Something stirs in your peripheral vision. A man emerges from the darkness. Not just a man, but an obviously drug crazed lunatic. The thug wrenches a metal pipe from a nearby water mane. As he rushes forward, you notice several lacerations all over his face. They seem to be self inflicted. At the last second, you swing the shovel you are holding and it connects with a sickening thud. Teeth and blood erupt from the addict?s mouth. He drops to his knees and then you are faced with the choice of four equally disturbing finishing moves (okay, maybe some are more disturbing than others). No matter which one you choose, you are guaranteed an up-close and personal view of the violence. There is a good reason that Condemned: Criminal Origins made it onto the Family Media Guide?s list of the top 10 most violent games this year.
If the above scenario is what you expected from Condemned, then you will not be let down. I have been following this game for awhile, and I had very high hopes for what it could be. Just by watching the videos that were released early on, it was plain to see that this was going to be a dark, gritty, and violent game. After hearing tales of the forensic gameplay techniques, it seemed that Condemned might deliver more than your typical first-person-brawler. During interviews, the developers touted movies like Seven and Silence of the Lambs as influences, which led me to believe that there may even be a decent storyline behind all the glitz and glamour. Well, I have to say that, although Condemned does not fulfill 100% of my expectations, it does come pretty darn close.
First of all, let?s talk about the art direction of the game. Everything within is very dark, very dirty, and has lots of sharp edges. From the opening credits to the end, you can certainly see the influence of movies like Seven. Being a fan of these types of films, I enjoyed every minute of it, but the average Joe might find it gets tiresome at times. The graphics as a whole are great. This game really has that ?Next-Gen? feel to it as opposed to some of the other launch titles that were just ported from PC or ?Current-Gen? systems. There are only a couple of minor complaints with the games visuals. First, the graphics can literally be too dark. This is easily fixed by going into the video options and adjusting the brightness. Just make sure you do, because the default setting is much too low. Second, the character models in the game all have a shiny, plastic look to them when you get a close-up view (which you will . . . often). This doesn?t fit well with the dirty and grimy setting. Other than those two points, the rest of the gore and grit is amazingly crystal clear.
Another big immersion factor in Condemned is the audio. This is one feature I found to exceed my expectations. You will definitely want to have some surround sound going when you are playing this game. Although there is not much of a sound track (just some subtle ambient music occasionally) the sound FX are what carry this game. They are part of the gameplay, as you will find yourself relying on them to tell when an enemy is near. I jumped out of my seat due to the sound far more often than because of anything that was visually thrown at me. If there is a downside, I would say the voice acting, although not bad, is merely average.
The gameplay in Condemned is mainly split into two segments. The first and main segment of gameplay is the fighting portion of the game. This is an evolution of the first-person-brawler genre that started with Namco?s Breakdown, and was further refined in Starbreeze?s Chronicles of Riddick. The result is melee combat that is very satisfying. Sure there are guns to be used, but we have all been there and done that. The melee is brutal, up-close and personal. It also has a little more depth to it with the ability to block attacks (with the proper timing, of course).
The other segment of gameplay involves forensic investigating with an assortment of high-tech tools. This was one aspect of Condemned that I had very high hopes for, and unfortunately it is the one aspect that really let me down. In theory the player would have an assortment of tools at their disposal that would be utilized to gather evidence throughout the environment. Think of the arsenal of Sam Fisher or Solid Snake, but geared toward puzzle/mystery solving instead of stealth. The concept is great, but unfortunately the game holds your hand through the whole process. So much so, that the forensic segments become nothing more than interactive cut-scenes used to advance the story. There are a few spots where it becomes more than that, but they are short and come late in the game.
Finally there is the storyline. Games have been getting better and better in this area, and I am happy to say that Condemned continues this trend. It has a very strong storyline throughout the majority of the game. For a game that is based around tracking down a serial killer, I was surprised to find that the storyline worked really well in justifying the variety of enemies and the different locales found throughout the course of the game. It is not perfect, however, as once you have finished the game, you will still have some unanswered questions (make sure you collect all the metal pieces hidden throughout the game, or you will have a LOT of unanswered questions). It would appear that the developers are leaving room for a sequel, which is fine if they follow through, but sucks if this is the only game.
Overall I was very happy with Condemned as a launch title. It definitely has that ?Next-Gen? look to it. Throw in some original gameplay elements and a solid story, and you can?t go wrong. I would say the main thing that Condemned seems to suffer from is a rush to make it available in time for the launch of the Xbox 360. If a little more time was spent tweaking graphics, as well as fully developing the forensic elements of the game, I think Condemned could have been close to perfect.
Gameplay: Although Melee combat works great, points are deducted for the untapped potential of the forensic elements. (8)
Graphics: Killing doesn?t get much prettier than this although there are some small annoyances that hold it back. (9)
Sound: Outstanding. Only the average voice acting keeps it from perfection. (9)
Value: Although a little more time could have been spent polishing the total package, I think it is well worth the price of admission. (9)
Curve: Being the only horror game available at launch this game fills in the niche quite nicely. (10)