Condemned: Criminal Origins E3 2005 Preshow First Look

We get an early look at Sega and Monolith's upcoming next-generation horror action game.

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Sega's current push to both reinvent itself and expand the type of material it publishes in the coming generation has led the Japan-based publisher to make some interesting choices as of late. One of the best examples of this push is its recently announced Xbox 360 game Condemned, currently in development at Washington-based Monolith Studios. We recently had the opportunity to check out the atmospheric action horror game in a demo given by Monolith reps, which shed light on the genuinely disturbing next-gen title.

Clearly, Monolith is aiming for an 'E for Everyone' with Condemned.
Clearly, Monolith is aiming for an 'E for Everyone' with Condemned.

The visuals in the work-in-progress game were still rough, as it was running off a development kit that was still a few steps below the final hardware specs for the Xbox 360. However, it still packed an eerie punch thanks to a high level of detail, rich dynamic lighting, and creepy art direction. Our demo of the game involved a run-through of different floors in an unsettling building that was big on scares. There were also several game mechanic concepts shown in the demo, such as the ability to use elements from the environments (like pipes and wooden planks) as weapons, in addition to using your various forensic scanning devices to coordinate with other members of your team.

There are some downright scary examples of Monolith's wish for the artificial intelligence, as enemies popped out at just the right moments to freak us out and prove that Condemned is being tailor-made to scare the crap out of the unsuspecting gamer. The graphics in the demo also showed off some very interesting uses of the various special effects you can expect from the Xbox 360, albeit in a limited fashion due to the modest power of the development kit. There was a good sampling of assorted lighting, filter, particle effects, and other touches of eye candy on display as well. Texture detail, despite the dev kits' limitations, already looked razor sharp. But as interesting as the controlled demo was, we've seen more than a few tech demos that have ended up looking nothing like the final games they've become. So we're understandably skeptical.

However, we literally just had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the playable version of Condemned. And while we were literally held at bay from touching the controller with a pipe, we're pleased to report that Monolith is certainly going to town in developing the game. The playable demo not only touches on all the elements shown in the controlled demo, but it also actually surpasses them. The most significant change from the demo is easily the pacing of the experience. Whereas the demo offered a much more methodical experience, which was obviously designed to show off the finer points of the technology on display, the playable version didn't waste much time in freaking us out and keeping us on the run. You'll still be looking for clues and the like, but the pacing is better. More importantly, the combat, which only pitted us against one or two foes, has been ramped up considerably. You'll now have to contend with multiple enemies that display sharp AI. In one sequence, we saw the enemies size up the main character at a glance, and upon noting his superior weapon, they turned around and scavenged themselves better gear.

Keep an eye peeled for Condemned to hit on or around the date the Xbox 360 launches in November.
Keep an eye peeled for Condemned to hit on or around the date the Xbox 360 launches in November.

Combat is much more nerve-wracking now, with foes coming at you from all sides. More importantly, fighting is much more dynamic. Anyone used to the standard first-person combat seen in other games--which usually consists of bashing away at an enemy until he, she, or it stops moving in a very static sequence of events--should brace for Condemned. One particular sequence in the demo, which we'll admit was a little contrived (but not any more than, say, an episode of T.J. Hooker), found the main character doing battle while on a moving object. We can't be more specific than that just yet, but suffice it to say, the sequence was very cool. The other element of note in the combat we saw was the inclusion of a wealth of other weapons besides the rifle, planks, and pipes from the tech demo. Given that the hero has tech ties, you can expect some more-exotic weapons, not all of which are lethal.

Based on what we've seen, Condemned is a provocative new game from Sega and Monolith that isn't quite like anything that's come before. While there are certainly flashes of elements taken from the likes of Silent Hill, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, and Riddick, Condemned looks to be its own unique beast. We liked what we saw of the controlled demo and are hoping the game can build on the creepiness we've seen so far. Condemned is currently slated to ship near the launch of the Xbox 360, so look for more on the game in the coming months.

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