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Friday, July 6, 2007

First Impressions: Condemned: Criminal Origins

When I stopped by my mailbox on the way home last night, imagine my joy to discover that a package had arrived for me. I was currently awaiting the arrival of two new games for my Xbox 360: Lego Star Wars II and Condemned: Criminal Origins. No offense to those Star Wars/Lego fans out there, but I was really hoping for Condemned. As I walked the last few steps to my house, I managed to use my car keys to cut through the thick postal paper surrounding, what I now knew, was indeed a video game.

A scant twenty seconds of prodding, cutting, and sawing later, I was holding my very own copy of Condemned!

As I've mentioned before, I was really psyched to play Condemned after having played the demo. Am I a big fan of horror-survival games? Not really. Though I've played games like Dead Rising and Resident Evil 4, I've managed to steer clear of the Silent Hill games and the Fatal Frame series, though I did briefly try Fatal Frame 2 before stopping due to being a "scaredy-cat".

So what was it about Condemned's demo that had sucked me in? It all came back to me at around 10:30 last night when I finally got the chance fire up the game.

What I find so engaging about the game is the game's mood and environment. It's dark without being too dark, scary without being too scary. I've only played the first level of the game but I was absolutely caught up in creeping down dark hallways and listening closely for signs of hobo life. If you'd like to get a feel for the game before picking it up yourself, I'll give you a brief look at some of the game play I faced last night:

...From a dark hallway into a room lit only by the sun desperately trying to shine its way through filth-covered windows. A cough in the distance, a suddenly muttered "Fuck!", followed by a scream of guttural rage accompanied by the sound of a steam pipe being ripped from the wall. Turning the corner, you suddenly find yourself face to face with a drug addict gone mad and he wants to separate your head from the rest of your body using only the small, bent pipe in his right hand.

As you take your first swing at your untrained but desperate opponent, you hear another cry from your left. The sledgehammer you're carrying slams your opponent to the ground, allowing you a brief second to peek at what's coming your way. Through the hole in the drywall, you notice another maniac running towards you, arms outstretched. If not for the few studs and bit of drywall separating you from this new threat, you would have been tackled to the ground and quickly killed. Instead, you hear the sounds of this new threat's footsteps flanking around your left to your rear - you have very little time to prepare yourself.

Before your hammered foe can regain his footing, you deliver one last blow of the sledgehammer to his head. It's too dark to see exactly how much damage you caused, but the meaty sound of your opponent's body hitting the ground leaves little to the imagination. Although this addict made a valiant effort to take you down, he came up well short of besting you and your FBI training.

No time to gloat though: a quick turn finds you staring face to face with your next obstacle. As expected, he had flanked your position and was hoping to get a free swing at you with the rather large fire axe that he's carrying in his filthy hands. As he brings his axe to bear down on you, you quickly grab your fully charged stun gun and fire it square at your opponent's chest.

The current stops the axe's descent rather quickly, allowing you to reach out and pull the weapon away from your stunned opponent. Although society would look down on your killling of an unarmed man, you have very little choice. It's kill or be killed in the world of Condemned and you know this crazed addict will attack you with his fists and teeth until one of you is lying in a bloody pool on the ground.

A couple meaty whacks of the axe is all it takes before the world falls eerily silent. There's a serial killer somewhere up ahead, he's the one who led you here, and he's waiting for you. You can feel it in your gut...you can taste his stink in every breath you take. Taking one last look around at the two dead bodies at feet, you give a brief shake of the head, the only memorial service they'll ever see, then head off further into the darkness. There's a killer on the loose and you've got work to do...

Although the first level of the game took me about a half-hour to finish, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified that whole time. From the very get go, Condemned looks to get you jumping out of your seat. Disturbing imagery, dark environments, and brutal enemies make you earn every inch of ground you explore. This is not a game for the faint of heart but is a great title for those who enjoy immersive gaming experiences.

This is only a preliminary review of Condemned. I'll provide some final thoughts on the game once I've made my way through the nine chapters still ahead of me...if my nerves manage to carry me that far...