Condemned: Criminal Origins Xbox 360 Review

Condemned is honestly the sleeper hit for the Xbox 360 launch. When I picked it up last week, not much was available so my choices were narrow. It’s freaky, bizarre, eccentric, horrifying and will make players trembling at times. Well maybe not trembling but it will scare you I can guarantee you that. It isn’t the typical “what’s hiding in that dark corner over there” scare either. You’ll be surrounded completely by light and still find the same scares that you wouldn’t normally experience in such games as DOOM 3 that rely on cheap tricks to scare the players.

Developed by Monolith Productions and published by SEGA, Condemned is a quality haunted house ride if I must say. Monolith Productions is known for the quality 1st person games so I am not surprised that their hard work actually paid off again. Monolith has developed both No One Lives Forever shooters on the PC. Both games are critically acclaimed and earned awards all over for its excellence. After that Monolith worked on a IP off of a cult movie that was released in 1982, Tron. With Tron 2.0, it didn’t gain all the praise but it delivered an all around decent game. Their biggest FPS just recently hit stores in the form of F.E.A.R. FEAR is quite possibly the biggest sci-fi shooter since Half-Life. Critics and gamers alike are already anticipating the sequel that would finish the highly applauded storyline. Monolith isn’t perfect since it does have some imperfections on its record. Games like Contact J.A.C.K and the PS2 version of No One Lives Forever.

Outside of the FPS genre, Monolith developed an MMO this year you may have heard of. Um… Matrix Online ring any bells? Yup, Monolith has had a busy year this year and Condemned only increases their reputation. SEGA on the other hand hasn’t been delivering top quality games lately and Condemned marks a new era for them. In the pipeline for the 360 includes the delayed Full Auto (Early Spring 2006), the next instalments of the House of the Dead and Virtua Fighter series, the revival of Afterburner, and a display of gigantic mechs battling each other, Chromehounds. Is that it? Nope, I can’t forget everybody’s favourite Hedgehog will accompany the 360 too hand in hand with next-gen graphics. After realizing that SEGA has their head finally back in the game and are working with the excellent developer in Monolith, I began to become pumped to play Condemned after bringing it home.

The back story for Condemned is that the main character, Ethan Thomas, is crime fighter among the FBI. Assigned to the Serial Crimes Unit, Ethan is among the bureau’s best. Ethan must do dwell into the investigations of the increasingly number of crimes that are being committed by the strange individuals that include the homeless and drug addicts. While investigating he comes upon an ex-convict that seems to be behind all these crimes, while chasing him, your gun changes hands and he now is walking around with your gun. When you finally catch up to him with an encounter that almost serves lethal, your partners from the bureau try to save your skin but they both are killed. Even worse is that both of them are killed in the matter of ten seconds upon arriving with your gun. The convict escapes and now the murder’s evidence points all fingers towards Ethan. He must now find this convict while going through all these frightful experience to save his backside from the FBI Most Wanted list.

The storyline draws comparison to the recently released Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit). I found the storyline in Condemned much more riveting and dished out the thrills at a faster pace. What isn’t exciting is that Condemned is a roller coaster with no twists or turns that you can change the course of, it’s purely a linear game with not many options for the character but the weapon he holds in his hand. Never mind that though, Condemned is worthy of the hard work you put forth to unravelling the mystery even if it is as bizarre as it is.

Condemned is a chilling game to play, like I stated earlier, it doesn’t focus on cheap tricks like enemies jumping out of the dark to attack you to scare you. Rather, you’ll hear foot steps in the distance and look around diligently to find the source of the sound. Before you know it, you are actually being misled in the wrong direction as glass shatters and enemies spring forth ready to beat you down with an electric conduit. As you back up away from the enemy, another druggie jumps from the rafter pursuing you with a pump shotgun and it doesn’t end there. You’ll back yourself into some water as you fend the enemies off and notice dead bodies in the water. Think they’re dead? I think not, they rise from their comatose state and chase you down with their crowbar. Make no mistake about it, Condemned is a full out action FPS with hand to hand combat being focused on.

The hand to hand combat is excellent, the system is easy to figure out due to its simplicity; do you want to evade the attackers and hit first or would you rather block and pick your best shots after they have taken theirs? There is a little more complexity to it than that, each weapon has a rating attached to it to determine what the best for each situation is. The ratings include Damage, Reach, Speed and Defense. A few of the weapons do help you advance to the next part of the level so that has to be factored in too when picking up your weapons. Only one weapon is available for Ethan’s use. If you feel that they should have provided you the ability to equip weapons rather than only picking one up, fear not, Ethan comes fully equipped with his Taser-gun that you can use 24/7, the taser comes to your aide when you need an open shot to the victims. Shock them with it and they’ll be zapped for a brief moment to allow you to whack them aside the head with the shovel you bear in your hands.

The fighting does become redundant at times but likewise you’ll yearn for more fighting when you hit a dry spot while you back track through a level to find a clue you missed. With the fighting, I generally wanted more but to have it mixed up a bit, instead of using the same weapon over and over again, why not allow them to carry some hand knives or pick up that stool standing next to them to bash over my head? Hell, why can’t I do that with all the violence portrayed before my own eyes. Half way through, new weapons stop showing up and you’ll be stuck with using what is already available. My personal favourite has to be either the sledgehammer or fire axe, both have a great reach, pack a great punch but lack the speed. Both also help you advance in the level as you smash off locks with the hammer and bust through doors with the axe.

The guns in Condemned have limited use so you’ll have to make every shot count. Pick up a shotgun; you’ll only have five or more bullets to use, after that, it’s useless and you’ll want to throw it down since it will take ‘weapon damage’ and break into pieces after a few good hits. You’ll find revolvers, sawed off shotguns, Colt .45s and a few other guns to use but none of them are full with ammo to have Ethan go on a killing spree. I often avoided picking up the guns since it was much more enjoyable beating the living hell out of the junkies that I fought rather then shooting them dead as with fighting them, I had the opportunity to knock them to their knees and snap their neck, with a gun, I couldn’t do that. When the druggie falls to his knees, you have four options to choose from. Do you want to snap his neck? What about slamming his face into your knee? You could just punch him in the face to knock some teeth out or even head butt him, these four actions ante up the action enough for the first few hours as you kill them in different methods.

Fighting isn’t the only aspect that you’ll be concentrating on as scientific forensics plays a drastic part for the storyline as if you were Gil Grissom from the television series, CSI. You’ll be taking DNA samples, checking to see where the gas is leaking, and snapping pictures of deceased individuals, following that you’ll have to take a picture of the suspects hand prints from that dead body. The forensics plays a huge part since you can’t move forward in the game until you finish the investigation for new evidence.

The level designs feel as if you are on one of those television shows where you are placed inside an Insane Asylum where thousands of people were murdered hundreds of years ago. You know, one of those shows where you try to find ghosts? Well Condemned offers a similar approach in level design but it feels much better. What could have been done to make the game 100% more intriguing was to allow players to destroy things in the environment. If the levels were all destructible, who knows the monstrosity of fun it would have allowed.

Condemned offers online leader boards but no multiplayer experience whatsoever. I didn’t come in expecting online multiplayer so it’s not a huge loss for players wanting their fix in some homeless ass kicking. It of course is Xbox Live Aware and you’ll know when your friends jump online and can view it through your guide button what they are playing if you really need to know. There’s 970 points to be won for your GamerScore and 50 achievements to be unlocked.

Besides offering leader boards, Condemned tries to throw in some extra replay value to keep you coming back. Scattered throughout the levels are bird carcasses and metal pieces to find and collect. It’s honestly not that fun to search and explore the levels for the birds but I’ll take what I can get with trying to increase the replay value, the game only lasts for an estimated twelve hours, so make sure you make the first time you play through a worthy one since you may not be picking this up again to play.

The atmosphere displayed all throughout Condemned is a creepy one. The enemies are full with rage and can attack you at any given moment, you’ll notice the same looking enemy after a while but that can be forgiven since you don’t encounter enemies one after another for hours straight as the encounters are sparse and spaced out. Everything looks great with the graphics though, this is honestly the best looking game I have played so far (still haven’t played a ton of 360 games though). You’ll want to play this in the dark for sure for it will creep you out and make you want to stop playing to take a break from the chilling moments you encounter. There are cut scenes to break up the action and they are even crazier due to all of them portraying that the main character is ‘wigging’ out and losing his mind. All the cut scenes have a filter on them that gives it a dirty look.

An even better aspect to the graphics is that when you fight, blood will be flying everywhere. When the enemies hit you, blood will be splattered across your screen and you won’t be able to see as well. When you successfully hit the druggie, watch as blood flies and even flesh is torn off. If you grab a sledgehammer and swing it across their face, teeth will be thrown from their mouth from the huge hit. Watch out though, if they don’t have a weapon, they’ll jump on you and begin to try and bite you. The close is up is scary and only way to get them off is to wiggle your thumbsticks fast enough.

Like every other 360 game, HDTV is supported. Widescreen 16:9, HDTV 720p and HDTV 1080i are all thrown into the mix and deliver great visuals. I don’t in fact have a HDTV but knowing that it would help expand how incredible the visuals are, I now want to pick up one just for my 360.

The audio is nice but needed more work in the voice work, it pales in comparison to the sound effects which are an added plus that keeps the thrills coming. You’ll hear screaming in the background and you’ll be going in circles trying to find the source of the screams, like I stated earlier, the sound effects help create misdirection and before you know it, you are being attacked by several addicts ready to pound you. You’ll hear the foot steps above you creaking on the ceiling, shots fired from rooms away and all these other sound effects that have your mind racing trying to figure out what is happening.

Condemned of course supports Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround so turn off the lights and hear the footsteps all around you if you can. Custom soundtracks are offered if you have any music that would help increase the gameplay. I’d recommend finding Silent Hill 3’s soundtrack or maybe even throw in Jaws’ soundtrack from the movie. The custom soundtracks will help it out since the game is dead silent at a few crucial moments, if you find the game too ‘scary’, why not upload some circus music to ease the pain of playing the game.

I advise you to pick up Condemned and give it a go, if you find it too scary, let your friend play it. Condemned helps round out a solid Xbox 360 launch as it is contains all the qualities of a ‘AAA’ game but doesn’t offer enough replay. They could add in more weapons to use, a jump button to help out your attacks and even diversify the enemies you encounter. Overall though, Condemned is worthy of your $60 and is a definite pick up.

9 out of 10
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