Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first person survival horror game that was developed by Monolith Productions (of F.E.A.R. and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor fame) and published by Sega. It was released in 2005 for the Xbox 360 with a Microsoft Windows release following it in 2006. It is currently selling on Steam for $14.95. This review covers the PC edition.
It’s amazing how even great games can sound stupid or even nonsensical when boiled down to single sentence elevator pitches. Mario: Plumber fights turtles with aid of hallucinogenic mushrooms to preserve a monarchy. Bioshock: Man in ugly sweater battles insane drug-addled mutant libertarians with guns and superpowers. Jak and Daxter: Man collects batteries. Condemned: Criminal Origins is no exception with “George Lopez fights hobos and monsters with guns and bits of trash”
So, I guess it’s understandable for you to want a little bit more explanation at this point. In Condemned you play as FBI agent (and George Lopez impersonator) Ethan Thomas while he attempts to track down a serial killer in a dilapidated, poverty stricken, crime infested hell hole of an American city (they never specify which one, but if I had to guess it would have to be Detroit). After a series of bad decisions straight out of the ‘what not to do in a horror movie handbook’ Ethan finds himself framed for a double homicide and is forced to find the real killer by searching for clues in the disused, poorly-lit city underground while protecting himself from the city’s homeless population, who have all mysteriously taken up Jason Voorhees as a role model and murdering Ethan as their new favorite hobby.
The combat in Condemned is an interesting case. Because Ethan Thomas somehow managed to graduate the FBI academy without learning how to reload his handgun (should have played Receiver) the game forces the player to fight with melee combat for most of our time, though guns are occasionally available (the game’s set in America what did you expect?) they are rather rare and even having just a couple of bullets in your magazine is considered a blessing. Usually, this ends up being a brawl between Ethan and some homicidal transients with whatever bits of trash happen to be lying around; 2x4s, lead pipes, conduits, whatever. At that point the game really becomes alive, turning into an extremely low-budget modern imitation of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare with brutal first person melee combat. I liked the combat and I would strongly recommend the game just for it alone.
As you probably figured out, Condemned is a survival horror game. The concept of murderous hobos lurking in the shadows of an abandoned subway tunnel, waiting to jump a lone protagonist at when they least expect it just doesn’t make a good Japanese dating sim. With Condemned’s genre established as survival horror, one important question remains: is it scary? The answer would have to be yes, Condemned does make a scary atmosphere as you descend into the disused underbelly of the city, encountering more and homeless people at every turn, the derelict rooms and tunnels extending like Daedalus’s labyrinth, the slightest stimulus turning into a thousand terrors in your mind… Of course anyone looking for anything as ruthlessly terrifying as Outlast will be disappointed, not because of any fault of the game’s execution, it’s just that whatever lurks in the shadows isn’t nearly as scary when there’s a sturdy weapon between you and it. Still, I found the game scary and that’s all that matters.
I found the most disappointing aspect of Condemned to be the story. I don’t want to spoil anything in hopes that the sequel justifies playing this game to the end so I’m just going to dance around things here. I found the story to be unentertaining and ended with pointless moral choice moment followed by a trippy cliffhanger that resolved nothing. I didn’t think that the story was the game’s strong suit, but the gameplay definitely made up for it.
My final words on Condemned: Criminal Origins? It’s got great gameplay as well as a chilling atmosphere and it manages to do a good job despite it’s story; an interface can be difficult at times, and crappy graphics (it was an early Xbox 360 release) so I guess it’s worth the purchase.