Monday, March 23, 2015

VGR Condemned 1

VGR: Condemned: Criminal Origins also known in Japan as Condemned: Psycho Crime and in Europe as simply Condemned also originally known as The Dark
From Monolith Productions/Sega/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PC

Type First Person Survival horror game
Year 2005

Following the end of the Dreamcast in 20001, Sega disbanded its company and was reorganized internally as a multi-console publishers. Why am I telling you that? We had to one more console generation before the Japanese publisher got another try at the survival horror genre. Having previously ventured into the genre with an underrated classic Deep Fear, a now cult cheesy Blue Stinger, the cheesy cult Illbleed and a discrete but forgettable Carrier.

Condemned: Criminal Origins was a return to survival horror for Sega. An alternate take on the genre by ditching the old awkward cinematic cameras and third person views for first person. Long before the likes Amnesia, Penumbra or Alien: Isolation tried the same to much success.

Condemned plays some similar psychological thriller themes the Silent Hill series is famous for, from this perspective usual for first person shooter games. It was brilliantly developed by Monolith Production, mostly known for the 1997 gore classic Blood, the No One Lives Forever series, the best Aliens versus Predator game, the pretty similar F.E.A.R. series and one of my all-time classics the sadly underrated Tron 2.0.

The game was originally known as The Dark during development. In fact it barely avoided ending up under that name since that title was kept pretty far into the production. Originally the game was to feature a different character set on a series of investigations for government (unlike the story we got later which was turned into a tale about a cop on the run), using various magical spells.

Monolith wanted to put a big emphasis on melee combat, something that first person titles always ignore in favor of gunplay. The idea was also to bring some puzzle solving tied into the story directly, by analyzing fingerprints and gathering evidence.

The plot was particularly inspired by cult classic films such as Seven or The Silence of the Lambs and the game does contain several allusions to other horror film classics (such as the Texas Massacre franchise).

Our story takes place in the fictional "Metro City". You play as this FBI Serial Crime Unit agent Ethan Thomas - who is voiced by Greg Grunberg of Alias and Lost fame!!

The game begins with our protagonist Ethan sent to investigate a murder scene in an abandoned building with a couple of other agents. It is possibly the work of the "Match Maker", a serial killer Eathan had been personally investigating. They split up to go exploring the building. Ethan's aided by the forensics liaison, a lab assistant named Rosa Angel helping our hero from the agency.

Exploring through these condemned buildings (hence the title!), Ethan witnesses the dark side of the city. He accidentally loses his gun to some mysterious figure. The man is identified to be the rumored murderer "Serial Killer X", a killer known for hunting serial killers Ethan had always been looking for! He kills Ethan's colleagues with his own weapon, framing our hero for the murders.

Now Ethan must prove his innocence. But this is about to get a lot more complicated as he finds out the killer seems familiar with his career and is now playing games with him. Only Rosa truly believes he is innocent. This guy Malcolm Vanhorn, a friend of the family tries to help Ethan.

Ethan goes looking for other killers, as this Serial Killer X keeps popping up. His investigation leads to all kinds of crazy people running amok beneath the streets of Metro. Is there a mysterious force at large?! And that's not all, he faces some pretty strange creatures more beast then men.

The story revolves around discovering the truth about this mystery through the game as the other agents doubt Ethan's current state of mind. But the answer to all this might just lie amongst someone from his circle of friends...

In the end, Ethan learns the truth about who it was all this time. And gets to meet the source of the rampant madness taking over the city in the form of some strange concept simply refereed to as "The Hate" in a barn outside town.

The true nature of the possessed encountered through the game is kept mysterious and pretty vague through the game, although that would be greatly expanded upon and explained in sequel.

The levels take you through all kinds of realistic locations, through this condemned part of the town, from abandoned office buildings to creepy subway station or even a closed down elementary school.

Gameplay in this game takes place from a first person perspective (aside from a few external cut scenes here and there). While many firearms can be found in the game (on rare occasions), emphasis is put on short range improvised melee weapons. Although you can still get a couple of guns here and there, in fact in this game they're specially deadly as those can kill enemies in a single shot. But once you run out of ammo it's always best to throw those away if you don't want to end up having to use the end of your gun as a blunt weapon.

You can also occasionally get your hands on a pretty powerful shotgun, but the ammo is really limited with it so be careful!

In fact, the game was made in a way to encourage melee confrontation, Ethan can pack a pretty mean swing. The pretty diverse surrounding environment offer a nice range of stuff to use on your foes from basic wood planks to lead pipes, shovels, 2x4s, or even computer desktops and drawers! It makes for pretty violent confrontations. In a way, the focus on hand to hand combat is not that far from another classic of mine, Escape from Butcher Bay.

Some doors and sages will require a specific tool to be opened up. Let's just say you can't break a chain with a mere puny wood stick.

Once enemies are just about to be defeated you are also able to perform a brutal finishing move.

Something also worth mentioning, the enemies AI in Condemned are definitively pretty smart. It was one of the main features they were trying to showcase at the time. They rarely react the same way on repeated segments, the enemies can flee, retreat, run around or even hide. They always try to surprise you when you least expect it and can even feint to trick you!!

Some other fun items that can be pretty useful are the taser (which gets upgraded much later on) and your trusty flashlight. It's a pretty dark universe, most of these stages always taking place at night in these dark badly lit urban settings. The flashlight will become your best friend. And obviously, they had to throw all that away at the end, for the final segment of the game you will be losing both of those forcing you to radically change your tactics as you lose the best items you could always rely on through the game.

Now, onto Condemned's major unique gameplay mechanic.

The game's biggest gimmick element is in the form of the crime scene investigations you will have to explore. During several times through this adventure you will be able to use a wide variety of forensic tools to both look for evidence and search for clues. Ethan can examine stuff and send those to Rosa whom you will always be linked to back at the lab at the FBI. Getting a remote analysis to solve puzzles or find ways to pass barriers in your path. It also gets you directly involved into understanding the overall plot of the game. Ethan can check fingerprints, footprints, fibers left behind, fluids, particles, markings, wounds, etc. by taking photographs, using a UV light and more. To do so he has access to all kinds of tools (kind of more realistic and appropriate for the story than the detective segments Warner Bros tried to implement into the gameplay of Arkham Origins several years later).

It's a really dark and graphic game. For a mature audience only. The game uses a lot of classic horror elements such as well-timed lightnings to create the atmosphere of the game.

At the time it was one of the first titles released on the Xbox 360. As a launch title it had to be pretty impressive. What was unique at the time is that along its contemporary, those were some of the first games that introduced the idea of achievements on this new system (mandated directly by Microsoft, before it became common practice). And it you ask me why I'm mentioning achievements this time, it's because here these same achievements awards were used in the game to unlock additional bonus content from basic behind the scene-stuff,  concept arts and animation videos and even the one oddity like offering a look at earlier versions of the game.

Condemned provides a really unique experience. It takes lots of classic cues directly from the original Silent Hill and Resident Evil games, despite the third person view. The game sees a rather normal protagonist similarly delving deeper and deeper into this dark world, just like the SH series. And like this cult franchise, almost all combat relies on melee weapons combat, which can even break over time. At least the game features as great parry system that makes that bearable.

The game is pretty easy, there's always health kits around each corner easy to spot. Where Condemned is really brilliant is in its great claustrophobic tone through the game. Thanks to a stunning art direction and level design, offering a pretty natural progression while retaining a creepy tension throughout the journey. It's a stunning looking game, despite some character models having kind of visually aged. The CSI element is perfectly implemented and really fun, if it feel a bit underused at the end of the day.

Overall, Condemned: Criminal Origins offers a great blend of horror and detective work. And it comes Highly Recommended for fans of the genre. It has a pretty intriguing story, a really good atmosphere and great ideas, welcomed additiosn to the genre.

It was one of the very first titles on the 360. The game was mostly received to a pretty good reception. And it's no surprise, it has a pretty solid gameplay.

Co-publishers on the title back then, Warner Bros. saw this as the possible start for a huge multi-media franchise. While I really love this first game, I don't really think everything is suited for expanded universe material. A prequel was "made available" in the form of an interactive online game in the official Condemned: Criminal Origins website.

A seque, entitled Condemned 2: Bloodshot was released in 2008, this time also published on the PS3. It mostly expanded upon the ideas seen in the first game while trying to fix a couple of stuff people complained about the first game (which I never felt were necessary in the first place. All it did was split investigation and combat segments into clear distinct clearly visible stages.)

Finally talks about a live action film adaptation have been stuck for long in development. Warner really wants to make the film apparently, but they can't get the thing started. They've been talking about it as early as a 2005 release date. The idea was to set the film in the same universe of the game and not make a standard clear-cut adaptation of the story of Criminal Origins. It was then set for a 2008 release date to coincide with the sequel with Kurt Sutter on board, co-executive producer of the television series The Shield. It would have featured a different protagonist on a different ongoing murder case in the same city, to expand the universe of the games, but nothing really came out from all this to this day (and it's been far too long now).

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!


  1. Looks mindnumbingly entertaining. Interesting find, Eyz, and good job as always.

    1. A really great underrated title, since it was a launch title for the 360 a lot of people missed it back in the day.