This may be the last console launch gems title review I do for a 360 title, out of the launch titles the only other game for the 360 I’ve played was Project Gotham Racing 3 and I don’t think it stands out enough to be a console launch gem, for all I know it may do, I’m just not a racing gamer (I keep a few gaming titles in my collection but that is it).
Like Kameo, Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of the few games that launched on the 36o that was a completely new IP.
You play as SCU investigator Ethan Thomas (voiced by Greg Grunberg, a man who would appear in both Heroes and L.A. Noire). During the course of an investigation into the death of a victim of a serial killer, two police officers investigating alongside you are murdered and Ethan is believed to be the murderer. Aided by a mysterious family friend you manage to avoid arrest and must track down the original killer so that you may clear your name (as an SCU investigator being wanted for murder is a real career killer).
Throughout the game you are also helped by a forensic investigator at headquarters, she believes in your innocence so she will analyse any evidence that you send her way.
Before this game I had never had any interest in horror games, I’d tried the odd Resident Evil but I’d never been a fan. For some reason when I saw the game being reviewed in a magazine I really wanted to play it and so I ended up getting it for Christmas.
The game is a great example of survival horror done right, not action horror like Dead Space, legitimately survival horror. Gameplay is split between two things you’ll be doing, namely, investigation and combat. The investigation part of the game sadly wasn’t as good as it could have been. It pops up fairly often in the game but when it does it is either to advance the plot or to find the items that you will earn achievements for collecting. Think Batman Arkham Asylum only you don’t have detective mode and you can’t turn it on or off at will. It does nothing to challenge you and does hold your hand, which is a shame.
The combat is one of the major reasons this game succeeds at being survival horror rather than action horror. For some unknown (until the start of the sequel) large groups of the population of the city are becomingly violently insane, especially in poor and run down areas (like the ones you’ll spend pretty much the entire game in). This means that for the most part your enemies will be violent and almost mindless psychos that attack you without warning. For the most part of the game you will only talk to other (sane) people over your mobile phone. This adds to the horror and suspense but also means that you don’t have much in terms of supplies.
You see your character didn’t get much of a chance to stock up on equipment and there are no shops, this means that you can only use what you find (so make sure to be careful with those med packs) and sadly for you guns are rare, really rare. I think that there are around three or four guns in the entire game which makes you really grateful when you do pick one up and can get through the next eight or so enemies with ease before you run out of ammo (there is no spare ammo). This is much better suited for horror than walking around safe in the knowledge that you can easily blow away anything that moves.
Instead you will have to rely on what you can pick up, namely steel pipes, wooden boards, etc, oh and did I mention that weapon damage exists? All of this comes together to create an atmosphere where survival truly feels like a struggle. You are alone in a city where it seems everyone you come across is trying to kill you and all you have to defend yourself is a two by four. I complained about the two weapon limit in Duke Nukem Forever but because this is survival horror Condemned: Criminal Origins can more than get away with a weapon limit of one, in fact it really does add to the experience. The only help the game does give you comes in the form of a taser and even then you can only use it a couple of times before it needs to recharge. It will help you get a breather when you need it and using it is a lot of fun. The fact that you will mostly rely on melee weapons also makes you feel much more integrated in the game and make the threat feel more menacing.
The voice acting does its job well and the story is both interesting and paced out well, at its heart it is a mystery, well its several mysteries, who is the mysterious killer? Why have homeless people gone mad? Why are the brains of birds dissolving? It won’t all be tied together for you in this game but what you get in Criminal Origins is both engaging and satisfying.
I know that since the time the game came out there has been a general turn against what is increasingly called grey-scale but in this game the relative lack of diverse colours works, you will play through a lot of very downtrodden areas and the dark gloomy feel of the places will make you feel increasingly isolated in very hostile environments. The developers also put little details into the weapons you’ll find such as the rust, wires or nails.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of the best survival horror games out on the 360 today. All of its various aspects (story, game play, graphical design) blend together to create a truly memorable atmosphere, you will not just be shocked (i.e. Dead Space) you will be afraid.