Condemned: Criminal Origins
Some Games Can teach you things. In the case of Catz and Dogz, it's responsibility and kindness; in Rome: Total War, it's diplomacy and tactics; but the only things you'll learn from Condemned is why it's not always a good idea to be kind to the homeless and how effective a crowbar is should you want to cave someone's head in.
Condemned puts you in the shoes of Ethan Thomas, an FBI officer sent to investigate the latest grisly death perpetrated by a serial killer. Tilings soon start to go a bit wrong though, and before you know it, the serial killer's not only shot your boss and another police officer, but has also framed you for their murders, putting you as high on the wanted list as himself.
The game revolves around you tracking this strange figure, trying to clear your name and catch the bad guy at a time when the entire city's lowlife population seem to be picking up weapons, starting fights and generally causing some major mischief. Condemned superbly combines a massive dose of unsettling suspense, some brutal melee combat and the occasional bout of forensic investigation as you attempt to unravel the clues left by the serial killer.
Using a variety of weird-looking objects taken straight from the screens of CSI, you have to pinpoint areas of interest and then capture them using another bizarre implement. All evidence is then sent through your mobile to your only real help in the game, Rosa, who explains the situation a little more. Enjoyable as these CSI-style parts are, they're pretty spaced out and don't offer much in terms of gameplay, feeling more tacked-on to make the story work than an integral part of the game.
Not Bang Bang
Where Condemned really does excel though is the combat. Although guns do feature, they're rarer than rocking-horse poo (and ammo is non-existent), so the main emphasis here is on melee. This is an area that's often overlooked in games, especially in the realms of the FPS (apart from The Chronicles Of Riddick), where it's never really seemed like a decent alternative to an arsenal of guns.
Monolith's done an amazing job with Condemned's combat; it's brutal, visceral and hard-hitting, and for once it doesn't feel at all out of place on the PC. Weapons consist of pretty much anything that you can pick up from your surroundings, from lead pipes to locker doors. You can then use them with a combination of left- and right-clicks to swing and block respectively, and combine with the middle mouse-button to zap your enemies with your tazer.
Thanks to this physical side of combat the fighting's especially harsh, with blood splattering the screen, thugs being twirled around by the force of blows and superb fighting animations. Your opponents are no slouches with weapons either; they block, feint and counter, affording at least one surprise per level. This means that just when you thought you had a fight in the bag, you have ten bells of crap beaten out of you by a goddamn hobo. They also make good use of the creepy surroundings, from hiding behind pillars to ripping makeshift weapons off the wall. Plus, rest assured that if they manage to find a sufoerior weapon before you, they'll be sure to get their grubby little mitts to it.
The entire title bristles with atmosphere, from the level design (dilapidated buildings to subway stations) to the in-game characters, and the overall feeling of unsettling tension is helped along nicely by some of the best use of sound we've heard. The absence of any real soundtrack in the background amplifies any environmental noises too, so there's no distraction from the muffled sounds of someone coughing round the corner or footsteps on the floor above designed to freak you out. Enemy vocals are also handled superbly, with thugs screaming obscenities and other incomprehensible noises of indignation before they attack.
As long as you're not some kind of hippy who abhors violence, besides the slightly repetitive level design, the game is a masterpiece of nerve-jangling tension the first time round. However, the linear levels, short length (ten hours of play), story that's never fully explained and lack of multiplayer don't offer much in the way of replay value.
Despite this, if you're after genuine scares and great physical combat, Condemned takes some beating. So get in there with that crowbar and give it hell.
Download Condemned: Criminal Origins
I'm Always a bit worried when I boldly proclaim that a game is frightening -I hate trotting out the old 'Play it in the dark! On your own!' adage. A large proportion of gamers seem to whip through games without registering an ounce of emotion simply because they objectively want to moan about how they weren't scared one little bit - and the games journalist usually ends up getting bit in the bum and shown up as a pussy.
Well, guilty as charged obviously. But even the strongest of wills can be broken by Condemned - its entire slow-paced setup emits waves of terror in a far more slow-burn fashion than its development bedfellow REAR., and the sheer brutality of its hand-to-hand combat gives everything a remarkably personal edge.
You may be standing in a deserted Metro station jumping at the sound of a falling tin can clattering onto the floor, or you may be trying to work out exactly where in your environs a chattering madman is hiding - but you'll always be sitting somewhere in the vicinity of the edge of your seat.
And when said madman leaps out of his hidey-hole and you're frantically timing blocks with your right mouse button and swipes with your left and your hammer finally connects with a remarkable thud/crunch and a puff of blood - well, the feeling is indescribable. Don't tell the Daily Mail, but in Condemned beating thugs to death with blunt instruments feels really, really good.
This sudden surge of violence among the down-and-outs and your unfortunate solitude in a series of run-down locations, is all tied to a serial killer called The MatchMaker. While REAR, chose Asian horror as its jump-point, Condemned has opted for the lingering horror of US offerings such as Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs. You play FBI Agent Ethan Thomas, hot on the trail of the aforementioned mentalist and his bloody modus operandi of setting up murder victims in gruesome tableaux, with shop-floor mannequins and their faces scratched off. Quite why the homeless are going nuts is explained later on, as is the game's , fascination with dead birds, but suffice to say two levels into the game Thomas has been accused of a 'crime that he did not commit M and is very much on his lonesome, bar the help of a mysterious stranger 'who may or may not be what he seems'.
Turn It On Then
As an FBI agent you also have a few gadgets up your sleeve - not least a handy torch (that never runs out of batteries!) and a tazer that can be used every 30 seconds or so on the screaming tramps chasing you. When you discover crime scenes, meanwhile, you get a cool laser camera, nifty sample taker and a Basic Instinct-type, homicide-spunk-torch (although to be honest I haven't come across any of that yet - mainly fingerprints and chemicals). With these in hand, you can send off evidence at heavily-prompted moments to a friendly scientific lady, who fills you in on what horrors you're witnessing - while REAR.-style paranormal visions are also present to fill in plot points.
In fact Condemned seems to have far more stylish ways of telling its tale than REAR.'s somewhat clunky answerphone messages - which is more than helped by its more tangibly grungy atmosphere.
Whether or not the appeal of the fierce hand-to-hand combat lasts the whole game will be discovered come our review next issue - but there's no doubt that the limited availability of bullets and firearms brings a remarkable amount of intensity to the game. Its slow pace too, makes you notice the minutiae of the game far more than you would in pacier games like REAR, or Quake 4. Even something as simple as seeing three bullet holes in a reinforced window and three corresponding holes in the wall opposite with a splash of blood seems quite special.
If there's one area, however, that Condemned is due to thoroughly excel in, it's the sound effects. They're fundamentally magisterial - from the thumping and bumping of a nutjob racing around on the floor above you, to the staccato chuntering abuse they give you as they try to dash out your brains with a crowbar. Forget the fear of a botch-job 360 conversion, Monolith really could be onto something special with this.
I enjoy being scared. Horror is one of my fascinations, and a good scary film is usually the perfect combination of creepy and strange to suit my mood. Just such a game is Condemned, one of the most nicely immersive titles I've seen. It pits you, as FBI Agent Ethan Thomas, against a host of serial killers, all of whom are at the center of a bizarre and twisted phenomenon. In the dark alleys and slums of the city, there lies an evil, and evil that twists and changes people, turning them into psychopathic killers. Make no mistake, this game is rated M for good reason, it is dark and frightening.
There's only a very minimal interface, with some very basic prompts for context sensitive actions in the game. For instance, in the presence of clues, you'll automatically be able to bring out a search tool to find forensic evidence. Once you've found it, you'll use a collection tool to actually gather the evidence. However, the primary gameplay mechanic you'll use is fighting with improvised weapons. It takes a fair amount of work to get used to this, but once you learn how to block reliably, you'll be able to fight multiple enemies somewhat effectively. Along the way you'll get one major benefit, a 'mind's eye' mode that gives you small hints and clues.
Visually, I was quite happy with Condemned, as it features people that look much more realistic than ever envisioned before, and the dark, shadowy slums contain a perfect amount of clutter and damage, making them look much more convincing. I can't say as I had anything to complain about on the audio side, as I enjoyed the voice acting as well as the atmospheric effects.
Unfortunately, there isn't much in what I'd call replay value, although secret pickups in the game can open a lot of extra material to read inside the game. All in all, I'd say that Condemned ranks up there with other adventure titles, and certainly seems to provide a more quality experience than most. Two thumbs up, and were I a gorilla, that'd be four.
Wild-eyed winos bum rush you with boards, pipes, and other back-alley objects. As a forensic sleuth, it's your lot to suss out their sudden insanity while simultaneously tracking a serial killer.
How was it:
So far, Condemned's CSI-style snooping--performed with a black-light scanning tool based on actual technology--feels incidental to the undetective-like task of harassing the homeless; its brick-and-bat bum fights, however, are hardcore. The city's firebrand unfortunates seem solid-bodied, breathing, alive. Clobber one with a length of steel, and his head snaps back like a ball on a short string. Wallop 'im with a board, and he'll spit blood, scream through broken teeth, and stagger blindly. We haven't seen this sort of first-person, hands-on neck wringing since breakout Xbox hit Riddick.
What Sega's trek into unsavory territory needs now--at least if it wants to screw with our spines and our stomachs--is the suggestion of plot and purpose in its miasma of madness.