Once upon a night, in a creepy deserted dark building...
So do you like dark, deserted places? With all those objects & walls falling apart? With blood spilled all over & strange noises coming from all directions? Did you ever dream to beat up someone to death with a water pipe or a desktop? Did you ever dream to rip apart somebody's jaw with your bare hands? Did you enjoy F.E.A.R? If you answer "Hell yeah" to most of those questions, than it means Condemned-Criminal Origins is the perfect game for you. Let me explain...
You're special agent Ethan Thomas, FBI. You are sent to investigate a crime scene, along with two other police officers. It soon becomes apparent that the Match Maker is again responsable for this "nicely arranged" murder. He always kills young women, lays them down on the floor, surrounded by male manequins with their faces torn off. Some hoods stuble on you, kill the two cops with your own gun, then trow you off a window. Now, when the forensic teams show up they identify your gun & that results in you being wanted by the cops & the feds. Nice... only that a computer specialist, Rosa ,will decide to help you in your pursuit of the serial killer while guiding you as best she can to avoid the law enforcers. A british guy, apparantly helping you for no reason,gives you some leads to follow, which further on prove quite precise. As you investigate, you will keep posted regarding a strange paranormal event that occurs at the same time. Entire flocks of birds fall down dead while hitting certain areas of the city. Later on the hoods go mad,so that police officers are sent to deal with them. After an extended exposure to those parts of the city, perfectly healthy people, the cops also go nuts. Something strange is happening, & you also start having strange & creepy visions which leave you wandering if you're not going crazy yourself. When you finally find the Matchmaker... dead, you realise that there is another killer, the Serial Killer X, who killed only other serial killers in the exact way they'd kill their own victims. So you'll pursue SKX, until you'll realise that he is but a small pawn in the game. I won't say more...just that Monolith screwed it up a bit at the end.
If you played FEAR, you'll know what to expect from Condemned's graphical style. The are made with the same engine & have a lot of common things & looks. I'd say that the textures in FEAR were a bit more detailed, but Condemned compensates with its creepier,more spectacular shadow/light show. It's really creepy & not recommanded to go trough the whole game without your flashlight, because most of the time you won't see a thing in the darkness. The flashlight's light fascicle reflects accordingly, throws light on the close-by objects while only makes the far away objects barely visible. It also creates the spectacular shadows arond you, which hugely contribute to the game's atmosphere... because, as I said before, the biggest part of the game will be played in complete darkness. Another thing which the producers focuse on is the blood: how it spills, how it pours & the fact that it's a liquid substance were seriously taken into consideration. Also,it is very exciting to see how the blood spills on your weapon, be it a hammer, an axe or a paper cutter. The environment and the surroundings have also got a lot of attention from Monolith's team. As I said in the intoductory part of the review, Condemned isn't taking place in the clean (but nevertheless scary) office buildings where the action in FEAR was localised. Criminal Origins is placed in a small town, and you'll find yourself only in the deserted & most creepy parts of the city. An almost abandoned train station, a deserted school, a devastated library, a long-closed manequin store, a creepy barn house... it's all there. The thing all these locations have in common is that they were once industrial, cultural, economic centres, but now they're all falling apart. The train station has the abandoned trains laying in ruin, the school has its emty classrooms, corridors, the library has its bookshelves, & the barn...the barn has everything a creepy lonely deserted barn would have. Now if you introduce mad, grotesque people in these quite common places, your fear level will cerainly increase. So that's what I'm trying to tell you...wandering in all these deserted locations, perfecly designed, gives you the feeling of an abysal anxiety... something which seems a common place,but in fact it's not.
Now the sound might easily be the best element of Condemned Criminal Origins. The music is simply perfect... creepy, hair-raising ; & it fits perfectly in those deserted places you wander trough.It contributes a lot to the game's atmosphere, it's a key factor that really gives you the sensation that you're there, in the middle of the action. Now thw voice acting is ...let me explain. Both Ethan & Rosa's voices are a bit too indiferent, don't exacly seem to be experiencing the thrills which the game's action shows us.They're not bad but not too bright either. But as if the producers wanted to compensate that flaw, the enemy voice acting... that accent spoke almolst with horrifying ,mad joy, is really really scary. At moments you'll thing that hearing those madman talking is the scariest thing in the world. The smallest sound in a oasis of quiet will make you jump on the edge on your seat, hit escape, & try to recollect your nerves. And if that isn't a positive thing in a horror game,I don't know what is. The sound effects are also high-quality ...the weapon hits, the shots sound incredibly realistic... everything is gratly done & greatly recorded. All hail Monolith, once again!
I told you in the previous paragraphs about the story, about the locations where the action takes place & about the game's atmosphere, so now I'll speak about what you'll need to do in order to progress in the game. You'll have to beat everyone up to death. The end. Well, you'll get to use from a huge variety of melee weapons, mostly improvized (fire axe, jackhammer, meat cleaver, harpoon, pipe, paper cutter, desktop, a plank with bolts, manequin arm, cloathes drier piece ...basically everyting that looks & can be used as a weapon), & of course, some fire arms (pistol, revolver, pump-actioned shotgun, sawed-off shotgun, sub machine gun ...things like those). Now the melee weapons have some indicators, the most important being damage , speed & block. A big fire axe obviously does more damage & blocks more efficiently than a small pipe, which will istead be easier to hanlde & faster in attacks. Now nobody will stop you if you want to smash a guy's head by hitting him in the face with the shotgun. I always wanted to do that. Because Condemned wants to be a very brutal game, when you'll stun your enamies you can either finish 'em off by hitting them in the head with your weapon or by applying one of the four finishers you have at your disposal. They're cool, they're brutal, but they might get repetitive after a time. Now the enemies aren't very different from each other but you'll never get bord of fighting them. Plus that you'll encounter a couple of grotesque humans which crawl, jump on walls & eat human meat... very similar to the snorks in Stalker-Shadow of Chernobyl.
The rest of them are the ususal human enemies:some will wield fire arms, but most of them use melee weapons. The AI is quite good... for instance if you kick their weapon out of their hand they'll run & get another one,even if that means grabbing a pipe from the wall. Or if they see you, but you don't see them, they'll hide against a wall in your path & suddenly surprise you by a hard & unexpected blow. The puzzles resume to finding a fire axe to break a door or a hammer to break a chain with a lock on it. Oh, and finding the medpacks of course, which you'll need in order to survive. You can also try to find the dead birds & metal pieces scattered toughout the levels, if you want to get some achievments.But beware, some are really well hidden. At crime scenes or when you find evidence you'll have to use your forensic tools. Photograph some evidence, scan for fingerprits...things like those, which you'll execute manually, & that's a really cool feature.
Condemned Criminal Origins is a really good game. A different kind of FEAR, consisting in brutal melee fights & some very scary & disturbing scenes, Condemned is a must-have for horror/thriller fans, for crime investigation fans or for the ones who loved FEAR, & would like the idea of a more brutal FEAR with melee weapons. So go ahead, close the drapes, turn off the lights & start playing Condemned Criminal Origins. You won't regret it, I'll tell you that!