Condemned: Criminal Origins
Kill the homeless simulator.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is scary, intense and occasionally brilliant. Instead of throwing just supernatural threats at you, Condemned pits the lower dregs of society in front of your shotgun. The majority of the game is spent crawling through abandoned locations – office buildings, subways, streets and department stores – that are teeming with homeless junkies, driven mad by some mysterious illness. You have to go through these unsavory places in order to catch a serial killer on the loose, somehow connected with the recent surge in city-wide violence.
First released on the Xbox, Condemned (created by the same people who brought us F.E.A.R.) puts you in the role of an FBI agent. While investigating a murder, you fall prey to the quintessential thriller cliche – you get framed for the murder of another cop, and have to keep one step ahead of the authorities while trying to catch the real bad guy.
The real innovation comes when you encounter the combat system. Being a true survival horror at its core, Condemned features little gunplay. You do occasionally find projectile-based weapons, and even have to fight one or two perps with pistols along your bleak journeys, but firearms are rare and bullets even more so. Each shotgun, pistol or rifle you find are one use only – fire away the last round and you have to drop it and find a proper melee weapon, since you can only hold one thing at a time. This defeats logic at time – for instance, you can’t extract the bullets out of that Colt 1911 for later use, but the added scarcity does add more tension into the mix.
Most of the combat will be done with hand-to-hand weapons, and these are a lot more prevalent. You can almost always find something in the environment – a loose pipe, piece of wood, hammer or broken bottle – that can be used as a weapon in Condemned. Your opponents aren’t shy of getting close and attacking you, and their AI is competent enough to keep the fights interesting throughout. Sometimes they’ll hide behind corners and ambush you, or creep behind you and whack your head when you’re looking the other way.
There’s also some simple forensic play to keep it with the “you are an FBI agent” motif, but it’s more window dressing. You do have a bunch of cool gadgets at your disposal, but it doesn’t take much of any skill to figure out when, where and how to use them. The game holds your hand and notifies you when you have to use a tool, draws the correct tool from your repertoire, and after that it’s simply a matter of photographing the evidence which will forward the story in some way. Levels are linear to the extreme, and the puzzles very simple – you won’t get stuck in this game.
Despite its lacking storyline, pretty blah graphics (compared to F.E.A.R. at least) and hardly challenging puzzles, Condemned does one thing right – it manages to scare you. And not through cheap jump scares either, but through the racketing tension of crawling through filthy suburban buildings filled with all too human crazies intent on killing you. It’s survival horror done right, in the end.
System Requirements: Pentium IV 1.5 Ghz, 256 MB RAM, 128 MB RAM, WinXP