Condemned: Criminal Origins Updated Hands-On

We happily rearrange some faces in the updated Xbox 360 demo of Monolith's creepy no-holds-barred first-person action game.

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LOS ANGELES--Much like it did at the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this year, Condemned: Criminal Origins stood out as one of the only playable games for next-generation consoles at the G-Phoria awards show. We were eager to get our hands on an updated build of this brutal first-person action game, which tells the story of one agent Ethan Thomas, who's framed for murder while investigating a sinister crime. A forensics specialist, Thomas will need his brains, some fancy tools, and a lot of muscle to survive what's in store for him. What's been shown of Condemned thus far paints it as a gritty action game with tons of up-close-and-personal combat with gnarly weapons ranging from pipes and two-by-fours to locker doors. Fun for the whole family to enjoy!

The new demo we played evidently takes place near the beginning of the adventure, and is set in and around a rundown construction site of some sort. It's teaming with ne'er-do-wells, the sorts who hide around corners and try to brain you with a lead pipe. We were impressed by some of the artificial intelligence and realistic physics and lighting on display, as some of our foes would viciously hurl furniture towards us, while others would attempt to limp away to safety after a couple of licks from our trusty lead pipe. Still others would buckle down after a couple of good hits, allowing us to curb-stomp them into lifeless heaps. This is a gory game that's not for the squeamish.

It must be reiterated over and over that the close-quarters combat in Condemned is absolutely, wincingly brutal. It reminds us a lot of last year's outstanding Chronicles of Riddick in this regard, but it's actually even more over-the-top than that. In one fight, we managed to club our enemy's weapon from his hands, then loosed some of his teeth with our next strike...but he didn't give up. He lunged straight for our throat. Ever been strangled from a first-person perspective in a game? And the end of the brief demo ends with a bang, too. Ethan Thomas is assaulted and severely beaten by some kind of a madman, who, after threatening Thomas at gunpoint, proceeds to use Thomas' pistol to kill a couple of cops who try to save him. Then Thomas gets thrown out a second-or-third-story window into a wrecked car below. All this takes place from a first-person perspective, so you see it through Thomas' own eyes.

Condemned is looking very impressive, though it still isn't running quite as smoothly as we hope it will. Atmospheric lighting and sharp textures make the environments seem to come alive, and enemies move with frightening realism. However, it was the audio in Condemned that really wowed us. We couldn't hear the game so well above the din at E3, and hearing it at G-Phoria wasn't too much easier, but we could still make out all the sickening thuds and blood-curdling screams going on. In short, the game sounds like it looks.

The gameplay in Condemned will involve having to use forensic tools to search for clues, and the melee combat requires some well-timed blocking in addition to all the attacking. Some ranged combat will be in the game as well, but Condemned looks as if it likes to make the action personal. Of note, we also learned that an announcement of an official release date for the Xbox 360 version of the game should be forthcoming. Between this game and F.E.A.R., we felt like developer Monolith had carved out a pretty sweet corner for itself amid the bustle of G-Phoria.

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