyline was built up in the first game. There are a lot of cheap “boo” scares so I wouldn’t recommend this game for people of a nervous disposition but all in all it’s a very good game considering the age of the game and while the graphics aren’t anything to write home about, the game was a very entertaining and frightening experience.