theuselessgod's Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360) review

It would be a CRIME to pass this game up! Eh? Eh?!

The Short

Pros

- Gritty, violent fusion of horror and criminal investigation

- Strikes a decent balance between fighting and investigating

- Combat is first-person melee, something unique for a modern setting

- Story is genuinely creepy and compelling

- Areas are dark, tense, and scary

- Wide variety of weapons with varying stats at your disposal

Cons

- Areas can get a little repetitive, especially at the beginning

- Graphics haven't dated particularly well

- Some parts of the game are so dark you can't see anything

- Certain barriers require specific weapons to get through, which can be annoying

- You kill a lot of hobos without repercussion. Does the city just not care?

Get ready to beat down some homeless

The LongCondemned: Criminal Origins is an interesting game. Created by Monolith, the dudes who made Alien vs Predator 2, Blood, and F.E.A.R., you could say these guys know there way around first-person shooters. But Condemned isn't a shooter, not really. While it does have guns, Condemned is a first-person melee horror game with some extra CSI-esque detective work. It's a brutal, gritty, and often disturbing game that sinks its claws into you and doesn't let go.

Crime investigation is fun, though at times knowing what to look for can be frustrating

Detective Ethan Thomas is having a crap day. Hot on the trail of a serial killer called the "Match-Maker," another serial killer (creatively titled "Serial Killer X") shows up to the party. After Serial Killer X kills two cops and Ethan is framed for it, he finds himself both running from the cops and hunting down the Serial Killer X in an attempt to clear his name and stop the murders. It's a crazy game that starts fast and just gets wilder, with plenty of creepy-weird things to keep the story moving forward.Also, clearing his name apparently involves killing lots and lots of homeless people.

With crowbars. Or anything else he can find that causes blunt-force trauma.

While the game tries to give some justifiable reasoning for Ethan murdering what must be hundreds of hobos (they are on some sort of drug that makes them super aggressive or something), it just didn't fly with me. It's like the whole Nathan Drake thing in Uncharted: how am I supposed to root for this "good guy" when he's a psychopath? Other games usually give me at least a little justification (it's during a war, your character is actually a psychopath, you are killing wild animals instead of people), but Ethan's bloodlust and total lack of diplomacy is unnerving. Which also makes the "finishing moves" he can perform all the more weird. Ethan is supposed to be a straight cop who got framed, but I have my doubts.The gameplay is a mix of two things: first-person melee weapon combat and CSI investigations. The first-person combat is actually pretty good, if difficult. Ethan has a block ability, but unlike in most games you can't just hold the block button and magically become immune to all hits. Holding the block only makes him hold his weapon up for a second before pulling it down again (and you can use this to "fake out" enemies, and they'll do it to you too). In order to block you have to have some dang precise timing, or else you'll be taking a hit. Same goes for hitting people. You can power-attack through blocks (and the enemies can do it in return), but during the wind-up you are exposed for a moment. It makes fights a sort of delicate dance, with both you and your enemy being on very level ground. Every fight is difficult and requires your full attention, even when you have full health, which makes the game a challenge from start to finish.

It can, however, get unfair when you have multiple enemies ganging up on you, since you are ill-equipped to fight more than one at a time. Luring them away actually works pretty well, but it did lead to several very frustrating deaths.

You also get to play detective.

The investigation portions are a good break from the continuous, never-ending waves of hobos that want your blood. Essentially you are put in an area and are tasked with finding evidence that will eventually help you prove your innocence. You are given a handfull of tools, and it's up to you to figure out which ones are best for the job. It's sort of a puzzle game during these segments, which is kind of cool since they mix well with the horror element. What isn't cool is the lack of direction. Some you'll figure out quickly, others can actually be obscure stumpers. I'd like to think I'm pretty smart, but I got stuck a couple of times not being certain what I was looking for, and without any hints that was straight up frustrating. They streamlined this in the second game (which worked out better), but for now these are either easy enough that you enjoy them, or obscure and lead to frustration.

You start going sort of crazy, too, and seeing all sorts of messed up stuff.

But what about the horror? This was branded as a horror game from the start, is there anything truly scary about this game? Well, I'm going to say "sort of," and offer an explanation.Condemned is tense. Not since Resident Evil 4 have I been so worried about what might be around a corner or hiding in the darkness. The game is really dark (in terms of lighting and tone), which means often you'll go to an area only to have a crazed hobo come screaming out at you from pitch darkness. The game's lack of music and adherence to total darkness and silence make these encounters nerve-wracking, and since the enemies can be so difficult you are constantly afraid of what might be around the corner.

So it's tense. But is it scary? Well...a little. I guess. It does do a lot with its environments (though these scary encounters are bordered by a lot of "same" looking places), and the visions help with the weirdness and creepiness. But if I had to be completely honest I'd say it's more a suspenseful game than a scary one. Scary games get under your skin, give you nightmares, make you wish you weren't seeing the things you were seeing. Suspenseful games have you worried for what might kill you or come next, but once you turn the game off you aren't still thinking about it. Condemned has suspense in spades, but it isn't really very scary. Which is fine if that's what you want (I'm all for it), but just keep in mind this is no Silent Hill.

There are a few guns, but they have very limited ammo. You can flip them around and use them as clubs, though.

A few other problems drag the experience down. Often you'll find barriers, be they doors or boards or something like it, that require specific melee weapons to break down. This feels particularly "gamey" to me and really breaks the immersion. Having to backtrack (slowly, because Ethan would lose a footrace with a turtle) across an area to find the required item that you know is around somewhere because this is a game and it wouldn't let you get stuck isn't fun, it's tedious. Why can't he just use the metal pipe to force the door open? Whey does he have to get a crowbar?

The environments also tend to get very repetitive very fast. They do well with darkness to keep the suspense up, as well as throwing a few unique creepy touches along the way, but as a whole a lot of this game just looks the same. It's very gray, very dark, and very similar. It does mix up a little near the end, but for the most part I didn't really feel like I was making much progress because every room and stairway looked so similar.

The graphics have also not aged very well. This game was a showcase for the Xbox 360 as a release title, but all these years later we see time hasn't been kind to it. Character models look a little weird and "plasticy," effects like fire are weak, the flashlight and lighting isn't all that great, but the biggest offender is (again) the environments. Monolith tries and does alright for the time I suppose, but most of the walls look like the same uniform texture, and since it's that bland "stone gray" for 80% of the game I got really tired of looking at Condemned's ugly face.

For the time, though, this game looked pretty good.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is still totally worth playing, as is its sequel. It does something very few games have tried: make a modern-setting melee-based first-person horror game with detective elements and a billion hobos. For that alone (and the fact it's extremely intense) you should check it out. Just be sure and sort of squint a little; those graphics aren't going to upgrade themselves.

If you can grab it for $10-$15 I'd say you got a decent deal. It's still a fun horror game despite its age, and the sequel Condemned 2 is also pretty good.

Three out of five stars.

More at nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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Other reviews for Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360)

    Criminally Entertaining 0

    One part CSI, One part first-person/survival horror, Condemned is a game that relishes in it's visceral delight and dense atmosphere, while trying to tell an interesting mystery teetering on reality and insanity. You play as Ethan Thomas, FBI crime scene investigator who is following The Matchmaker serial killer. You arrive at the newest crime scene and begin the first of what will be many somewhat useless crime scene investigation sequences. I say useless because the game pretty much tells you...

    4 out of 4 found this review helpful.

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