Product: Condemned: Criminal Origins
Company: Sega
Authour: Peter "Ruined" Calderwood
Date: January 16th, 2006
Presented in a first-person view for maximum visceral effect, this atmospheric thriller is best played with the surround-sound up and the lights off. Given the power of next-generation hardware, Condemned is able to feature photo-realistic backdrops, life-like physics, and highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Weapons and ammunition are scarce, leaving the player vulnerable to the game's gallery of mentally deranged criminals. Careful detective work and precision reflexes are a player's primary means of survival. Inspired in part by the films of the psychological thriller sub-genre, Condemned maintains an intense, focused pace. Players can never be sure what waits around each corner.

Could this be XBOX 360's sleeper hit? Read on.

Score reflects graphics viewed at 1080i resolution
Condemned has some of the best and most realistic graphics you will find out of XBOX 360's launch titles. Condemned has lots of shader effects, fantastic lighting, and some of the most immersive environments you will find. What some may object to in Condemned is in the styling of the player models, particularly in the facial features; the characters tend to look like they are wearing masks over their real faces, which brings the graphics down a notch. That aside, think Half Life 2 meets Doom 3 in terms of graphical styling. Condemned uses the Fear engine and was actually developed simultaneously with Fear - but Condemned turned out significantly better looking than Fear!

Score reflects sound played back in 5.1 Surround
Condemned has the best sound out of all the XBOX 360 launch titles. While music is sparse, the 5.1 surround sound is incredible. Both offering enveloping ambience and surround effects you can pinpoint throughout the game, Condemned's sound alone is a treat to experience. You will likely do better in this game if you have a 5.1 setup, as it can help you locate enemies when you are in the dark.

Condemned does a fantastic job of translating its onscreen first-person melee and shooting action to the controller. While many games have attempted first-person melee and failed, Condemned shows that if done right it works really well. By default, A is action/steal weapon, B is flashlight toggle, X is "Tool" button, Y is check ammo, Left Trigger is block, Right Trigger is attack/collect evidence, Left Bumper is Tazer, Right Bumper is toggle use gun as melee weapon, Left Analog Stick is move, Left Analog Stick button is sprint while held, Right Analog Stick is Look/Turn.

The easiest way to describe Condemned's gameplay is to draw a comparison to the movie Se7en. If you ever thought making a game with that sort of atmosphere would be cool, Condemned is your game. You play a CSI of sorts in Condemned who is hunting down the Match Maker, a serial killer that continues to baffle the police. Without revealing anything, all I can say is that the plot of Condemned is very well conceived and rivals the plot of some movies!

The core gameplay consists of searching through dark, filthy, addict-infested hideouts for clues that will lead you to the serial killer while building the evidence you need to convict him. Standing in the way of your attempts are tons of crazed enemies wielding all sorts of weaponry from pipes to 2x4s to sledgehammers and more! Combat takes place in the first-person as mentioned above and feels very natural. In addition to the melee and ranged weapons you find scattered about, you have a tazer you can use once every 10 seconds or so. Using the tazer stuns the enemy so you can rush in and steal his weapon or kill him before he has a chance to swing at you. The focus of combat is on melee, but there are guns aplenty too. Interestingly, when you find a gun you are limited to using the ammo that is in it; run out of ammo and you might as well toss the gun away until you find another one - or press the Right Bumper to flip the gun around in your hand and use the butt of the gun as a melee weapon until it breaks! While exploring you will notice that the environment is very interactive with the ability to rip pipes off the wall and use them as weapons, chop down doors with axes (or chop down people, your choice), and knock debris all over the place. The Havoc physics engine is used to make this interactivity all the more realistic.

Evidence you will be collecting includes various fingerprints, DNA samples, and snapshots directly related to the serial killer which advance the plot. However, in addition to this every level is guaranteed to have 6 Dead Birds and 3 Metal Pieces; searching for and collecting all of these in a given level is a part of the sub-plot that will unlock XBOX Live Achievements and greatly extend the length and enjoyment you'll have playing the game.

Condemned tends to work best in doses of 1-2 hours - enough time to fully complete 1 level (out of 10 levels total) finding all evidence and unlocking all achievements. Playing longer than this at one sitting may not be optimal as the game is creepy and can get on your nerves, plus trudging through grimy dark hideouts while graphically disabling foes with large blunt objects can be disturbing if overdone. Some might consider the game repetitive, but the game is so well done I don't really consider this a negative. The one complaint one might have about the game is that it has little replay value when finished - with no multiplayer modes and without focusing on score like Perfect Dark Zero, once you've beat Condemned the only thing left to do is beat it again. And if you've already unlocked everything it's doubtful that you won't just move on to another game.

In summary, Condemned puts forth a creative and innovative single player game that is very well done and can last for quite some time - however, once you've unlocked everything and completed the game, there is little to keep you coming back for more.

Difficulty to earn XBOX Live Achievement Points: Medium
Condemned has absolutely no multiplayer features at all. This brings down the score a bit, especially for this type of game; imagine how fun it would be to fight a friend, or have two teams (gangs?) of players fight each other.

In terms of XBOX Live features, Condemned does have a leaderboard that records some interesting stats and its XBOX Live Achievement points are well spread out through various achievements in the game. Yet, I'm not sure they balanced this right, as some of the harder achievements to get aren't worth much more than some of the easier achievements. Still it is better done than some other games which give you far too much or far too little points; Condemned does a fine job of giving just the right amount. The well spaced out achievements that keep you playing is what saves it from scoring an F in this category.

If Condemned had online multiplayer support, it would earn an A for sure, but without that it falls just short of the mark. Still, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a great, innovative game that is worth buying if you think you'd have fun snooping around for hidden evidence while pummeling gruesome bad guys. If the movie Se7en or the show CSI interest you or if you just want to play the best executed first-person game with melee combat, you should definitely check this out. Survival horror fans should also give this a spin to see how survival horror can be done right without following the near-exhausted Resident Evil formula. It is nice to finally see a new idea on the table in this genre and Condemned can run with the best of them. Just don't play too long at one clip if you want to keep your nerves!

Link to buy: Condemned: Criminal Origins

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