Condemned: Criminal Origins (360) – Review

Criminal Origins - Cover As one of the original XBox 360 launch titles, “Condemned: Criminal Origins” wasn’t considered as one of the A-list titles for the console. However, the game, developed by Monolith and distributed by Sega, may be a sleeper hit, as it combines a simplified first-person action game with a dramatic horror story intertwined among the game in a method that other games like F.E.A.R. or Doom 3 have tried but failed. While not perfect nor an significantly impressive showing for the technology, “Condemned” is still a great game with hopes for more games to come in the future in the same vein.

Story: A-

In “Condemned”, you take the role of Ethan Thomas, a detective in the Series Crime Unit of a large city, exploring the growing number of cases of violence occurring. Ethan has tracked down, but lost the trail, of several serial killers, though fresh tracks on another leads him to the first case presented in the game. By figuring out the nature of these serial killings, Ethan hopes to stop the violence occurring in the underclass, but before he can figure out the root of this evil, he may need to face his own inner demons. It doesn’t help that shortly after investigating his case, he is accused of killing his partner and suspended from the force before he can reveal the truth.

Gameplay: B+

The game is a first-person “shooter”, though it’s more like a first-person melee. As Ethan, you explore decrepit areas for clues to the murders while avoiding or defeating the violent junkies and the homeless. You can carry a single ‘weapon’ at any time, though several can be pulled from the walls or debris, like pipes, conduits, and rebars. Possible weapons also include tools, like shovels, sledgehammers, and axes, that also come in useful in accessing some areas of the game, as well as some guns though you only get one ammo load with each and once used up, you’ll have to use it like a melee weapon until it breaks. Each weapon has variations in power, range, and blocking ability, which is shown to you before you pick it up so you can determine the best weapon for the situation. You also have a taser gun that you can use in the case of tight situations, but this is more a last-minute resort. The various foes are mostly crazed and will use mindless tactics against you, and you can block their attacks to get in your own counterattacks, though other enemies have a bit more difficult maneuvers to beat. As you move later into the game, your foes become a bit trickier to defeat, either by being more resistant to damage or by moving a lot faster than you can.

Along the way you’ll also need to perform some on the spot investigation, such as using special laser light to locate fingerprints, UV light for special writings, and gas detectors to find your way around. You’ll know when you need to perform these on screen, and when you’re leaving the area where clues are, so it’s not a snipe hunt all over the level. The results are sent to Ethan’s partner right after their are found, and she’ll report the information back to Ethan immediately, thus providing story development during the gameplay, helping to keep the story cohesive. Health can be found through medical cabinets and kits found scattered around the game.

One thing that is persistent through the game is the lighting, or more importantly, the lack of lighting. Nearly all parts of the story take place at night, or in condemned, boarded-up buildings, so there’s a lot of dark areas, and most of the time you’ll be limited to what your trusty flashlight will show you (even while you have any weapon equipped, unlike in Doom 3). The darkness of the game is used well, and along with the designs of the levels, helps to evoke the immersive nature and horror/drama genre that the game is trying to get across. The lack of lighting throughout the game makes it important to listen for movement and watch whatever shadows there are for clues to foes that may be ready to ambush you.

There’s a total of about 10 levels, with a pretty good range of layouts despite all being mostly abandoned buildings; you’ll end up exploring subway tunnels, a department store still decorated with Christmas decorations, a library, and a old farm house. The levels, at times, suffer from being mostly linear with random arrangements of rooms (similar to F.E.A.R.), though there are points where both the design is well done (the librarie’s basement, for example), and you’ll backtrack through areas you’ve previously explored. The game also keeps you going forward; certain points are one-direction passthroughs, though this can help when you get confused about where you are on the level. Each level also features a number of dead birds and metal plates for you to find as extra bonus achievements for the game.

Value/Replayability: B

The game took me about 10 hours to playthrough, as recorded by the game, but I know a few areas were tricky that I had to play through again, maybe adding a few more hours to the game. While there is only the single difficulty level, there’s several XBox achievements, beyond the birds and plates, that you can attempt to unlock on successive playthroughs.

Criminal Origins - Screenshot

Graphics: A-

As noted, the game is generally dark throughout, though between the lighting and textures, the game achieves a good amount of immersiveness, helping to heighten the sense of claustrophobic spaces and deep underground tunnels. There’s points where, like in F.E.A.R., you’ll have a vision which causes the game to either drop to a ‘film’ filter or even into black and white, effects that are used well. While the game doesn’t really use a lot of high-end graphics effects, most of these would be lost if they were used simply because the lighting, and thus what is used is quite sufficient for it.

Sound: A-

Sound is also pretty good, again using environmental sound to help with getting the feeling across of each level and for listening to where your enemies are. The voice actors for the lead characters seem pretty good for the parts they play. Background music is similar to that of many horror films during plot development; quiet but eerie while you’re exploring, and building a bit more frantic once you start facing your foes.

Overall: A-

Unlike Doom 3 or F.E.A.R. where the last 1/3rd of the game felt like doing the same stuff over and over again, I felt pleased (and a bit on the edge of my seat) throughout “Condemned”. The game, while not pushing the 360 to it’s limits, is more an example of perfecting a horror-based action game, similar to Hollywood movies of the same sort. The action is easy to get into, and the story is rather interesting, aided by the use of select lighting and immersion around the levels. While some of the level design is typical of first person shooters, the rest of the game is quite well done, and recommended to anyone that can appreciate a little bit of horror in their life.

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