TITLE: Condemned : Criminal Origins
DEVELOPER: Monolith Productions
DATE RELEASED: November, 2005
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 1
XBOX SYSTEM LINK: No
XBOX LIVE COMPATABLE: No
HDTV Support: 480p/720p/1080i
In-Game Dolby Digital: Yes
ESRB: M (Mature)
Retail Price: $59.99
Achievement level reached: 560/1000
Setting the Scene - quoted from IGN
A demented horror game from Sega and Monolith, designed for next-generation consoles and game systems. You are an FBI agent on the hunt in this gripping and sickening hunt for serial killers. The game is played in first-person perspective, and with the use of the Havok 3.0 physics engine and other advanced techniques, players can utilize anything in the area as a weapon when they've been cornered by their prey.
The game does look pretty darned good tho I should mention that is is DARK with a capital D. I would have to say its the best looking I've seen so far making great use of shaders in a more sensible way than say Kameo or Quake4. The addition of some fairly high end filters great shadowing and some great cinematically scripted set pieces left me firmly in the opinion that more people need to use this form of storytelling/gameplay.
The sound is similarly amazing with some incredibly good surround sound effects highlighting the spooky/uneasy feeling propagated in every chapter. Having played this primarily at night I can definitely attest to the surround being both surprising and lifelike - I can't count how many times I found myself pressing pause to make sure there really wasn't someone behind me; its a chilling effect to have on a player and it remained even down to the final scenes.
The gameplay consists largely of roaming/investigating specific areas of your game world attempting to find evidence of crimes that all stem from the initial scenes within the game. You are accused of murdering 2 police officers and thus your aim throughout the game is to prove your innocence... seems sensible enough until you actually start exploring.
The world is populated by drug addicts and homeless zombie like people who are all "crazed" in some way and all occupy darkened areas that you have to investigate. The primary weapons are melee in nature with some firearms dotted around. The most common form of attack is a surprise one as you walk around a corner and suddenly a nasty looking face is hitting you with a random piece of pipping or electric cabling. The AI is particularly noticeable in that it seems to learn from your movements/attacks... if you attack with an axe and your attacker has a wooden plank then he is likely to run away and try to find something that contends with your axe - on most occasions they fail (I'm an attack first - hide the body kinda player) but they do try more and more as your progress through the 10 chapters.
The game does contain a normal amount of "you're stuck" "find the switch" type tasks but they are almost seemless and don't detract from the spooky feel to the game. Something the game does contain that isn't normal is an almost CSI like investigatory tool that allows you to (at certain times) examine evidence and have it analysed by a lab tech. The reports that come back almost exhaustively direct the game and so the aim of the game becomes to get this evidence and move on to the next scene.
There is an element of collection OCD in the game too in that you are urged to pick up pieces of metal and dead/dying birds... I have yet to actually find any reason for this but I did find myself on many occasions going back through to find the birds to get the acheivements (I failed miserably so far).
The story is for once pretty good and while I won't spoil anything I can tell you that you won't guess the ending, it has characters, interaction and semi-believable motives without being too Family Channel like. I enjoyed it.
The melee combat does get tired, not immediately but by chapter 6 I was pretty well trained up on how to kill the various enemies within the game and how to react to their moves... 4 chapters later and I was ready for the ending. That is not to say it doesn't offer a challenge but it is definitely to say that it was too much of a good thing - more variation may have alleviated this feeling but without having that variation to begin with its hard to say for sure.
The graphics in places look uncharacteristically bad - some cutscenes seem to have been arted by very different artists and thus the look doesn't remain consistent. The character always looks like the same guy but the bad scenes simply have that guy looking BAD, like a bad model was used or some bad texturing slipped through. This occured in maybe 4/5 places in the game including the final scenes in the car at the end (for anyone who has played the game its the one right after the final battle).
Physics - while I should note that in general the physics are good it does seem strange that certain elements of the scenery can move whilst others cannot without any notable reasoning or visual cue. While this isn't a major issue it did bug me on various occasions so I thought I should mention it.
Movement - it seems strange that your character cannot jump normally but only when the gameplay prompts you to do so, again nothing really bad but irritating in situations when being able to jump would have eased the tension somewhat.
The save system could have done with more information regarding WHAT you were saving. On several occasions the game seemed to switch from a checkpoint style save to a more generic save whereever form, I may be mistaken on this but the checkpoint style (esp at the end) irritated me somewhat.
I really enjoyed playing Condemned and my facial muscles can attest to just HOW tense I was whilst playing. It is the first game that has really instilled actual fright into me while playing and that is hard to do, the story was good and the gameplay kept me going whilst not always thrilling me. I would play the game again and so it will remain in my collection if only to go back and get those damned birds/metal pieces. I would give it a score of 8.0 definitely worth playing tho probably not for everyone due to its frightening effects on the player; don't buy it for your grandad but DO play it in the dark and let it drag you in.