Condemned: Criminal Origins
These days it makes a change to see fresh new titles on the shelves rather than the slew of sequels to existing games. It seems that too many sequels are just covering the same ground, offering little in the way of innovation or fresh ideas, instead providing a quick buck for the lazy developer. So when a brand new game is announced, especially if it's a launch title for a next-generation console, it has the ability to stir up a fair amount of interest from the gaming world. Despite not being seen as one of the big guns of the launch, many were eagerly waiting to see what fortune Condemned would have.
The good news is that Condemned does indeed live-up to this, and in many respects it surpasses the hype it did get, and is now seen as quite possibly the most under-estimated game of the Xbox 360 launch. Condemned is a first-person survival horror game which puts you in the shoes of FBI Agent Ethan Thomas, who has been tasked with tracking down a manic serial killer. Trying to find a serial killer on its own is bad enough, but when that same maniac is able to fool the FBI into thinking Agent Thomas is behind some of the crimes himself, things get a whole lot more difficult for him. As a means of keeping the player updated with the developments in the plot, Agent Thomas is regularly contacted through his mobile. This in combination with the cinematic cut scenes results in a particularly well scripted storyline, helping to create an unprecedented level of immersion.
Right from the start, the player is introduced to the main gameplay feature; the combat system. This mainly involves using whatever you can find to shoot, bash and pulp your enemies into submission. Despite sounding somewhat simple, this has actually been made as involving as possible with the very advanced AI requiring the use of tactics to survive. Sometimes enemies will run straight at you, others will hide behind walls and try to sneak up and surprise you, while others still will attack in groups. The controls are implemented very well, as it feels natural and smooth when striking an enemy and it is relatively easy to time guarding against attacks. However this does not make the game predictable as the unique AI system means that many enemies will have individual fighting styles making their next move almost impossible to anticipate.
As far as weapons go, you can pick up just about anything you can find: clubs, hammers, axes and a whole load more, you can even pull pipes right out of the walls to use as a weapon. There are a few guns in the game but when found have very limited Ammo and will often last no more than 5 shots, indicating that the developer didn't want this to become just a standard 'run and gun' game. There is also a taser which you are equipped with about an hour into the game, which can be used to stun an enemy for around five seconds, but takes about 20 seconds to charge up so players can't use this tactic over and over again in quick succession. Again, this goes to show the thought that has been put into the title, as there is no single way to play through the game, instead a variety of methods must be used.
Providing a welcome break from the action is the required use of forensic analysis, allowing the gamer and their standard issue FBI tools to find and collect evidence to convict the serial killer. Although these sections of the game can be fairly straight forward, it helps to increase your immersion into the world, and to actually remind you that you are the good guy (in case the mindless killing made you forget).
It is clear from the moment you load up the game that it couldn't run on anything other than the Xbox 360, such is the graphical improvement over 'current' generation games. On an HDTV the results are particularly stunning, but even with a standard TV Condemned looks far superior to anything on any of the departing consoles. The textures all tend to look very detailed, even up close, and the dark, grimy pallet used in the game really helps to depict the horror theme the game nails so well.
The sound throughout the game is particularly intense. The gun shots all sound very life like and the disturbingly shrill screams of your enemies are particularly well conveyed, especially when Condemned is played with a surround sound system. The background noise and sounds are something that contribute to the unsettling atmosphere which has been strived for; they are just so well crafted that you get these moments of complete suspense where you are just expecting something to happen, further blending the boundary between the game and reality (eeeerm - Ed).
Condemned will take the average player around ten hours to complete first time around, but there are many secrets and special items to be found, each worth a certain amount of the addictive Xbox 360 achievement gamer points that may encourage players to come back for more. However, the lack of difficulty settings does mean people looking for an extra challenge from the game will have to be satisfied with trying to find the hidden items, rather than cranked up enemies, something which can be seen as a missed opportunity to increase the longevity of the title. Despite this, the game does have a well balanced difficultly level which provides a reasonable enough challenge, without being frustratingly difficult.
Perhaps seen by many as the 'Dark horse' of the Xbox 360 launch line-up (now fading from memory), Condemned is a surprisingly satisfying and original first-person survival horror game that really shows off the Xbox 360. The copious use of violence means that this isn't for the squeamish, but anyone looking for a next generation exemplar in this genre should definitely check it out.
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