I decided to reschedule the surgery as I'm not comfortable being carved up on my best day, and I would hardly count any of the days since Sunday as one of my best. Thanks for those that wished me luck. I appreciate it, and rest assured, the threat of my reproducing will be halted in due time. As I'm not preparing to get cut on, and I don't have a whole bunch to do at the moment, I think I owe you several posts. Lets do gaming because it requires the least amount of effort. Ahh, it's good to be back.
If Beating Hobos Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right
Here's the sad truth. When I heard that Condemned: Criminal Origins was a game that pit you in hand to hand combat against deranged vagrants, I wanted in. I didn't care about the story. I didn't care about the forensic investigations you could undertake in the game. I just wanted to watch some junkie run in the room, rip a pipe off the wall, and then step up and get a face full of locker door. I don't know why this is. I have nothing against the homeless, or drug addicts for that matter, and I certainly wouldn't think to try and bash one over the head with a sledgehammer in real life, but for some reason, the concept in the game intrigued me.
I'm not going to spend too much time on the story, as it quickly becomes incomprehensible, and the ending doesn't do much to help, other than set up a sequel. You're an FBI agent who is investigating a serial killer who likes to kill his victims and place them in little window display type situations with mannequins. While investigating his latest crime, you give chase to the suspect, get the crap kicked out of you and watch as said suspect kills two cops with your gun. The cops now think you've killed two of their own so it's up to you, your wits, your last contact at the FBI's crime lab, and whatever blunt object you can get your hands on, to find out what's going on. Meanwhile all the homeless people and drug addicts have gone crazy and have taken to beating on each other with pipes. There are also a lot of dead birds. Oh, and you have visions. Don't worry, I didn't understand it either.
Condemned, despite the rather convoluted story, does one thing very well. That one thing is stick you in a very creepy environment and lead you by the nose into situations that make you crap your pants in fear. I say "lead you by the nose" because as large and impressive as the environments look, your path is a linear one. There is limited use for backtracking, except to return to a door that was previously unopenable, or for returning to pick up a weapon that had been found and then discarded. Usually, I'm not a big fan of forcing the player to go certain ways, but given all the weirdos running around this game, I was more than happy to be led down a particular path.
The developers did an excellent job of combining light, shadow and ambient sound effects to create a mood of dread and impending violence. As you travel through the various levels, you'll hear the far off coughing of someone you may or may not meet up with later on, or you'll see a hanging light start swinging as someone moves through the ceiling. The game doesn't rely on gimmicks like Doom 3's stupid flashlight (you can hold a flashlight and a weapon at the same time) or monster closets, so the feelings of fear are genuine.
The only gimmicky thing, in my opinion, is the way that guns and ammo are handled. Melee weapons abound, and provide a nice selection of hitty things, but firearms are a little harder to come by. This I understand, however what I don't get is why you can have a shotgun, then find another shotgun and not be able to reload with the ammo from the new weapon. I mean, this guy's an FBI agent, I think he'd be able to take the shells from one gun and place them in an another gun. I understand that this makes players make decisions as to whether they should try and backtrack to pick up the gun with one shell, once the current one is out of ammo, but seeing how I never saw enemies respawn, the decision becomes one of time, and not one of risk, so even that doesn't make sense. I also wasn't thrilled with only being able to carry one weapon at a time. Your agent carries an entire CSI crime lab in his backpack, including a DNA analyzer that's bigger than most firearms in the game, but there's no room in there for a revolver? Riiiiiight. I can understand not wanting the player to be able to tote firearms around all willy-nilly, but inconsistencies like this bug me.
Combat is handled pretty well. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of melee weapons to choose from. Some smaller, lighter things like the 2x4 don't do as much damage, but can be swung much more quickly. Heavier items like the sledgehammer and the fireaxe pack a punch, but if you miss, you'll be taking the Trolley to Trauma Town as your opponent smacks you repeatedly until you can swing again. The best weapons though, come from what I call the Picture class. This includes signs, desktops, locker drawers and large planks. Their class name comes from the fact that, when using these weapons, one of the animations for hitting your opponent has you bringing the weapon down on the top of your opponent's head, as if you were trying to break a picture over their melon, a la the Three Stooges. Classic. As the game progresses, you can find some interesting weapons like mannequin arms, paper cutter blades and flaming boards. Whoever had the job of designing all the melee weapons had a field day with this one. You also have a taser, which allows you to stun your opponent and either steal their weapon, or get a free hit, but those of you that rely on the taser throughout the entire game and don't develop your melee skills sufficiently will find themselves less than prepared for the ending. I speak from experience. You've been warned.
Health kits are all over the place, which is odd, given the environments you're in, but I guess deranged hobos need first aid too. This kind of inconsistency should also bug me, but after you've been mauled by 3 junkies with pipes, you see how much complaining you do about stumbling across some Tylenol.
The graphics are great, except for the character models used in the cutscenes. I'm not sure why there's a difference between the in-engine models for the cutscenes and the ones used in combat, but there seemed to be one to me, and not in a good way. Maybe it's because combat is very fast, in poorly lit corridors, so I'm not paying attention to the character models, and I am in the movies, but the models in the movies looked very short and squatty, and somewhat plastic-y to boot. The models in the game, on the other hand, are very well done, with a lot of variety which gets creepier and creepier as the game unfolds.
The game clocks in at around 10 - 12 hours, but would be longer if you found every dead bird and every metal piece in all of the levels. For me, this is the right length for a horror game. Despite enjoying it very much, I never finished Resident Evil 4, a fact that I'm sure will get my Geek card revoked. After having played it for 20 hours and knowing that I still had to battle back through the zombie village, fight 2 ogre thingies at once and go through the army base thing, I just couldn't take it any more. Plus, the President's daughter was just way too annoying. I like to think that Leon escaped to Amsterdam and spends his time blitzed out of his mind on hash brownies. Being scared while playing a game is an exhausting endeavor and after a while it gets to be too much. 10 hours may be a bit short to expect from a 60 buck game, but it's such a fun experience while you're playing it, it's worth the price. Besides, what else are you going to play on your 360? Oh snap.
As I mentioned before, the story doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, and there is a choice to make at the end that would give the appearance of alternate endings, but all it does is determine which achievement is unlocked. Some folks that I know were pissed at the ending, but I was OK with it. It may be because I was expecting something much worse, given how irritated they were. You're certainly not going to get any closure, but hopefully we'll get another game to help answer our questions. There are a fair number of achievements ranging from simply completing a chapter to using only melee weapons, to using every melee weapon, a daunting task, as some weapons will escape your notice if you're not careful. I managed to unlock the achievement for using every firearm for I am a scared little bitch who likes to hid behind his boomstick. If they had a Tasered And Ran achievement I would have unlocked that too.
If you like horror games, and you have a 360, your options are fairly limited. Granted, Perfect Dark Zero is a pretty scary piece of programming, but not for the same reasons, so Condemned is it. Despite the games niggling problems, you could do a hell of a lot worse than popping this one in the tray and spending the night introducing the riff raff to Mr. Pipey.