Thursday, June 4, 2009

Beaten : Condemned : Criminal Origins

Condemned : Criminal Origins was a very early XBox 360 release, which is why I got it for a very low price at Gamestop back in April. However, its age is no indication of its quality - Condemned is an excellent first-person gaming experience with a lot going for it, and one I'm glad I took the time to explore.

The game excells at many things. First and foremost, I can proudly say that, unlike any Resident Evil since the first, Condemned actually made me jump a few times. It has the music, it sets the mood, and it provides the environment for all-out creepiness. There are levels here not seen before in my gaming memory, such as an abandoned department store where some of the mannequins may be more mobile than you'd expect, and a derelict school with a demented lunch lady chasing around with a cleaver.

In addition to the creepiness factor, this game has some of the best first person melee combat I've ever seen. All sorts of things are used as melee weapons - from pipes to sledgehammers to flaming 2x4s, and the scarcity of guns and ammo in the game makes learning the melee combat a must. Hitting with the right trigger and carefully timed blocking with the left are the essentials. The block in particular is tough to get right, because it's a temporary block - you only hold the block for a second before it pulls back, so you have to time it so that your foes' shots connect with it.

All hope is not lost, though, as melee combat is made somewhat easier with the assistance of a taser that you get for much of the game. Using the left button activates the taser, which when properly aimed can stun an enemy, giving you a chance to land a hit, or even take away their weapon while they're stunned. You have to know when to use the taser, though, because it's got a long recharge time.

But wait, there's more. As a detective, you've got some cool crime scene tools to use, too, at certain points in the game. You get to scan walls and floors for stains and prints, collect samples and send them back to the lab, zero in on decaying bird coprses with a sort of smell detector, and take pictures with a digital camera.

The decaying birds, along with metal pieces, make up the game's two collection quests, and these items can be very cleverly hidden. Learning to look around carefully becomes a key skill, not just for getting these items, but just to find a way through a level.

Condemned has a great story that builds to an epic confrontation at the end, and that last level is quite difficult. I had played through every other level using only melee weapons, but had to pick up a machine gun during my penultimate battle of the game. There are some environmental glitches that can get a player stuck, but autosaves once again take some of the pain out of restarting once this happens.

I even encountered a glitch which gave me an achievement that I really didn't deserve, but I'm not about to feel guilty when they've had over two years to patch the damn game. There are also some primitive videogame anachronisms, like obstacles that really shouldn't be obstacles - a shin-high fence that I can't step over, for example.

All of this is forgivable, as Condemned : Criminal Origins joins an ever-growing list of XBox 360 classics that I'm just now catching up to - and yes, like Saint's Row, there is a sequel already out there, and already available at bargain price, so it may not be that long before I revisit the creepy world of Condemned.

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