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 when and where to use them, all you do is point the tool and click the button. I almost would rather have the information gathered this way cinematically, or given to the player instead of having my hand held, but I could see how other people wouldn't mind.
In any case you're soon accused for the murder of two FBI agents and are now charged with the task of finding the true killer with only the aid of the one agent back at the office who believes your innocent, and helps you identify evidence found along the way. The story ends up being rather interesting, with a few twists and turns, as well as some really Se7en-like creepy moments. It teeters into a very Indigo Prophecy segment towards the end, with less psychic powers and (thankfully) no robots. It gets weird, but not that weird.
Visually, the game is an older X-Box 360 title, so it still has some stiff movements, and very plastic looking character models. Character models that, by the way, probably achieve more realism for being rather ugly. You know, like real people tend to be. The enemies take this to advantage though. The army of crazed, violent, homeless people get more and more disturbing looking as the game goes on. The environments themselves are probably the highlight of the game. Both in layout and physical design they are very realistic... except for the part where certain doors can only be broken down by certain weapons... Other than that, they are very dark, very dirty, and very convincing.
Gameplay is your typical first-person perspective, however, kiss your endless ammo and one-man armory good-bye. What Thomas gets to defend himself is whatever happens to be lying around, be it a 2x4 with nails in it or a shovel. The majority of the game features such melee weapons, however some of the guns are apparently fortunate to have obtained guns (from a black market, I can only imagine). If you are lucky enough to down the grimy punk before he takes too many shots, the weapon is yours. Congratulations! You now have 3 bullets to defend yourself before the gun is mostly useless! It's a very interesting system, but if Alone in the Dark's inventory system dissuaded you, this is only going to be more aggravating. You are granted a taser as back up, stunning enemies long enough to get a good clean swing in or two. The overall difficulty is rather high, as it's you and your crowbar against an army of insane bums and a cereal killer, so fair warning.
The soundtrack is fairly lax, the game focuses more on delivering an incredibly paranoia inducing atmosphere with quick, rustling audio cues and dark tones. The voice acting is pretty decent. Nothing particularly special, and perhaps a little out of character with the models, but that's not to fault the audio.
In the end the choice is simple: the game is cheap. If you're looking for an interesting toss up to the typical FPS formula, feel free to at least rent this one, although for as cheap as you can find it (roughly $15 to $20), it won't break the bank to just pick it up and keep it in your collection. The visceral atmosphere and nature certainly deserve a look, even if the game is not quite as polished as it could have been.