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

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This is why I'm a wimp...

I'm a coward. Seriously. I am such a coward. And games like these probably don't help. The weird thing is, I was a coward before I played scary games and the more I delved into it, I realised that the thing about them that scared me most was that they simulated dreams that have been freaking me out for a solid decade. Either these developers are probing my brain each night, or I'm an undiscovered prophet.
I'm still not sure which.

Condemned is quite frankly, messed up. I'm sorry that I'm not breaching the limits of literary excellence here, but the general horror that such a game has managed to evoke has left me in a state that even thinking about it puts dissolves my vocabulary to that of a Californian stoner dude. It's messed up and that might be what makes it so fulfilling. The enemy here is not some mindless zombie (although it does come close). It's not some trained militia veteran, or the police. It's not somebody who you can keep at arms length. It's psychosis, pure and undiluted. Like some kind of infection, people are going crazy. The homeless prowl the streets and ransack houses, fighting each other, and killing anyone unlucky enough to come near them. Unfortunately, their main target is going to be you, Ethan Thomas. Usually, Ethan lives in a comfortable apartment and lives out his life in an interesting, albeit safe job investigating crime scenes. But, thanks to what appears to be sheer bad luck, everything gets turned on it's head for Ethan and he finds himself on the run.

Something worth mentioning in advance, is the script, both story wise, and gameplay wise. The story itself, although seemingly very cliché-ridden manages to develop into something truly horrifying and deep. The finalé in particular turns out to be very true to the genre, and is sort of strange in that I felt like I was watching a Hollywood movie, but I was playing it. It's an odd experience, especially due to some of the artistic choices regarding that finale. As well as that, the story is riddled with metaphors that could leave you wandering about the very notion of the game you've played for days.
The script in terms of gameplay is nothing short of masterly. The tension rises and falls in accordance to the atmosphere all around you and overall, the game feels more like Silent Hill than any other survival horror game. Most of the fear is completely misplaced as you wander, axe raised throughout abandoned schools and subway stations. There are some great jumps as you lower your guard only for some screaming maniac to come flying towards you or spraying a flock of bullets all looking to replace your face.

The gameplay itself can feel a litle rusty. In retrospect, it's probably because Monolith was not particularly experienced at creating first person beat-em-ups, which shows particularly when compared to Condemned 2. The latter really manages to settle in the crunch of a strike, whereas Condemned: Criminal Origins' impacts can feel a little loose.

One main criticism is that the game can seem a little heavyhanded with the difficulty at time, and on occasion you can't help but think it's all a little uneven, though the auto-save feature (which appears to jump into practise every 15 seconds) more than makes up for this. The boss battles in particular are what really got me riled, but it's mostly a case of trying again and eventually you should get it right.

Overall, I suppose I can't blame the game for making me a coward. I was a coward to begin with, and if anything Condemneds atmosphere, realism and general freak-out factor is going to harden me. Although it certainly scares me (a lot more than I'm comfortable with) as a member of the Survival Horror Genre, it more than meets expectations and is a game I can certainly see myself playing through again.

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