There’s been a long road for single-player FPS games on console. While the likes of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D made appearances in the 16-bit era, they were hardly comparable to their PC counterparts. Quake, Quake II, Duke Nukem 3D. They all had a go, but it was arguably GoldenEye 007 that cemented consoles as fertile ground for FPS games. From that point on – with a larger audience now in tow – FPS games could experiment and widen the definition of the genre. One such title to do so was SEGA’s Condemned: Criminal Origins.

Having been previewed as one of the Xbox 360’s first title’s at E3 2005, Condemned was a little brief. It was also a little bug-ridden, and a lot worrying. As SEGA’s entrance into the Xbox 360 field, Condemned did little to endear the public to SEGA’s more westernised development approach for the heavily-westernised gaming system. In fact, it was clearly superseded by SEGA’s other early Xbox 360 release on show, Full Auto. That’s not to say Condemned was without tact, style or substance. It’s just very easy to see how SEGA managed to shoot themselves in the foot with a title borne for the Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt generation.

Condemned: Criminal Origins screenshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins had Ideas Above it’s Station

To discuss Condemned as another generic first-person shooter would simply be missing the point. The game portrays its ambitions in a new mould; an incarnation resembling that of the Metroid Prime series’ eagerness for exploration through hugely expansive environments. The title relies heavily on close-quarters combat, often restraining the ammo for an entire level. Entering the shoes of FBI Agent Ethan Thomas, you are thrust into a hell-torn city full of drug-addicts, serial-killers and, although never quite fully-explained, some devilish personification of evil in all it’s purity.

Playing with an almost permanent two-inch visibility and little more with the torch-light, Condemned is a title that makes moves with its atmosphere. Centred on creating that shrinking-feeling, with an atmosphere demonstrating the use of light sourcing used to great effect. Much like Project Gotham Racing 3, Condemned was guaranteed to be on the top of your list when that then new HD display arrived.

Condemned to Replay

Whilst creating the feeling of perpetually being in mortal-danger, it’s often likely that’ll you’ll stumble across certain death. On many occasions, taking that break to make a cup of tea can cost you 20 minutes play. The areas filled with enemies are few and far between – quite a blessing, considering only two-or-three hits with most weaponry will end your investigation with a loud bump – and merely offering a momentary break from the fundamental-core of the absorbingly claustrophobic gameplay.

The checkpoints within levels have been placed respectably for the most part, although the occasional autosave may see you left with very little health. In one instance, you may be unable to progress through having dropped the required weapon before reaching the checkpoint. The earlier scenes take on the familiar settings of subway, abandoned warehouse, generic-empty-delopidated-building-no.423. Sadly, there’s only small variation to be had throughout the games over-bearing length.

Condemned: Criminal Origins screenshot

Criminology 101

The plot is advanced mid-level by phone calls from various characters. The placement of the communication is always perfect and punctuates the action well. However, the character assumed by the player is unbelievable at the best-of-times. When amidst all the gruesome slaughtering, being able to keep-his-cool and be full of one-line quips just pushes it into the realms of pure fantasy. Thomas himself is responsible for totally breaking the suspension-of-disbelief worked so hard to achieve through lighting, sound and enemy set-pieces. Condemned seems to be a title that chooses to offer it’s inadequacies for debate far more freely than others. Not ashamed for being an FPS trying to attempt something different, but never really feeling comfortable in the either role.

The combat system is one of the best I’ve witnessed in an FPS. It parallels that of The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, which doesn’t quite attach the same gravitas. Each melee weapon has two swings; full width and forward stab. However, these swing animations happen totally at random and are in no-way dependent on your press of the trigger.

Condemned: Criminal Origins screenshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins is an AV Delight

Graphically, Monolith Productions managed to pull all the stops out. Condemned was easily one of the better looking titles available for the Xbox 360 in its early days. However, this could simply be due to the title’s incredibly short-sighted nature and lack of in-game animation. When in a bright enough light to be noticed, the surroundings are crisp and detailed. That said, it seems rather lazy that items can’t be damaged; even when attacking vending machines with a crowbar. The character animation is very accomplished, even though some cutscenes could easily be considered rough around-the-edges.

The sound-quality was undoubtedly a breakthrough, however. Condemned: Criminal Origins is a title lives and dies on it’s audio delivery. Monolith had clearly been aware of this throughout development. Given the limited field of view, the contribution that audio made to the game could not be understated, building atmosphere from distant sounds and enemies too close for comfort alike.

Condemned is to be considered one of the worst E3 showings for the Xbox 360 prior to launch. However, the final release is one that let itself astound, question and disappoint all at once. Whilst breaking boundaries, Condemned opens new avenues through the restrictions it forces into place. Much like the GameCube’s underrated GeistCondemned proves that the era of evolution for FPS is not now, but instead the early 2000s.

Categories: Games