Review: Condemned: Criminal Origins (XB 360)


Genre: Survival
Platform: XBOX 360
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)
Developer: Monolith
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 11/16/05
Official Website: http://www.sega.com/gamesite/condemned/

When I think of games I’d play to give me a little scare here and there, I certainly wouldn’t be thinking of anything by Monolith. Well, until recently that is. They have been known for their smart, funny, and awesome secret agent series No One Lives Forever. Other great credits to their name include Shogo and Aliens vs. Predator 2, and to this date, the have only one bruise on their good reputation, which is the largely unsuccessful (not to mention, not very fun) The Matrix Online.

But within a span of two months, they have released 2 games that could feasibly fit into the survival horror genre. While both are first person games, they both do a good job of giving you a little fright. The first was the highly anticipated F.E.A.R. for PCs, and the other is Condemned: Criminal Origins, which is what I’ll be covering here.

Monolith isn’t well known for creating console games. In fact, they have only created one other console game that I can see: NOLF for the PS2. So that makes Condemned their first original title on the 360. Add to that the fact that it is one of the FEW truly original titles to launch with the 360, with 90% of those titles being ports or sequels. So Monolith has a chance to do some real good here with Condemned.

So let’s take a journey into a dark tale of suspense, mystery and intrigue.


Story
The city has been plagued recently by a high amount of serial killers. A particularly twisted killer, dubbed “The MatchMaker”, likes to have his victims sit at a dinner table with a mannequin when he kills them And oddly enough, the mannequins all have a disfigurement cut into their face, which it is suspected that the killer possesses as well.

The guy who is investigating these crimes is our protagonist, Ethan Thomas. He works for the FBI’s Serial Crimes Unit, and the first mission we witness in the game is Ethan examining the scene of yet another Matchmaker homicide. The problem is that the killer hasn’t left the building. While at the scene, he cuts the power to the building, and you have to traverse the building, finding a way to switch back on the power, all the while killing druggies who for some reason or another want you dead.


Once the power is returned, you are reunited with the cops that were helping you, only to see the suspect shoot them down with your own gun and throw you out of a window. Naturally, without any hard evidence, the police believe the ruse and come to arrest you, because to them you’re already guilty. But there is a mysterious man who is a friend of your dead father’s who is there to help you for reasons of your own. So it’s your mission to find the guy who framed you and try to clear your name.

First off, the whole Matchmaker character is pretty interesting, but at the same time he seems totally pointless. I guess the whole mannequin thing just makes him mysterious, but if I had to guess (and this is not a spoiler, just speculation), I’d say the Matchmaker is ugly and girls made fun of him so he’s getting them back. Again, I don’t know if that’s how it really is, but it sure seems that way.

The rest of the story is pretty generic, really. Cop is framed for murder and has to clear his name. Mysterious guy helps him for his own reasons. I played a game that has a similar motif, yet executed much better. It was Indigo Prophecy, one of the best game stories I’ve seen in a long time. Everything that was interesting about that game’s story is not present in this one. And I find it extremely hard to believe that they would pretty much prosecute Thomas without hard evidence. I also find it hard to believe that a cop would run, because running is basically admitting guilt. You’re a forensics officer for crying out loud, you’d think they’d get SOME evidence first. But nope, the ONLY evidence is that they were shot with your gun. I’ve seen that in at least 10 movies and 20 TV shows. I’m sorry, but I find that plot point a bit hard to swallow.

The story starts off good, but just takes a nose dive from there. It’s just to generic and clichÃÆ’© and really doesn’t help drive the game forward.
Rating: 4.0

Graphics
Since this is the first Xbox 360 game I’m covering, it’s hard to rate graphics since I can’t really compare it to the previous generation. The 360 is supposed to be miles above the Xbox and PS2, so it’s hard to fairly access how good these graphics are. By the same token, I don’t have an HDTV, so the graphics for that will likely be even better.

That aside, I wasn’t blown away at all by the graphics in Condemned. The only thing that truly impressed me was the effects. Some of the reflective textures on some objects like metal lockers and porcelain urinals was pretty nice, and overall I guess I would say that the textures are really nice. But for the most part, everything else was rather blah.

The character designs are odd, to say the least. Everyone looks so damn ugly. I know they were trying to go with realism, but you’d think they’d want the main character to be slightly attractive, but I thought that ALL of the characters were just ugly. In addition, there isn’t a wide variety of enemies you fight. I even counted more than one occasion where I was attacked by two enemies that were identical. That should only happen if the characters are specifically twins, but these were just peon enemies.

The models animate fairly well, but there were times I noticed severe stiff movement. The only problem I REALLY had with the models is that the static meshes were all pretty blocky. I don’t recall many times when I saw curved objects. As a result, everything looks flat. I know they could have done a better job with that. I will admit though that there are some good area environments, but most of the time it’s just blah.


There were your typical weird moments you’ll see in a 3D game. You are able to look down at your feet when moving, and if you do, you will occasionally see your feet NOT move as you glide across the floor. I didn’t make a habit of looking at my feet all the time, but I did notice it happening. And there was also the occasional weirdness in the ragdoll physics, but nothing near as bad as many games that use it. So overall, the graphics were decent, but nothing to write home about, and certainly not near the best the system can put out.
Rating: 5.0

Sound
As I said in my recent Fatal Frame III review, sound is a very important aspect to these types of games, but you have to go about it subtly. There is absolutely nothing subtle about Condemned. There is simply TOO much sound.

Basically, when you move, you make sound. When you touch something, it makes sound. Everything makes sound all around. Except of course when an enemy sneaks up behind you. Oh, but when they’re in front of you, they make all sorts of weird noises since they’re crazy drug addicts or something.

But basically, all the sound in the game is made from you running into stuff (well, of course there is the requisite battle sounds and voice acting). But some of the sound effects are so retarded. You can run into a hardhat and it makes a crazy loud sound, I guess like a hardhat dropping on the floor, even though you just brushed it with your arm. Again, no subtlety. Always extreme. Either no sound, or all sound.

Another big gripe is stairs. When you go up or down stairs, it sounds like you’re tap dancing. Seriously. It’s awful. The sound effects simply are not good in any way, shape or form. They don’t add to the suspense. They are simply an annoyance.

The voice acting is nothing great. It’s not bad, but it’s not really good either. The characters do what they need to do and that’s about it. There’s no real emotion in any of the voices or anything. So overall, the sound was pretty bad.
Rating: 3.0

Gameplay and Control
The game controls like a standard first person shooter. The left stick moves and the right stick moves your view and aims. The right trigger uses your weapon. But calling this game a first person shooter is a misnomer, because guns aren’t incredibly common, and when you do find a gun, it has only a limited amount of ammo, and there are no ammo pickups, so I found myself passing over a gun for a crowbar or something. You aren’t totally helpless though when your gun runs out of bullets; you can hit the Right Bumper button to switch the gun to melee mode when the gun still has bullets, to conserve them, or it will do it automatically if it runs out. And if you want a little leg up on the competition (the guys trying to KILL you), you can use your Taser (Left Bumper) to shock them, giving you a chance to grab their weapon or knock it away from them.

The rest of the face buttons are pretty simple. A is your action button, where you can jump over a chain or something, or open a door. B turns off/on your flashlight (pointless, since your flashlight requires no batteries, and you’ll always need it on, but at least you can shoot with it on, unlike Doom 3). Y checks how much ammo is left in the gun (here’s a hint…not much). And X is actually the coolest yet most underused button in the game.

See, since you’re in Forensics, you’ve got these nifty gadgets. Kinda like CSI, but more high tech and portable. When you examine the scene of the crime, you can use your forensics tools to detect and then collect evidence. This is some of the most fun in the game, but it has two problems. First of all, there is no challenge to using it because the game tells you exactly what you need to do every single time you can collect or detect evidence. You can’t whip out your tools anywhere, it will tell you “Hit X to use a tool!” The other problem is that you do this about 1% of the game. The rest of the game is fighting off homeless people and druggies.

I guess this is where I should explain what passes for “combat” in this game. As I said before, melee weapons are more common than guns. Same with the enemies. They will come at you with whatever they can find, just like you. Except somehow, they swing faster. And shoot faster. Either way, if someone comes at you with a pipe, and you have a crowbar, what your average fight will be is: Taser when in range, hit them twice or so, block attack, hit, block, hit, repeat until dead. That’s it. That’s how 99% of the fights in this game are. Sure you can occasionally snag the enemy’s weapon, but usually you won’t even bother unless it’s a gun.

And that’s about all there is to gameplay. It’s pretty standard for a first person game. The only special thing about it is a novelty at best. And it’s marred by boring and repetitive fights, as well as the fact that maneuvering is a pain in the ass. They just didn’t try very hard.
Rating: 5.0

Replayability
Basically, there is virtually no reason to play this game more than once. It’s simply not fun to begin with, and nothing will have changed. There are several items you can collect, but that won’t be enough because you don’t get much from collecting those. So I can’t see anyone really replaying the game at all unless they’re masochists.
Rating: 2.0

Balance
I’ll term this in a way things were termed in physics class. “The difficulty is directly proportional to how many enemies are attacking you at once.” That’s about it. There IS no balance in this game. One on one, any enemy is pretty easy, unless they’re cheap, which they can be. If there are two enemies, it’s a real pain in the ass. Because one will get behind you, and you can kiss your ass goodbye. The game has three difficulty modes that can be changed on the fly, but really, I noticed no difference. I started out on normal and played my way though several chapters, and had NO problem (well, once I learned the taser, hit, block, hit, block, hit technique). But then I go to this one area with two enemies, and they kill me faster than it seems possible. The game is harder than it needs to be in this situation, not because of intelligent AI, but because of stupid gameplay and the enemies being stronger than you. They take about as many hits to kill as you do, and if you find one who can fire a shotgun like it’s a machine gun, say your prayers. Either way, the uneven difficulty leads to sheer frustration, which leads to hatred for the game.
Rating: 3.0

Originality
There is very little of it, to say the least. The controls are just like any other FPS game. The only difference is that you spend more time with a melee weapon than a gun. The only originality stems from the few story elements that are unique (or at least I haven’t seen the movie(s) they were ripped off from) and the forensics tools you don’t use. Everything else has been seen elsewhere and done better.
Rating: 3.0

Addictiveness
When I turned the game on and watched the opening scene, I didn’t want to play it anymore. But I went through the motions and went into the crime scene and I thought it was neat how I got to use the tools and stuff, so I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. Wrong. From there, it was a retarded romp all over the place fighting homeless psycho drug addicts who want to kill me. Oh, they kill each other too, but only when it’s scripted. Otherwise, they team up to kill you. With the difficulties in the game, with the flawed gameplay, it really wasn’t fun, and it took every fiber of my being to keep playing. And I didn’t really enjoy that much of it.
Rating: 3.0

Appeal Factor
Who will this appeal to? Well, admittedly it could have appeal with a decent amount of people. There are the fans of Monolith’s previous games, or FPS fans in general. And since it’s supposed to be “scary” or “suspenseful” it could be for those fans as well (though other than the occasional scare tactic, nothing got my heart racing except when I was pissed at the game). Sadly, a lot of people will buy this game, and be disappointed.
Rating: 5.0

Miscellaneous
Since this is my first 360 review, I will try to use this section for Xbox Live features wherever applicable. This title doesn’t have any multiplayer features, but like all 360 games, it does include achievements, which as sad as it is to say, is the only real enjoyment I got out of the game. They’re pretty contrived achievements though. The main one is collecting dead (or almost dead) birds that are scattered around. There are also metal scraps that you can collect, as well as Xbox 360. Other achievements include using only melee weapons and finding all the firearms. Though this is the most fun to be had in the game, it doesn’t really ADD anything. Collecting birds and stuff is much like the whole achievement concept: it doesn’t add anything, and is just kinda neat. Well, you can view concept art for every achievement you unlock, but that’s nothing big. You know they only added it on because they had to. There are a couple of other Xbox Live features, like keeping track of who has played the game the longest (someone actually WANTS to spend 40 hours with this game?!), but nothing really worth mentioning.
Rating: 6.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 4.0
Graphics: 5.0
Sound: 3.0
Gameplay and Control: 5.0
Replayability: 2.0
Balance: 3.0
Originality: 3.0
Addictiveness: 3.0
Appeal Factor: 5.0
Miscellaneous: 6.0

Average: 3.9
Total Score: 4.0 (Poor)

Short Attention Span Summary
I simply can’t recommend this game to anyone under any circumstances. It is much less fun than even The Matrix Online, which is saying a lot. It just doesn’t look like they tried hard enough. And I think I know why. I think in their deal with Sega and Warner Brothers to make The Matrix Online, they were required to make this game as well. It’s rather appropriate that Monolith’s two worst games are connected like that. But either way, if you want to, give the game a rent, but do NOT, under any circumstances, buy this game yet. It’s running $60 in the stores and is barely worth $20. And I feel TOTALLY ripped off. It just isn’t fun at all.