Jeremy Jastrzab
30 May, 2006

Condemned: Criminal Origins Review

360 Review | Beat that hobo senseless!
There were few original Xbox 360 titles at the launch of the system but they were mainly from Microsoft’s own stable. One of the original launch games that wasn’t from Microsoft was Condemned: Criminal Origins. The creators of F.E.A.R, Monolith, are experienced in making games played from the first person perspective and that have their own unique atmosphere. However, is Condemned able to usher in this new generation or is it just another false dawn?

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a game that flirts between being horror and thriller. You play as an FBI agent, Ethan Thomas, who works for the Serial Crimes Unit. The city has been engulfed in a bizarre wave of murders and angry, violent hobos. The main suspect has so far eluded the authorities. On a seemingly routine crime scene investigation, it appears that the killer is still in the building. Thomas chases him down, only to be defeated and left for dead. Somehow, the tables are turned and Thomas is the one who ends up being hunted by the authorities. The story goes from there and ends up being quite fascinating, with all the craziness and psychopathy it really makes you want to find out what the heck is going on.

NO! You can't have a sandwich!

NO! You can't have a sandwich!
Apart from the story, which is more robust than what you’d expect from an action orientated game, there are two main parts to Condemned. The first involves savage beatings and the second involves forensic investigation. Nice combination ay? Well, the structure of the game is that you’ll be searching for clues in dark, damp, crappy places that no one in their right mind would really go. These include abandoned apartment buildings, abandoned rail way stations and the lot. Other than clues, what are else are you likely to in dark, damp, crappy places? Angry, violent hobos of course, though there is more to these bums then you may realise. Furthermore you’re going to have to defend yourself.

Despite being played from a first-person perspective, there is very little gunplay in Condemned. Yes, you are an agent but you’ll soon be on your own and whatever guns you do come across have a very limited amount of ammo. So what are you left with? Well, pretty much anything that you can get your hands on, almost literally. There are a heap of melee weapons, both improvised and set, that are laying around the game. By improvised we mean two-by-fours, lead pipes and signs and set we mean axes, crowbars, shovels and sledgehammers. You’ve a taser as well but in general, these weapons are lying around, waiting to be picked up.

While traversing through narrow, dark corridors, a hobo will often crash out of seemingly nowhere or sometimes they’ll see you coming and hide behind the wall. Still you need to protect yourself and even fight back. Seeing as your guns are very limited in ammo, melee is general the way to go. The R-trigger swipes your current weapon of choice. Each weapon has its own “stats” such as power and swing speed. The thing is, these violent hobos aren’t afraid to attack back. Thankfully, a block button has been mapped onto the L-trigger. Initially you can get through most enemies without out too much fuss but as you go on, they get faster, stronger, uglier, meaner and more monster-like, so you’ll really have to be on the ball with some moves of your own. There isn’t a huge variety of different moves but there are a few ways that your character will move depending on what position he is in. The taser and a kick will come in handy as well. When a hobo is down for the count, you can perform a “finishing-move” by pressing the d-pad in one of four directions but these are merely for show.

As mentioned there will be a portion of the game that requires you to do some forensic work. Even though you have been abandoned, one person back at the base is still on your side. This person will analyse the clues you find and relay back information. However, these sequences are fairly pedestrian. When you’re in an area that has something to be investigated, you’ll be prompted and if you leave that area, your tools won’t be available to use. Despite having an impressive array of tools, they’ll only be used one at a time and when they’re needed. That is, you don’t get to pick. This part of the game is a tad pedantic, for example, when you need to take a picture, you need to be exactly in the right frame otherwise you can’t proceed. It’s a nice little diversion but one that could’ve been fleshed out a bit more.

An absolute shocker

An absolute shocker
What is probably the highlight of Condemned and its biggest claim to being next-gen is the atmosphere that it provides. It provides a very creepy and eerie atmosphere, yet it doesn’t quite hit horror territory. You’re constantly on your toes as you wander through dark, narrow, winding corridors. The graphics are sharp and the sound is crisp as you are never quite sure about the next dangerous bugger that could be hiding behind the corner.

Graphically, the game is slick and well presented. The lighting and texturing is exemplary and really makes you feel like you’re in the places that you end up in. Walking through rooms and watching as the shadows flicker can be unnerving, as is the feeling that you’re being watched from all sides. Even though your torch can be equipped at all times, it’s nowhere near as robust as the Doom 3 torch. The atmosphere is backed up by an excellent physics engine. Almost every object that isn’t otherwise attached can be moved around and the hobos are sure to take advantage of some of the loose furniture by hurling them at you. Thankfully, you get a chance to take your revenge in the form of some sickening but disturbingly satisfying beatings.

The game is predominantly set in dark places and it adds to the atmosphere, but at times it can be a bit weary as you start yearning for some light. You have a torch and it can be equipped at all times but it’s nowhere near as robust as the Doom 3 torch. The character models that are in the game look good but are a couple of steps off looking completely realistic. The animations in the game are disappointing, sure you’re not exactly expecting a crazy hobo to be gracefully towards you but at times they are a bit limited.

The aspect that really makes the atmosphere and the game what it is, happens to be the sound. The sound almost perfectly captures the atmosphere, with sound effects that come in and out of the backgrounds, putting you further on your toes. Then there is the eerie silence that will follow you in moments of low activity. It’s at these times, that you’re expecting someone (or something) to get you. The most realistic (and disturbing) part of the game are the sickening sounds of when one of your blows connects with a hobo skull. You almost have to wonder how on earth the developers managed to get these sounds …

Woah... Criminal...

Woah... Criminal...
In terms of a next generation game, Condemned only gets about half way there. The atmosphere and presentation of the game is up to snuff but there are a few other things that aren’t quite so. The action in the game is good, simple and satisfying but it only just crosses the border for acceptable “variety” and as mentioned, the forensic sequences could’ve been better thought out. The AI is OK. Enemies run and hide when they learn of your presence, block and like to sneak up on you, but there are a lot of times when they won’t notice your flash light coming and many of the sequences are staged or predetermined. The general game design leaves a tad to be desired as well. Length-wise, the game clocks in at around ten hours, though you can collect pieces of metal and dead birds to help unlock extras and achievements. There is no multiplayer and since a lot of the games events are staged, you will have seen them on any play throughs after the first run.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is an entertaining romp that provides some intense hobo/monster-beating action, different forensic puzzles and an intriguing mystery. As a next-generation game, the main area that the game excels in is providing an appropriate and creepy atmosphere – something that couldn’t be repeated on a current console. While it does lack in a few areas and there’s not much to the game once you’ve gone through once, hobo-beating is almost worth the price entry, especially if you can find it at a budgeted price.
The Score
For a good, different and brutal action romp with horror/thriller themes, mystery, a great atmosphere and freaky characters, Condemned: Criminal Origins fits the bill.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 years ago
Im waiting for the price to drop before I pick this one up. It looks good, but 10 hours of gameplay isn't really worth $110.
7 years ago
Half asleep when you wrote that review Jez? icon_wink.gif
Condemned isn't giving you night terrors is it? icon_lol.gif
7 years ago
No ... not really...
I guess it's because i've played A LOT of horror games and watched a lot of horror movies... or maybe i was asleep icon_zzz.gif
7 years ago
You're not cluing in sir - I am implying that your article is lacking in comprehension - you might wanna proof read it next time.
7 years ago
Good game...I enjoyed it as one of the 1st games on 360 but it is very limited. Like someone said above....wait for a price drop and it's definately worth it....not like the $120 I paid. I'll just say....last stage is epic and really needs to be seen by all gamers!
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