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Condemned: Criminal Origins

Crime Scene Infestation.

I'm going to prove that you're a really sick puppy: You want serial killers to kill again.

It doesn't really matter whether it's a super-evil baddy in a movie, or someone rampaging, reported on the real life news - a horrid, secret part of your mind wants them do get another victim. It makes the story better. It makes it more exciting.

But it's only you that thinks that way, and the rest of us are sickened by you.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Kristan's a weedy wimp in any way, but let's put it like this: Kristan's a weedy wimp [I blame my surround sound set-up, really - Ed]. Really, unless they performed some sort of scarectomy during the 360-to-PC conversion (and it would be about the only bloody thing they did change), I can only imagine he's a terrible coward who should probably be wrapped in cotton wool, rolled in bubble wrap, and stored in a cupboard padded with giant pillows. Sure, there are a few jumpy scares, but once someone's sprung out with an axe from around the last four hundred and seven corners, are you not somewhat expecting it on the four hundred and eighth?

But I charge ahead, the foundations unlaid. This is the PCified version of the 360 launch title, where you play maligned FBI agent Ethan Thomas, who is mysteriously accused of a crime he patently didn't commit (such that he could have quite easily proven his innocence in about two sentences, if only he would have tried), and so on the run from The Law, while still struggling to solve the string of murders he was previously investigating.

Thomas really must be the worst agent of all time. Not only did he fail to point out his exonerating constant radio communication with his superiors during the murders he's accused of, but at the time he was working on about twelve unsolved cases. No wonder they so madly blamed him for the cop killings - they were probably looking for any excuse to get rid of him. Fortunately, not all have turned their backs. Rosa, the lady at the other end of his super-forensic equipment is still helping him (and hence you) to continue chasing the killer down. This means he can continue tracking the real killer, and clear his name.

When Changing Rooms goes bad.

So, I should probably at least hint at the genre or something. It's a first-person... whacker. You sort of shuffle rather than run, as you make your way around a series of dilapidated, decaying buildings, smashing the homeless and deranged about the skull with lead pipes and desk drawers. Then every now and then you pull out one of over nine hundred [er, three - Ed] gadgets, selected for you, to collect some evidence, and thus advance the storyline.

It's odd that Condemned is written by Frank Rooke, the man responsible for the splendid means of providing the narrative in Tron 2.0. While the game does play fine, if a tad repetitively (and I'll get to that in a bit, I promise - but I'm not done mocking the story), its tale really is a load of old trousers. I'm sure lots of reviews give away the first twist, so I won't, because it's the interesting one. However, the one at the end is just completely bonkers. Nevermind all the silly hints about Thomas' special abilities dropped throughout. If only they had left it limited to chasing an uber-serial killer, using crazy tech, while on the run from the fuzz, it would have been enough. The whole dead bird zombie crime wave nonsense just makes it seem a bit silly.

However, where Condemned still boosts itself above playable mediocrity is in its melee combat. It's extremely unnerving when you see a crazed opponent desperately glancing around the room for a weapon, then running over to the pipes on the wall, wrenching one off, and charging hell-for-leather at you with it raised above its head. Or when they pretend to run away, but instead duck behind a pillar, and spring out, locker door swinging, as you run past. While shocks are few and far between for anyone who isn't a giant wuss, cough, the fighting is tense and dramatic, and very lethal. The violence can be rather stomach-turning (read: enormously satisfying), and while there are occasional guns with very few bullets, it's a lot more fun to ignore them and smash everyone's faces in with a clothes rail. And in the game!

"Sigh. Where's my fence post?"

There's not much point in my getting too deeply into how the tension is kept nice and high, the grit of why the 'investigative instincts' don't really work, and how the whole thing plays too simply, because Kristan already did a fine job of that. Instead, I shall use the remaining space to explain why it gets a lower score on PC, and then make some more lame jokes.

Often the PC receives lazy-ass conversions of dodgy shooters from unknown developers. And it's rightly condemned (fnarr) each time. But what on earth are Monolith doing, sinking that low? These are the people who gave us F.E.A.R. (And Cate Archer!). The most lazy example is the presence of Achievement Awards. While such frame-breaking frippery is apparently acceptable in all Xbox 360 games - you weirdoes - it's absolutely intolerable on a system that doesn't record Achievement Awards. This plague of irrelevant obsessive/compulsive collecting in gaming is teeth-grindingly annoying enough already (I'm looking at you, otherwise-lovely Tomb Raider), but let's at least tell the PC player that they're freakishly stuffing dead crows in their pockets for some other reason? Please?

Perhaps more importantly is the inexplicable disappearance of dead bodies. Literally five seconds after they've flopped heavily to the ground, apparently not man enough to withstand a nail-filled 2-by-4 in the cranium, they - *ping* - vanish. You can barely get in a second kick to the belly before they go to a better place. A PC could manage your papering the walls with corpses, so why such tacky silliness? Then there are the bonkers sound effects, with bodies making metallic clanging noises when struck with a crowbar, or metal bins offering squidgy thudding responses. None of it matters a great deal, but it's indicative of a very lazy conversion. And it's in widescreen for some godforsaken reason.

Right - other sarcastic comments on things that don't matter much:

The apparently special abilities still render things hard to see, rather than enhancing anything.
  1. How on earth is it that Thomas can manage to carry his laboratory of forensic equipment, but not have room to keep a pistol anywhere on his person? Is he naked, but for the techno-tools? And even then...
  2. While the physics are reasonable, sometimes thwacking objects feels a little random. This is all entirely redeemed, however, by the pleasing result of dropping a metal pipe on the floor - for some reason they often fail to lie still, and instead perform excellent improvised jazz as they dance noisily across the room.
  3. The on-screen tips during loading are hilarious. What would I have done if they hadn't told me to "Use block to your advantage" every other level?! I would have been deliberately ensuring my blocking was completely futile throughout! Nevermind, "Look for health packs". If only there'd been one to tell me not to eat my mouse and keyboard, though.
  4. It's a shame that Agent Thomas' impressive list of super-human abilities doesn't include the ability to run for more than seven seconds. I'm incredibly unfit (obligatory for games journalists), and even I can manage about thirteen!
  5. Why is it that every story involving zombies is predicated on the notion that no one in the world has ever heard of a zombie? Everyone has heard of zombies! We'd recognise them right away, lumbering toward us, with bits of their heads missing. "ZOMBIES!" we'd cry out in fear. And we certainly wouldn't be broadcasting news bulletins saying, "There's a strange rise in mental disorders leading to murders, and the consumption of cranial materials."

However, this is all rendered forgiven for one simple reason: Condemned's torch, like torches in the real world all around us, does not run out every fifteen seconds, but instead lasts throughout. And for that I'm thinking maybe game of the year.

6 / 10

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Condemned: Criminal Origins

Xbox 360, PC

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John Walker