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Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first person shooter with survival horror elements. In reality very little shooting takes place, with the game's main focus being on close-quarters and very brutal mêlée combat.
~ [ Storyline ] ~
You play as Ethan Thomas, a member of the SCU (Serial Crime Unit) division of the police force whose task it is to hunt down serial killers using advanced crime scene investigative technologies and techniques. At the beginning of the game your character encounters one such serial killer and is framed by him for the murder of a fellow officer, forcing you to avoid capture as your old comrades are sent after you while you try to track down the real killer in order to clear your name.
Your character, and that of the primary antagonist(s), is endowed with supernatural extrasensory abilities. These abilities allow you to sense how a crime was committed (usually conveyed in-game via visions/cut-scenes) and what trace evidence may be left behind. These abilities are what made Ethan so successful in his career, and what have led him into the battle of wills he's currently engaged in with the killer known as "Serial Killer X".
Amongst all of this nightmarish insanity we encounter endless reams of violently psychotic derelicts and criminals who come lunging at you from out of the darkness and wait for you around corners. Something has sent them crazy.
Soon after the opening levels of the game an old family friend, apparently able to utilise the same supernatural abilities as Ethan, comes to Ethan's apartment and explains that he wants to help him. Malcolm Vanhorn's motivations might not jive with Ethan's, but he's omnipresent throughout the game.
One member of the police force is still on your side, despite the widely held belief that you're a cop killer. Rosa, the woman who works at the SCU laboratories, collects and analyses the data you send to her through your investigations and helps build a more complete picture of what's going on.
~ [ Gameplay ] ~
The game is a first person shooter, and while the occasional gun does fall into your hands the majority of your fighting will centre around blunt-force trauma. Almost every room in the game is laden with iron bars, conduits, rebar, planks, sledgehammers, axes and even locker doors (to name but a few of the available skull-crushing weapons on offer), all of which can be picked up or ripped off the walls at any time and used to batter your enemies with. You have a taser which stays with you for the duration of the game, which can be used to immobilise enemies just long enough so that you can finish them off. You can also kick enemies and use single-button "finishing moves" when an enemy is on his knees, dazed from the beating you just gave him.
Surviving this sort of combat involves little more than timing. You must time your swings just right so that the enemy NPC won't have enough time to block it or dodge it, and you must block the attacks of your enemies which requires the exploitation of a very brief window of opportunity both in terms of how effectively you can block and how quickly you can counter.
There are medikits scattered around the various levels of the game which will replenish your health if you've been brutalised once too often. Many doors will require an axe to smash them down, or a sledgehammer to break their locks, and in some cases shovels are required to sever the cables of an electronic locking system. This can be quite irritating at times, especially if you currently possess one of the few guns the game will allow you to have - you have to drop the gun at the point where the necessary tool is in order to free up your hands to carry it, and then walk all the way back to the door which needs to be broken down, and you can either just continue with the tool or walk all the way back to collect your gun which probably only has one or two rounds left in it anyway. All of this seems to ignore the fact that you're a cop with a holster. The developers really, really want you to make use of the environment and aim to keep this game from becoming another corridor-stomping first person shooter.
There are achievements in the game (the bane of my existence) which involve collecting dead birds and pieces of metal which pepper each of the game's levels. The achievements present in the Xbox 360 release are mostly absent from the PC version, which is fine by me. Achievements in video games are superfluous - it's like winning the lotto, and in celebration of this fact you're given an extra £500.
The game has an immense atmosphere, and it is genuinely creepy and stressful. Imagine a classic formulaic "jumpy" scene in a cheesy horror movie, and then magnify the intensity of it by about 100 times. Hearing the mumbled movements and verbal threats of a derelict as he comes running at you with a metal bar out the darkness never fails to fill you with panic.
~ [ Graphics/Performance ] ~
The graphics are somewhat dated by today's standards, even though the game is only five years old. That said, they still hold up well and are quite pleasing when you turn up all of the advanced graphics settings, such as anti-aliasing.
The minimum system requirements are as follows:
[Operating System]: Windows XP or later
[CPU]: Pentium 4 2GHz or better/equivalent
[RAM]: 512 MB
[Graphics Card]: At least 128MB of on-board RAM, compatible with DirectX 9
[Hard Drive Space]: 8GB
The gore is quite realistic, and you'll see teeth and chunks of meat spatter against walls and on floors when you smash an enemy's face with a wooden plank studded with bolts. If you're into that sort of thing. I am.
The game performs flawlessly if you have the appropriate hardware to run it. It's a well designed game with a highly optimised engine; no memory leaks or any other irritations that I've noticed, and I've played the game on three different systems which all had different hardware/operating systems installed.
~ [ Conclusion ] ~
If you like violence and fear - who doesn't? - Condemned: Criminal Origins will deliver. Nice graphics, fairly good storyline/acting, unique gameplay and well-designed game engine all make for a truly unforgettable experience.
A cunning and ruthless killer is taunting authorities with a series of grisly murders. As FBI agent Ethan Thomas, your investigation will put you against the most violent side of humanity as you unravel clues left by the killer.