Here I go, thrusting my way back into the world of survival horror. This time, I’m going to take you guys back to 2005. A very important year which saw the transition from first to second generation Microsoft consoles. On November 16th, 2005, we got our hands on the Xbox 360 for the first time, and on the same day, this game also shipped across North America.
Developed by Monolith Productions and published by SEGA, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a single-player, FPS psychological horror game, the likes of which combines elements from films of the past, including Silence of the Lambs as well as Se7en. It does bare some similarity to another psychological horror FPS also unveiled around that time, F.E.A.R., also developed by Monolith, but its unlikely that it borrowed themes from that game since they were released a month apart on separate consoles.
Condemned takes you inside the world of Ethan Thomas, an SCU investigator who becomes the hunted after his gun is found to be the weapon that kills two of his fellow officers, and is ultimately framed for murders he did not commit. However, Thomas is hunting “Serial Killer X”, the main antagonist of the game who hunts other serial killers related to past cases Thomas has worked on, and was the one responsible for framing Thomas.
Thomas has a special gift – having an acute investigative ability as well as superhuman durability he has yet to realize. Thomas is assisted by a forensics investigator named Rosa, who aids Thomas throughout the game via cell phone, and in person. Another mysterious character, Malcolm Vanhorn, who is aware of what’s been going on throughout the course of the game, aids Thomas for purposes unknown, and of course, it all comes back full circle by the end of the game as Malcolm’s character plays a much bigger role than we expect.
Let’s talk about gameplay – being as I missed this game many years ago and am now playing it several years later, I can only relate this to a game that combines elements of F.E.A.R., Silent Hill and Dead Island all in one. Blunt melee objects are going to become your best friend as you journey through the many condemned locales throughout the game, including a shopping mall, apartment complex, library, and outdoor levels. Like Dead Island and even Dead Rising, games that came after it, you can pretty much use anything in your environment as a weapon, including lead pipes, shovels, axes and wooden planks. Firearms are also available and pack a mean punch, but ammo is scarce. You may only have enough ammo to kill an enemy or two, before swapping back to a melee weapon. And as I progressed, I could not find any source of ammunition, so I would be swapping firearms with other firearms that had more ammo. So it’s much better to stick with the melee combat.
AI enemies are some of the smartest and toughest I’ve faced in a while. They tend to mimick your movesets, and can carry firearms as well as blunt weapons. You do not want to get outnumbered in this game, as you will die more often than you can imagine. The combat was not one of my favorite points in this game, in my opinion. It was clunky, and quite difficult. Blocking is also something I loathe in video games, as I’m all for action rather than defence. However, as the game progressed and I got used to the controls, eventually I didn’t find it too bad at all. Regardless, it still took me a while to get used to the block and combat systems. When you beat an enemy close to death, sometimes they will fall to their knees, giving you the option of four different methods of disposal. These include neck snapping, face punching, headbutting, or slamming their heads into the floor.
Being an SCU investigator also comes with tech perks. While on the run, you are still searching for clues to track down Serial Killer X, with the help of Rosa. Scanning environments, taking forensic photographs and samples to be able to trace and put the pieces together about the antagonist’s motives. I thought this was a really strong feature in the game, especially in one section of the game where you have to rely on your equipment to follow footprints and marks on the walls and ceiling of an abandoned home. However, the thing that made these moments sour was that you could only use the equipment during certain interactive sequences throughout the game, and you could not pull out equipment to scan other parts of the environment.
Many points in the game, Thomas would have flashes or glimpses into the outcome of the murder at hand. This was usually paired with the many investigative moments throughout the game that involved searching for clues with your equipment. I thought these were really well done, and added some context to what happened months, days, perhaps moments before you show up at the scene of a crime.
I didn’t find the game overall to be as scary as I thought it was going to be. So in that factor, I was a little let down. I was hoping it would live up to the expectations of great psychological horror franchises before it, including Silent Hill, but I feel that’s something that, in my opinion, this game seemed to fall short on.
Music and sound I don’t have any complaints about. I found there were even little hints of Silent Hill elements in the music, as well as possible inspirations for the noises you hear in Slender: The Eight Pages. It definitely added to the freakier environment, but it just didn’t feel like enough to satisfy my horror appetite.
Your flashlight in the game never runs out of juice, which felt unrealistic and was probably another huge reason the game didn’t feel as scary as it should. You could choose to flick it on or off, but there is really no point to it. Adding more moments where you could see your flashlight’s batteries start to fail and you have to rely more on your senses to survive would have been a nice addition. However a flashlight doesn’t automatically brighten an entire area, so I found myself progressing at my own pace and keeping my eyes peeled on the environment around me.
Which brings me to my next point – collectibles in the levels. There are two main forms of hidden collectibles throughout the 10 levels you play – dead birds and metal pieces. The dead birds are much easier to spot, as they will either make a small cry before they kill over, or of course attract your hearing with the buzzing sound of flies feasting on its carcass. The metal pieces are trickier and sometimes require a little extra digging around. For example, certain pieces of furniture throughout the levels could be moved to reveal hidden metal pieces. There are also special Xbox 360 TV achievements which are really neat to uncover, and of course unique to the version of the game I purchased.
I found the game had a few glitch points that definitely screwed me over on several occasions, including the worst when I fought the final boss, and I somehow lost my weapon completely and had to restart from a previous checkpoint.
The graphics aren’t the greatest I’ve seen, but then again, this is a 2005 game, so not everything at that moment was up to par.
Enemy movement was quite impressive, especially for the fast-moving addict enemies that preferred to crawl across the floor. They were perhaps the creepiest enemies in the game, especially in the library levels as you progressed through several aisles of dirty, damaged shelves, unsure of when your enemy will pounce.
My final verdict for this game? I’d say it’s worth a try, however it is a fairly short game. Took maybe 4-5 hours to beat tops. Between this game and fellow psychological horror sibling, F.E.A.R., I would still put all my points on F.E.A.R., but I think that in the short time I played that game, I was more afraid than I ever was in this game. There is great potential in this game, and it did warrant a 2008 sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, however, I don’t think I’ll be spending my money any time soon on this series. Any way you look at it, its a hit or miss. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it just sits on the fence for me.
***************Final Score: 6 out of 10***************