Condemned: Criminal Origins
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developed by: Monolith
ESRB: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
For: Xbox 360 and PC

I’ve played some pretty frightening games during my time, Resident Evil 4 being perhaps the most frightening and The Suffering being the most psychologically disturbing. Condemned trumps both of them. I have never played a game before like this, that so deftly combines the psychosis of The Silence of the Lambs with the jump scares of the Resident Evil franchise.

This is first person survival horror. This is next gen.

Honestly, I’m now scared of the guys at Monolith. First, they release F.E.A.R., considered by many to be one of the most frightening first person shooters of all time. I would probably agree if I had a PC gaming rig beefy enough to handle that game. But I don’t. So I settled for the next best thing: Condemned.

It’s the story of an FBI agent named Ethan Thomas. He is an amazing detective, assigned to the Serial Crimes Unit. He also has a sort of sixth sense about the crimes. Think CSI:, but then imagine that Thomas can then see what happens, but only in certain areas of the game world. Continuously, the player is forced to follow clues to investigate the subject of the game, a serial killer that kills serial killers. Of course, the entire story is about how Thomas gets framed and is on the run from the cops, while hunting the serial killer. There are more twists, more turns, and more things that are just plain wrong than I care to discuss here. Yet, this review begs that I elaborate some, and that I will do. Later.

Graphically, the game couldn’t be better. The weapons, almost all of the melee variety (which means you smack things), are excellently detailed, from pipes to doors to paper cutters. The enemies are very detailed and animate well. One bash on the head by a 2x4 and they stagger backward, maybe spit blood and teeth, and charge again. The bums in this game have something wrong with them, and they player uncovers this during the course of the game.

Unfortunately, as great as the dingy, dilapidated environments look at first, they soon devolve into repetition. The same dusty corridor. The same rotting wall. The same broken fixture. It all blends into a view of sameness that is really unfortunate for a game of this scope and calibur. There are environments that stand out, mind you—the abandoned mall and the deserted orchard being two—but everything still seems the samee after a period of time playing the game.

On the sound side of things, everything is very atmospheric. Ambient noises, coupled with the howls of the tortured social deviants. The game is voice acted convincingly, and the music is rarely present. When it is, it helps create an oppressive environment that is very hard to overcome. The other thing that really sounds good in this game is the weapons themselves. Since the designers basically shunned firearms (although there are some, they have very little ammo and are overpowered), they concentrated on environmental weapons. When you smack a guy in the head, it sounds like a lead pipe. Or whatever you just hit the guy with. The important thing is that the Foley design (or the sound design) is quite well done and leaves little to be desired.

Ok, now for the bad stuff.

First off, this is a very violent game. We’re not talking about just guns. Rather, it’s blunt objects that connect hard and convincingly with their target. Enemies stagger realistically, take realistic damage, and spit teeth and blood from their mouths. It’s not a pretty sight. At one point, Agent Thomas has his finger sliced off, all done in first person. It’s convincing and disturbing.

In terms of blood, you will see such things as mentioned above and below. In addition, there are some grisly puddles of blood, goo, and guts that lie around later in the game. It’s definitely some of the grosser stuff that is featured in this game.

The subject matter is also very mature. This is a game that involves serial killers. As such, you, as the player, will stumble across several crime scenes, and proceed to investigate those crime scenes. This involves getting up close and personal with the victims and analyzing the scene to collect evidence. It’s not worse than, say, CSI, but it is certainly some of the more disturbing subject matter in a game.

Condemned is also a very frightening game. It’s hard enough for the ten or so hours it takes play through, but it will make the jumpers in the room jump with you. It’s a mentally oppressive game. You walk around dark areas with nothing but (essentially) a stick to fend off, for lack of a better word, rabid people.

The enemies are also not afraid to spit out certain four letter words. This means that those same enemies are screaming and cussing when attacking you. It doesn’t add up to a very inviting gaming experience.

There was nothing sexual in the game that I can remember, but there was some mention of the Lord’s Name. It was, as usual, used in a blasphemous sense and didn’t add anything to the game itself.

This is a masterpiece for the next generation of gaming. I wouldn’t recommend it wholeheartedly to a person of age as I would RE4, but it is the first great horror experience on the 360.

Gameplay 15/20
Graphics 9/10
Sound 10/10
Stability 5/5
Controls/Interface 5/5
Appropriateness 39.5/50
-Violence 1/10 (People killing people in cold blooded murder, -5; blood sprays on the walls and everywhere else, -2.5; body parts can be visually unattached, -1.5)
-Language 5/10 (Swear words found in an R-rated movie, -5; no sexual dialogue, -0)
-Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10
-Occult/Supernatural 10/10
-Cultural/Moral/Ethical 5.5/10 (Game requires rejecting authority figures or laws, -2; no prejudicial bias in the game, -0; no gross humor, 0; game requires that decisions be made that go against traditional values, -2.5)

Overall Rating 83.5


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