First person games are few in far between. Okay, let me slap myself in the face for lying to you. OK, first person games that aren't shooter-based are few and far between. While they can be used for superb immersion, many people look to other styles for their non-shooter games. Condemned is a welcome exception to this rule. While there are guns in this game, they are a smaller part than most other FP games, which makes it unique from the start. Couple that with a genuinely interesting story and goosebump-filled atmosphere, and you have a treat.
In Condemned, you play as FBI investigator Ethan Thomas, a top notch detective who focuses on serial killings. As the game opens, you are at the scene of the crime, a murder commited by the "Match Maker". This scene then thrusts you into a chain of events as you chase down a serial killer who holds some key to your life. The story is solid, but the presentation is lacking, mainly in its use of cutscenes. While some sections are propelled through cutscenes, others have you looking from a first person perspective as scripted events take place before you. This provides inconsistency, and makes it hard to get into a rhythm.
The game also uses most scripted events poorly. By this, I mean that there will be a scripted fight between two people going on in front of you, and you can only approach once one is dead and the other is coming at you. This really makes the game feel too much like a movie, as if you would want to just sit by and watch, when logic would have you attacking one with his back turned at another enemy. However, much like the use of cutscenes, this part of the game is strangely exclusive to the first sections.
The main draw for Condemned comes from two places: the fact that it's a horror game, and the fact that it focuses on melee combat. Both of these elements come through very well. The combat, while difficult to get used to, is visceral and enjoyable. Even after playing the game for an hour, the nice crack you hear when beating an enemy over the skull is great satisfaction. Blocking, on the other hand, is difficult. Because of this, some fights end up being more like Oblivion fights (run up, attack, run back, wait for him to miss, run up, attack, etc.) rather than its own breed. Still, the combat is fun. There are guns to get in Condemned, but they'll usually have enough ammo for only two or three enemies. Finding a gun is not a huge relief, as you'll be back to the melee soon enough. Weapons for melee include 2X4s, metal bars, desktops, fire axes and sledgehammers.
The atmosphere as well is a big draw, since it can be genuinely scary at times. Seeing a little mutant humanoid run under a table and out of sight just as you walk into a room will send an unwillingness to continue up your being. Other moments, however, are more predictable, which aren't as frightening. For the most part, though, it's freaky. What adds to this is this constant feeling of not knowing what's real and what isn't. It will appear as though enemies are around, yet they will not be. Scenery will change, enemies will run out of nowhere, crack you one, and disappear, and more. This really makes the game surreal, and is probably the most commendable aspect of the game.
There are more faults to discuss, though. The forensics, which consist of using UV lights and whatnot to survey crime scenes, can be frustrating due to an unclearness on what exactly to do. Also, the achievements are terrible, consisting of collecting dead birds and finding Xbox 360s strewn about the game world. They're completely frivolous. Also, there's so little explained in this game left to be explained in sequels that it's maddening.
All in all, Condemned offers up the scares with some great visceral action to boot. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a good Halloween party base, or someone looking to beat down some crazy hobos and zombie-like things. It offers a hell of a lot of value to anyone fitting this bill.