- Jun 27, 2008
Disclaimer: Well, after a 2 month long break from writing, I'm finally back on my game. School finals served as an excellent distraction. Regardless, as I haven't written for such an extended period of time, I may be a tad rusty. Please, do tell me about any issues with the review.
Oh yes, and I have changed my format a tad. Comment on that if you wish.
Oh yes, and I have changed my format a tad. Comment on that if you wish.
Xbox 360 / PC
November 16th, 2005 (360 Launch Title)
I've always felt as though horror games are an awesome party at a huge mansion with lots of excellent alcoholic beverages, hot chicks, and good music, but I've just bummed around on their couch with the rest of the outcasts, unable to even get into the party. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that the original F.E.A.R. showed me exactly how creative, atmospheric, and genuinely terrifying videogames could be, and it was the very first horror game that I absolutely loved. F.E.A.R. was that insane drunk friend that forced me onto the dance floor and got me in with the rest of the partygoers. After the absolute shitfest that F.E.A.R. 2 was, I'd begun a massive search in order to find a game that could replicate the warm and tingly feelings that the original had given me. Of course, a few games came close (Dead Space was a particularly memorable one), but none had really captured the same sense of terror and helplessness that F.E.A.R. had. That was, until I found Condemned: Criminal Origins in a bargain bin at GameStop.
Forgive me for being rather vague about the story, however, it's nearly impossible not to be. Aside from potentially revealing some things that you may prefer to not have spoiled for you, the overall plot can be very vague at times. You play as Serial Crime Unit (SCU here on out) agent Ethan Thomas as he investigates the cases of several serial killers on the loose in the creatively named Metro City. In a particularly unfortunate series of events, Ethan is used as a scapegoat by a mysterious murderer called Serial Killer X, framing Ethan as the killer of two cops. You must track down Serial Killer X in order to clear your name, but you'll soon find out that something much larger is happening in the city. Average people are turning into violent psychotics and a seemingly supernatural set of events has been put into motion.
Overall, the story is certainly very interesting and takes its share of twists and turns throughout, however, it is the manner in which the story is told that is the plot's biggest fault. Rather than maintaining the creativity of the plot itself by making it creatively told as well, majority of the exposition is done through direct dialogue from some side characters that don't even exactly make their roles in the story very clear. Often times, I found myself wondering who the hell they were and how the hell they knew all of this stuff that I had absolutely no clue about. Actually, you'll find yourself asking a great many questions throughout the story, which can be considered good or bad, depending on how much "mystery" you like in a plot. You never really find out exactly why the people are going insane, why supernatural Mr. Skeleton is stalking Ethan, or why Ethan is the only person who can see Mr. Skeleton. Regardless of all this, the ending to the game is quite satisfying and will certainly make you want to play the sequel just to see if it fills in any of the gaps.
"How come he gets a fire ax? This is total bullshit!"
The primary aspect of gameplay that causes Condemned to stand out from the rest of its survival horror brethren, is the combat system's reliance on melee weapons rather than firearms. Basically, you have to scavenge in the environment for anything that could potentially be used to beat in a homeless person's face. Lengths of pipe, pieces of wood, shovels, and sledgehammers are only a few of the absolutely brutal things you will use to inflict severe head trauma onto a person. And, my God, is it satisfying to do so. The vibration through the controller and the sight of a man spitting out his own teeth after you've just beaten him across the face has never felt so rewarding, and even the most mellow of people will suddenly find themselves with an insane bloodlust, fueled by your hatred of the people trying to beat you across the face. Very rarely do you find a gun, and even when you do, it will likely only have two or three shots in it. Often times, I would lean more towards melee combat anyways, as the aiming is very rough around the edges, and shooting someone is not nearly as entertaining. Aside from the superb combat, the only other major gameplay variation is the inclusion of several crime scenes that you must investigate in order to progress through the plot. However, these are dull and uninspired (save for one "HOLYSHITOHMYGOD" moment that you simply have to experience for yourself), not to mention that they are not any sort of challenge and really only serve as momentary unwanted distractions from people whose faces you could be beating. By far, my main criticism of the gameplay are the unfortunately consistent parts where you must find a certain type of weapon in order to smash a door that is stopping you from proceeding through the rest of the level. While this is not a game breaker, nor does it really diminish any of the fun, it does get quite tedious considering that each and every level has three or more of these instances.
"Ma'am, may I help you u-... Oh, right. Corpse. Got it."
It's very difficult to judge an old(er) game based on graphics and sound, considering that they won't be up to par with the standards at the time of writing. However, I will have to say that while the graphics definitely aren't ugly, the character models themselves leave very much to be desired. In-game it hasn't been much of a problem, however, I found myself distracted by the hideous texture work on Ethan's face in numerous cutscenes. I'm not one to focus on graphics, but it can really take away from the immersion and overall emotion when you're too busy thinking about how funny looking he is. The sound, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic. The sound of a melee weapon smashing into a person's face has never been more brutal or satisfying, and you'll often times find yourself giggling with glee as you hear the enemies recoil in pain from a slam to the face with whatever object you have at hand. Aside from that, there are numerous awesome sound effects that will play out during some set piece moments.
While the graphics may not be exactly impressive anymore, none of the atmosphere is lost because of this, which is absolutely a good thing; this game oozes atmosphere from every single crack. Your small flashlight will only slightly pierce the massive wall of darkness in front of you at any given time, and your head is constantly on a swivel because of this. Your mind will begin to invent paranoia inside of the game. You'll be startled by things that aren't even there, intimidated by certain suspicious looking rooms, and you'll constantly have your guard up. None of the enemies themselves are exactly scary (though all of them are creepy), but it is their absolute abandonment of any sort of compassion or remote human nature that makes them interesting. They are insane in every sense of the word. Rather than rely on jump out scares, the game focuses on toying with your emotions, and making you feel as though you are lost in an urban wasteland all by yourself. The game's inherent ability to take control of the player is one of its most impressive features.
"Don't let the world get you down, friend. Everyone is ugly on the inside."
If you can appreciate horror games, but can forgive a few minor plot related flaws, then it would be in your best interests to go out and grab Condemned: Criminal Origins immediately. Aside from the fantastic combat and thrilling atmosphere, the game is only ten dollars, making it an amazing value. There really isn't anything else out there like it (aside from the sequel, but you know), so go play it; but for Christ's sake, watch out for the bloody mannequins.
Thank you for reading and feedback is always appreciated.
If you enjoyed reading this, please feel free to read my other reviews:
Videogames: Freelancer [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.193982-Freelancer-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427-Tied-for-3rd-place-in-Review-Wars#6166918], Call of Duty Classic [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.189273-Call-of-Duty-Classic-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Bioshock 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.187690-Bioshock-2-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427-1024th-Post-Extravaganza], Videogame Box Art [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.182460-Box-Art-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Metro 2033 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.182224-Metro-2033-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Ruse Impressions [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.180277-Ruse-Beta-Impressions-by-SniperWolf427], Stalker: Call of Pripyat [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.179661-Stalker-Call-of-Pripyat-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Battlefield: Bad Company 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.178952-Battlefield-Bad-Company-2-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427#5203299], Stalker: Clear Sky [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.176604-Stalker-Clear-Sky-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Stalker: Complete 2009 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.168926-STALKER-Complete-2009-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], HAWX [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.122907-Tom-Clancys-Hawx-SniperWolfs-first-review#2487130], and Fable 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.129939-Fable-2-Review#2830125].
Movies: Ninja Assassin [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.180594-Ninja-Assassin-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427#5304108], Shutter Island [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.177337-Shutter-Island-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427-Spoiler-Free#5103651], and Halo: Legends [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.176694-Halo-Legends-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427]
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