This first-person action game hits you like a sledgehammer with its astounding, stunningly creepy presentation, but it sacrifices opportunities for more shocks and surprises by settling for repetition.
- Ferocious first-person hand-to-hand combat looks completely insane
- Compelling premise puts you on the trail of a deranged serial killer
- Morbidly unsettling atmosphere (in a good way!)
- Excellent presentation.
- Boring level design makes you get lost in hallway after hallway
- Not much depth or variety to the combat after the first few hours
- Storyline teases more than it delivers.
Raw, savage beatings are the order of the day in Condemned: Criminal Origins, an original first-person action game from the makers of F.E.A.R. The game was originally released for the Xbox 360, but has now been faithfully adapted to the PC. You play as an investigator who's struggling to keep his own sanity while tailing a serial killer and facing off against what seems like an army of depraved sociopaths. Condemned's impressive graphics and bone-crushing hand-to-hand combat sequences make for a visceral, highly atmospheric experience that's quite unlike anything you've ever played before. But as great as that may sound, Condemned is something of a one-trick pony, whose monotonous gameplay doesn't quite live up to the quality of the presentation and underlying concept. Don't you dare let that stop you from taking the plunge if the concept intrigues you, though.
If you're familiar with the Xbox 360 version of the game, you'll find a virtually identical game in Condemned for the PC. There are some very slight cosmetic differences in a couple of spots (you're no longer finding Xbox 360s hidden away, and there's a different effect when you die), the default mouse-and-keyboard controls work just fine, and this version is less expensive. Other than that, this is the same fairly brief-but-engaging single-player action game as what Xbox 360 owners got in late 2005.
Condemned is about FBI agent Ethan Thomas, a sullen man who's part of the Serial Crimes Unit, so it's little wonder he isn't more cheerful. The game begins with agent Thomas on a routine assignment: Someone's been brutally murdered in a bad part of town, and he's there with the police to figure out what happened and to clean up any remaining mess. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that things don't quite go according to plan. Thomas winds up implicated in some serious crimes, but not before he has a run-in with some sort of a madman who spares his life--just barely. But why? Bent on finding the truth, his assailant, and his missing pistol, Thomas goes off on his own, with nothing but a cell phone, a Taser-style stun gun, and his forensic tools to aid him. The only other person he can depend on, save himself, seems to be a colleague of his who's willing to stay in touch by phone, helping Thomas to analyze evidence so he can slowly connect the dots that lead to some disturbing discoveries. The dark, engrossing story of Condemned starts out strong and has its moments along the way, but unfortunately, it doesn't take center stage during what's mostly a straight-up action game with an intriguing premise. As Thomas begins to question his own sanity when faced with unbelievable evidence, the narrative purposely takes some incoherent turns, causing you to wonder if there's any hope of a satisfying resolution.
It's too bad the story hadn't been more developed. As it stands, answers to some of the most important questions raised by the game (for example, what the hell is wrong with everybody?) are relegated to loading screens in between chapters rather than to contextual exposition. So instead, what Condemned boils down to is cautiously exploring dark, dilapidated buildings--they're condemned, get it?--while confronting and ruthlessly beating down violent thugs bent on smashing your face in. Except it's not quite as great as that makes it sound, because the dark, dilapidated buildings and, somehow, even the ruthless beatings start to get old some time before the eight or nine hours it takes to finish the game. And optionally collecting bird carcasses and metal pieces hidden throughout each level (don't ask) doesn't add much intrigue. You'll keep waiting for Condemned to throw you a major curveball, since it feels like that sort of game. And it sure comes close, but it never quite goes beyond a threat, merely teasing you with potential while inundating you with repetition.
Condemned is kind of like a first-person shooter, except instead of shooting, there's mostly just a lot of pure, bloody brawling. For some strange reason, there's no real bare-handed combat, but improvised weapons are everywhere. You've got everything from metal pipes to nail-covered two-by-fours to fire axes to sledgehammers to signposts. Each weapon is rated differently for speed, range, power, and defense, though the differences can be pretty subtle. So it'll often come down to a subjective choice: How does that metal conduit strike you? How about that nice concrete-crusted rebar over there? Take your pick and hang on to it, because you can only carry one weapon at a time.
You'll get the impression that the vast majority of effort that went into this game was invested in the interaction between you and your deranged enemies. There's some striking artificial intelligence at work, combined with some amazingly frightening lifelike animations that will make you wince as if in pain or in anticipation of it. Your foes cannot be reasoned with, as they're lunatics with a thirst for blood who'll rush out at you from the shadows, flailing anything they can get their hands on while trying to kill you. They'll scream obscenities and smash things in freakish anger. They'll lie in ambush, and they'll gladly hurt one another--as well as you--just as long as somebody gets hurt. And they won't just stand there and take it as you lash out at them with weapons of your own. As they recoil in pain from your attacks, they'll lurch forward for their next strikes, as if guided by momentum and adrenaline. The best thing to be said about Condemned is that it captures hand-to-hand combat with intense, lifelike brutality like no other game before it.