Have you ever wondered through an abandoned school and beat the crap out of homeless people with a rusty pipe?
If you are one of those violent humans that do want to kill hobos with improvised weaponry, then Condemned: Criminal Origins is basically your dream sim. It’s got it all; it’s got harsh lighting, its good spooky mannequins, its got hobos, its got spades you hit them with with, its the all inclusive package. The ultimate.
Selling the game to sociopaths aside, Condemned is probably one of the best titles the Xbox 360 has to offer. It was one of the early releases for the console and the graphics definitely reflect that, but the game has gone on to be praised by critics and fans alike. If you had to grab a bunch of titles that really made the Xbox a great console to play on, you’d have Halo, you’d have Fallout, and you’d definitely have Condemned.
The story of Condemned follows FBI Agent Ethan Thomas (voice by Greg Grunberg, known for his portrayal of Matt Parkman in Heroes) as he goes from crime scene to crime scene investigating the case of a serial killer called Serial Killer X. Immediately as you’re thrust into this world, it feels very well constructed. The first few minutes of gameplay involve walking through a dilapidated building and it sets the tone for the game perfectly, setting you up for hours of dark and tense crawling around in the shadows hoping that thing that went bump was just a rat.
You go through the building, after having a few near-heart attacks (the game throws some very well timed jump-scares into this starting segment), and you come to a grizzly crime scene. This is where the game gets pretty interesting. Standard games might have you just picking up clues and examining them in your inventory, but in Condemned, you need to use FBI technology and techniques to get the information you need. This can range from taking photographs of the bodies and evidence, getting finger prints, analyzing fluids (bodily or otherwise) and various other things. It’s been very well made so you really feel like you’re doing detective work, not just playing a game.
The investigative element was one of the game’s main selling points, but what got everybody’s attention was the combat. Condemned boasts gritty first-person melee combat and let me tell you, it feels very good. A lot of games that feature first-person melee weapons tend to be kinda clunky, you’re just swinging it around until the other guy dies, but in Condemned you get the sense that there is some genuine risk involved and you’re far more careful with how you attack mainly because you can be killed relatively easy by pretty much any enemy in the game (the end-game enemies can get very strong compared to the early ones, but the first encounters are still dangerous if you’re not careful.)
To fight, you need to find your weapons. This can range from pipes out of the walls, tearing doors off of lockers, signs, bars, desks, pretty much anything you can swing you can use. Guns do make some appearances, but ammo is limited and you’re encouraged by the game to use guns only in emergencies.
When you’re fighting, most of the time you’ll be blocking. This is your main defense. You can kick enemies back, and later on you get a taser for weaker enemies, but if you can’t block, you’re going to have a very tough time. Even enemies know how to block too, making your job just that little bit harder.
Speaking of the enemies, their AI is great. Enemies will run for cover, try to out maneuver you and can even feint attacks to goad you into blocking or attacking. This combined with tough opponents, a low health bar, a lack of proper weapons and a creepy atmosphere lead to an incredibly rich, challenging and rewarding gameplay experience.
There is a negative side to all of this, however. In one area in particular the game feels a little lacking…
Now, I don’t want to spoil anything because it gets pretty good, but the plot is actually the weakest part of the game. I’m not saying the story is bad, not at all, it’s just by far the worst part because every other feature feels so polished and developed. Not to mention that the plot gets a little… Weird. And with an interesting moral dilemma thrown in, overall it’s a nice little tale for players to enjoy but really only fans of Neo-Noir, Crime films, or Psychological Thrillers will get a thrill out of it, people just here for the “bash people’s heads in” part of it might not appreciate the story as much.
To sum it up, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a classic game and if you didn’t play it when it first came out, I seriously suggest you seek it out now. A memorable and sometimes thrilling experience, the game is one for the history books.
Before I forget. Some people may want me to discuss the sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, but I won’t after this paragraph. All I can say is that Condemned 2 is a watered down bastard child of the original that while it’s good for a single play purely for that bear sequence, ultimately, it’s not great. Compared to the first game, it’s not even worth mentioning. It’s actually heartbreaking in a way. The changes made to Condemned 2 caused a large drop in sales for the publisher and as a result, the planned and oft-talked about Condemned 3 which would return to the roots that made the original so great… Will never happen. Or at least not for a very long time.