Zero Lives Left – Condemned: Criminal Origins

Game: Condemned: Criminal Origins
Released: 2005
Available On: Xbox 360 (Review), PC
Genre: Survival Horror

I’ll preface this review by stating that this game exists in my favourite games of all time. It sits alongside Half Life 2, Dark Souls and Bioshock. This game is amazing, it’s an unappreciated gem that remains hidden within the catalogue of the Xbox 360. If you can get your hands on it I urge you to do so immediately. The game deserves to be played so do me and yourself a favour and go play this game.

Now, it is time for the review.

Survival Horror games are awesome. Unfortunately most of the recent survival horror games are absolute dog crap– however there are a few gems hidden within the genre that when you find you see heaven. The search itself is possibly what makes the hidden gems that much better. Condemned is easily one of those hidden gems that when you find and play you’ll be floored with just how amazing it is. It’s intense, scary, compelling and visceral. Those things together is a winning combination that is rarely seen in survival horror, let alone gaming in general.

In Condemned you play as a detective who doubles as a forensics investigator with a handy ‘do everything’ forensics tool. It starts off simply enough: you’re called to a murder scene where a serial killer arranges his victims in grisly ‘portraits’ with mannequins in various locations. You meet up with another cop outside the derelict apartment and the two of you head inside while discussing the crime in the building and crime in the city in general. It’s very Seven-esque and sets up the mood of the game well. It only gets immediately worse when you walk up to the macabre display the serial killer left for you. After doing a bunch of forensic tests on the body of the poor woman you and the other cop hear footsteps upstairs. You both run upstairs, ready to catch the killer, only to bump into your antagonist: Serial Killer X.

Serial Killer X is a serial killer who targets serial killers. Other than doing it for a ‘moral’ reason like Dexter, Serial Killer X does it because he’s just as fucking crazy as everyone he tries to kill. What makes his murders so intriguing is that he kills his victims in the exact same way that they kill their victims. There is this amazing scene late in the game where Serial Killer X’s target is a killer who tortures people enough that they kill themselves to end their misery. You don’t feel bad when you see Serial Killer X finally push the Torturer (I think that’s his name, forgive me if I’m wrong) but you feel terrified knowing you’re in the exact same room as this psychopath and that he has his eyes set on you next.

The whole story follows you trying to clear your name from the tragedy that occurs in the first chapter, which I will leave to you to find out, and trying to track down and arrest Serial Killer X. The game starts off very simple with your first few ‘survival horror’ levels. Abandoned apartments filled with meth-heads, sewers filled with meth-heads, a run down shopping mall… filled with meth-heads. Then the game decides to kick you in the nuts and drag you through a river of broken glass at the half way point. The last three chapters are some of the best in gaming. The climax itself is God tier. You just saw Serial Killer X torture The Torturer enough to kill himself, and now he has his sights set on you. He now starts chasing you around a small house, and you have to fight back– while running for your life.

What truly sets Condemned apart from other survival horrors beyond the story and atmosphere is the combat. For once, I can say without any doubt, that combat is done right. It doesn’t feel like a Silent Hill game where combat is like trying to fit a square peg in a circle hole, no, Condemned’s combat is brutal, calculated and requires actual forward thinking and strategy to come out alive– especially in higher difficulty levels. When you get good at it you’ll feel like a champion beating up crazies and meth-heads, but there will be times where you’ll get the shit kicked out of you and you’ll have to run away, re-evaluate and strike again. It’s funny though, even with such a good combat system you’ll want to try and avoid it because it’s so damn tense. It’s like you’re actually fighting.

The game is the kind of game that you should play at night. If you don’t you’re really cheapening the experience. Turn off the lights, turn up the volume and get sucked into this grunge-y and depressing world. If you truly want to experience this game go to the sketchiest part of your town at night time and watch the sketchiest people do the sketchiest things. Invite a few of them to your house and bring a few sandwiches and make them sit in the room next to you while they play the game. Give them bonus points if they scream obscenities and bang on pots and pans to try and scare you.

Essentially: this game’s atmosphere needs to be lived to get the best from the game. Play it alone, in the dark, preferably naked, and let the game just wash its filth over you.

There are some negatives in the game, there are a few shoe horned in collectibles that are littered everywhere that have been added in just for the sake of having crap to collect. The middle two chapters are kind of lame, but when you hit Chapter 7-10 you’re in for some of the biggest and best scares in gaming. The story also gets a little weird and paranormal near the end, but not nearly as bad as its sequel. However you can begin to see the inklings of ridiculousness.

Overall I cannot recommend Condemned: Criminal Origins enough. This game sits in my top five games for a reason. It has everything I want from gaming: skill based combat, terrifying atmosphere, engaging story and serial killers. Okay, maybe the serial killer thing is from my own perverse obsession, but Serial Killer X is bad ass. The climax when everything comes together is amazing, I truly cannot praise it enough. Seriously, it’s ridiculously awesome and it’ll make you pee your pants at the same time. Anything that can do that is a winner in my book.

Condemned: Criminal Origins: 9/10



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