The game’s storytelling style is definitely a feature that keeps you engrossed, even if at the end of CONDEMNED you have more questions than answers. The protagonist of the evening is Ethan Thomas, an SCU agent trying to catch the “Match Maker” serial killer. After following a report of a body in an abandoned warehouse, it is revealed the killer is still inside.
When our hero corners the killer, he murders Ethan’s partner with Ethan’s own gun. From this point on he is practically on his own trying to solve this case while clearing his name in the process. There are a few people that still trust Ethan and give him aid along the way; one of them being a friend in the SCU department that you send ‘evidence’ to via camera phone. Your other informant is an old friend of Ethan’s father (also a cop).
The mystery is somewhat intriguing yet other times incredibly generic. The twists won’t raise any eyebrows or drop any jaws. The final area and boss still have me scratching my head and wondering what the hell I just saw while the ending itself is very ambiguous and was clearly done in such a way that a sequel could be produced.
CONDEMNED’s most unique feature is the gameplay. Unlike most first person shooters, firearms are pretty rare; and quite valuable and you better make sure to conserve ammo. The majority of fighting is using whatever melee weapon you can find. Every type of weapon (pipe, crowbar, fire axe, sledgehammer, etc) has different respective stats (length, damage block ability, speed and reach. It works well considering you are never limited to a specific weapon at any given time, so a choice is always present.
Your enemies (insane junkies, homeless and demons) also use melee weapons, which is where the blocking ability comes in handy; a skill the final few levels require you to master. A successful block will stagger an enemy allowing you to get a few free shots depending on the weapon. There are way too few types of enemy skins in the game. Other first person shooters can get away with uniforms being the excuse for the same palette over and over, but when you see the same looking person attack you five times in a row, it definitely hurts the realism they tried to convey.
On a major plus, the AI is pretty damn good and if enemies are hurt they will run away and try to hide from you and wait until you get in close enough for them to ambush. What really kills an otherwise unique AI system is that most of the time you will see their arm stick out from behind a pillar or wall. I’m not sure if this was done to give the player SOME clue of where the enemy is, but it makes the game too easy while hurting the realism.
CONDEMNED’s design is what had me sold; while it is not completely played through Ethan’s eyes, nearly all of it is. The first person view of Ethan bending under a door or stepping through a broken window really sells the experience that you are in this Ethan’s shoes. Coupled with the realistic lack of ammunition it makes the haunting scenes all the more believable.
Yet another very unique tool at your disposal is the ‘evidence’ gathering. Throughout the game your intel partner will receive any forensic evidence you come across, this includes finger prints, blood splatters, etc. You will be prompted to press a button which will select the appropriate tool and you will send this back to your intelligence partner and she will explain what you just sent her and what it means. Most of it is optional, so you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to but it really helps sell the police officer theme. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t seem to go any further with the intelligence gathering, the best part of it is one of the best scares I’ve ever seen in a game. It was completely obvious and I saw it coming but, it still made me shit my pants.
As I mentioned, the game goes for a very big sense of realism: lack of ammunition, near total gameplay through your character’s eyes, forensic evidence and realistic melee weapons; but what hurts this game (and perhaps I am being over critical here) are the lack of some very basic gameplay designs. You cannot jump or duck in the game. If there is a part in the game your character has to duck under a door, you can only do it if it’s scripted. It may not sound like much but when you are in the subway, tracking a serial killer and you can’t take the easy way of jumping over the automated ticket-taker booth because your character can’t jump…it kills any sense of realism. Coupled with the fact that they went out of their way to make this realistic, it cannot be overlooked.
The scares of CONDEMNED work on several levels but there is not much that you haven’t seen before. That being said, it is mostly the environments themselves that are more freighting than the actual supernatural oddities. The third level is an abandoned department store with mannequins that forced chills to race down my spine by just taking five steps and doing nothing more than just viewing the surroundings. The previously mentioned level and one of the last ones that takes place in a two story country house in the middle of the night are some of the freakiest level designs I’ve ever been privy to. I have to applaud the effort that went into making each map different and standout in their own unique way.
The graphics were quite impressive for their time but it seems that they aged very quickly. The game doesn’t look bad by ANY means, though shadows are awkward and random, but the cut-scenes definitely need some work. Voice acting on the other hand is very good, it may not be the type of work someone would come to expect from MASS EFFECT or LEGACY OF KAIN, but there is nothing that will remind you of the original RESIDENT EVIL.
CONDEMNED is a rather short game (6 to 8 hours), so if you want something to kill time and give you the creeps CONDEMNED: CRIMINAL ORIGINS is a good way to go. It provides enough of a story to keep you guessing and enough complex (yet understandable) combat to give you something to do on that rainy afternoon. Though it must be said the replay value just isn’t there.