Reviewed: May 19, 2006
Released: April 11, 2006
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a slick new game from SEGA and Monolith Productions. You may remember Monolith from such titles as Alien vs Predator 2, F.E.A.R., Tron 2.0 and even the MMO, Matrix Online. With such a strong track record, I was expecting good things from Criminal Origins. And overall, I wasn’t disappointed.
Interestingly enough, this game really came in under the proverbial radar - at least for me. I saw few ads for it, and noticed little in way of previews from major review sites. You would think with two industry powerhouses like SEGA and Monolith, they would shell out a few bucks for promotions, but hey, maybe I just missed the show. Either way, I think the game will generate enough fan support to spread the good word.
So what the hell is this game all about then? Well, for starters, it is damn scary. Perhaps surpassing the aforementioned F.E.A.R. in many regards. I say this mainly because in F.E.A.R. you are this super soldier trained in all things deadly, equipped with a staggering amount of weapons. But in Criminal Origins, you are FBI “nerd” Ethan Thomas, basically walking around with a black light and a crowbar, all the while staring down insane criminals.
You start out with trying to track down the “Match Maker” serial killer, and begin by examining the local crime scene. You have quite the array of tools at your disposal: a digital camera, a laser light, a black light and more, that help pinpoint clues like fingerprints, blood stains, and the like. Backing you up along the way is your handy cell phone, and Rosa, the technician back at HQ that helps sort out all the grisly details. Did I mention you get framed for killing two cops? Oh yeah…that kinda sucks.
As you flee from the authorities, you encounter the stark underbelly of the big city, as you try and clear your name across 10 grisly levels. All the while, you get random psychic visions and hallucinations (eerily similar to F.E.A.R.) and have to bludgeon your way through countless enemies. The baddies themselves come in a pretty routine selection of homeless - esque killers, who come flying at you in kamikaze waves. Instead of yelling”BANZAI!” they just seem to gurgle nonsense, which is reduced to cries of pain once you commence the beat down of a lifetime.
Be wary though, this isn’t just an outlet for you sadists out there - these enemies are dangerous creatures. They will hide behind corners and leap out without notice, run amok around buildings luring you deeper into unknown areas, and retreat when needed. Thankfully, they aren’t smart enough to play nice with their “buddies” which really helps out in a pinch. This actually reminds me of those great moments in Doom when an Imp would launch a fireball up a “Pinky’s” poop chute…. oh boy, just sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the brawl ensue.
As I mentioned earlier, this game isn’t just about pure action. You have to decipher clues - albeit simplistic ones - with the aid of your forensics’ bag you carry around at all times. By simple, I mean you basically are walked through what to look for and notified when you have completed said action.
For example, you will have to snap a few pictures; all you have to do is line up a few arrows and voila, you have taken the correct evidence. This leads to some monotony as you just try to advance the story and meet the game’s requirements, not unlike matching up brightly colored objects with their corresponding holes - bring back memories anyone?
But man…ya know...that bag seems awfully large for a few gadgets. Which brings up the point - why can’t I hold a couple weapons at a time if I have a bag to store something extra? “Hmm…you know, I am being assaulted left and right…do I really need that black light? Ahh well… I’ll just toss this pistol into the sewers and go with my handy dandy 2x4!” Fortunately, you will run out of ammo anyways sooner or later, forcing you to go literally medieval style on someone’s hindquarters.
Also worthy of note is your extremely handy taser. A quick zap of this sucker buys you just enough time to lay in a few quality hits. The finishing moves are also quite interesting. Once you have subdued the criminal, you can pound his face in with a head butt, knee him, or even snap his neck. Gee…. so many options…
So beyond being severally limited on a wide arsenal (a refreshing change from most games I must say), how does the combat stack up? Well, with the sharp A.I., you will be in for a hard time frankly. Trying to time blocking and attacking is quite hard, often leaving you exposed to hits you swear you deflected in time. Thankfully, there are health packs scattered about, and you can save often and whenever you like - just don’t screw yourself into a rather bleak situation, i.e. surrounded by enemies low on health, with no exit in sight.
You are immediately struck by the dark, and gritty nature of the graphics. Most buildings look run down; plaster is peeling or non-existent, chairs lay strewn about, tables are missing legs, windows are cracked and so forth. Most of the action takes placed within closed doors in these dilapidated settings, adding to the anxious feeling of claustrophobia, as you carefully check behind every corner for a deranged maniac to attack. Speaking of the enemies, they are animated quite nicely, along with a solid portrayal of facial and clothing details. I swear if you look close enough you can even see the drool.
Textures and graphical effects are also nicely done. The various weapons you wield are all portrayed realistically, and look downright raw on occasion, such as when you rip off a pipe or uproot a floorboard. The environments are pretty interactive besides just prying things off at a whim. Lights explode, pop cans go flying, boxes tumble and so on as you move around in a seemingly real, physical world. Overall, these graphics are just plain sick-in all meaning of the word.
Like the graphics, the sound is pretty dang good, and matches the harsh details nicely. Sound effects like the smack of combat and the grunts of foes really reverberate in the enclosed areas. You will often have auditory clues that may in fact save your skin as well. It made me wish I had 5.1 surround speakers, so I could really get my heart racing.
The soundtrack also fits the bleak atmosphere quite well. A rich ambience of strings, light drums and more, will ensnare you into the ever-present tension. Being the quasi-adventure game that Condemned: Criminal Origins is, it is chock full of excellent voice acting. From the various villains, crooked cops and your faithful comrade Rosa, the dialogue is smart and moves the story right along, without leaving you puzzled or amused at the silliness. Thankfully, I think we all have learned from the farce that was Resident Evil…
Embarking across 10 seamless levels will basically take around 10-15 hours, depending on how well you master the technique of combat, which can be a little tricky at first. There isn’t any online component or co-op play to speak of, or any announcements of mod support or expansion packs. However, the latter cannot be ruled out completely, and considering the solid reviews and attention it is garnering, don’t be surprised to see some more action in a year or so.
It is worth mentioning that you can collect little trinkets like dead birds, special TVs and so on, that can unlock development material. While this won’t lend itself to re-playing the game to find all the items, it doesn’t hurt if you pay attention along the way. Ultimately, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a fairly short title, that may grow a tad monotonous with forensic examination, interspersed with savage combat.
Condemned: Criminal Origins combines a visceral atmosphere; both auditorily and visually, that really does a bang-up job of immersing you into the world of Ethan Thomas. However, this is not the easiest game to pick up and just play on a Sunday afternoon.
Religious themes aside, the overall feel of this game is quite disturbing, even for this heathen reviewer. Obviously, keep this far far far away from children and impressionable youth. But for you hardcore folks who are looking for a gritty crime drama, this may just fit the bill.
Oh yeah... What the hell is up with the INSANE amount of HD space required? 8GB? Good lord…. I guess I am just a fossil who still manages to use only 75 gigs total.