Condemned: Criminal Orgins

After the finals I picked up a new first person shooter to help me unwind. I picked Condemned: Criminal Origins cause the premise of the game seemed intriguing: detective story + zombie carnage. Or at least that’s what it looked like. I wanted to post a review for some time now, but other things were on my mind.

At this point, I’m done with that game. It’s off my hard drive, and off my mind. I got as far as the final boss battle (or what seems to be the final boss battle) and I just could not stomach the game anymore. The game itself is not all bad. It actually has some really cool features that make it different than most of other games of this type. But it gets old real fast.

The first few hours of the game are incredible. You start the game as an FBI agent in an abandoned building, investigating a murder. So the first 5 minutes you collect clues using your fancy-shmancy info-red, ultra-violet clue detection gizmos, taking pictures, and sending samples to the lab. It sounds complicated, but it is really simple in game terms. Your HUD notifies you that there is a clue nearby, so you mash your “investigate” button (by default T) and appropriate tool temporarily replaces your weapon. Then you simply have to look around and point the tool at the clue (a footprint, blood sample, etc…) and hit fire. Then you get a quick report from your partner in the FBI lab. Most of the clues are trivial to find, but at least you feel like you are doing something other than shooting things and mashing skulls.

Next thing you know, the action picks up as it turns out that the killer is still in the building. So you start chasing him only to find out that sections of the building are infested with crazed drug addicts and bums who will attack you on sight. Best part? You only have 8 bullets in your gun! So you better make them count! Once you run out of bullets you can grab a wooden plank, a 2×4 or a steel pipe and use it as a weapon. When you arm yourself with an improvised melee weapon you can actually parry and counter attack your enemies. Wohoo!

You also have a self charging taser that can stun your opponents. When they are stunned you can easily disarm them or smash their heads – whichever strikes your fancy.

In this game, anything can be a weapon. That is, if by anything you mean a 2×4, 3 kinds of steel pipes, a crowbar, a sledgehammer, a fire axe, a shovel, a pistol, shotgun, rifle and a semiautomatic as wells as few rare misc. items such as road sign, school desk pulpit, paper cutter blade and etc… Yup, that’s about all you get. Even though the scenery is littered with all kinds of weird garbage you are only allowed to pick up selected items.

Environments try to be interactive, but are not destructible which really takes away from the game. For example you can bump into a box, or a desk (or kick it) and cause it to fall over. But when you hit it with an axe, nothing happens. Some items such as buckets and cans will fly away just like they were kicked. On the other hand, hitting other seemingly movable objects is like hitting a wall. No fun.

In Condemned there are no keys that need to be collected. Closed doors can be opened in 4 ways: bolted doors can be smashed with a fire axe, padlocks can be knocked off with a sledgehammer, electronic card locks can be disabled by cutting the power cord with a shovel and locked gates can be prayed with a crowbar. So 4 of the weapons you can find in game, double up as keys.

One would think that a fire axe could easily be used for all 4 in a fully destructible environment. But no. All interaction with doors and gates is icon based. You actually do not get to smash the door yourself. You position yourself in front of it, and you HUD lights up letting you know you can hit fire to use fire axe. Then you are treated to a shaky-cam animation of axing the door. Sometimes you hit the button to early or from a wrong angle and instead of special action, you triger oridinary combat blow – which will simply bounce off the door :?

There is also no free jumping, climbing or crouching in this game. You can only climb, crawl or jump when your HUD lets you know that action is possible here. All you need to do is to walk to the spot, hit the action button, and watch your character jump. This is incredibly lame, especially since the environments seem to be made for fee range movement. You encounter areas with crates neatley stacked up against a fence that could be easily scaled if you could only jump. Or you find yourself on a ledge just above some important item, but unable to jump down to get it.

This would be fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that you are only allowed to carry one weapon at the time. So if you have a fully loaded gun and you encounter a closed door you need to go find a fire axe, chop the door up and then go back for your gun. Why can’t an FBI agent tuck the gun behind his belt? Especially since he is already toting around a bag full of expensive investigation gear!

However, these shortcomings are not the worst part of the game. The recall kill factor here is the repetitive game play. You start in an abandoned building where you are attacked by bums. Then you move to an empty subway station, also filled with bums. Then you visit a ruined department store infested by drug addicts, and criminals and etc..

There are many moments in the game that are really cool. Bad guys often jump out of weird places or set traps for you. You will be spooked quite a few times before you hit the final stage. But there is very little variation in the enemies you face. All of them are crazed bums, or zombie like degenerates, of various shapes and sizes (and sometimes policemen with guns). The only difference between them is how many times you have to hit them over the head with a pipe before they die.

The strategy is the same for all of them – use taser, disarm opponent and hit him on the head. If he is not dead yet, retreat and wait for the taser to charge up. Repeat. If there is more than one enemy, you may need to do some parrying but it is usually easy to separate your enemies and fight them individually.

This style of play gets repetitive after a while. In addition, every single level is dark, dirty and revolting. I guess this is done on purpose to maintain this dark, gloomy mood. But after several hours of playing this gets just depressing. The investigation bits are really cool at first, as they reveal important background information and help moving the plot along. But the closer you get to the end of the game, the less information you gain from them and they just get tedious.

It is a decent game, that just gets tiresome after a while. I have mixed feelings about it, as it is not a bad game. It has quirky theme, spooky moments, and quite innovative game play. It just gets old real fast. I’d say try it out but don’t expect to get more than few hours of fun out of it…

Here is the rundown on my highly scientific codemonkey scale. This scale shows how amany bananas should the code monkey get for making this game. We start at 3 bananas which is a standard monkey meal.

+1 banana for innovative ideas such as investigative mode, and improvised weapons
+1 banana  for overal mood and spooky moments that make you jump
-1 banana  for repetitive gameplay
-1 banana  for non destructible environments and no free range jumping/crawling
-1 banana  for combining the concept of a key and a weapon and making it annoying

Final Sore: 2 banana

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