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The first few launch titles for new games consoles tend to lack both good gameplay and a sense of how powerful the new console can become in the future. With titles like Kameo and Project Gotham Racing 3 the Xbox 360 soon showed off what the console is capable of graphically, but no title has really managed to show any next generation gameplay. With Condemned from Sega/Monolith we have the same story, some excellent graphics, but there is nothing new here.
Developed by award-winning Monolith Productions for the next-generation consoles and PC, Condemned allows players to experience an unnatural level of psychological tension as they use their instincts, forensic tools, and melee combat to track serial killers and bring them to justice. Gamers will play as Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent in the Serial Crimes Unit (SCU), whose pursuit of relentless serial killers leads him through detailed urban environments filled with socio-paths who lurk on the periphery of humanity.Presented in a first-person view for maximum visceral effect, this atmospheric thriller is best played with the surround-sound up and the lights off. Given the power of next-generation hardware, Condemned is able to feature photo-realistic backdrops, life-like physics, and highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Weapons and ammunition are scarce, leaving the player vulnerable to the game's gallery of mentally deranged criminals. Careful detective work and precision reflexes are a player's primary means of survival. Inspired in part by the films of the psychological thriller sub-genre, Condemned maintains an intense, focused pace. Players can never be sure what waits around each corner.
The game is based around a serial killer premise. Let me get the major plus point out the way first, the game is actually quite scary in places, it has a great feel to it, with dirty looking, dark locations, strange shadows, enemies hiding around corners and some excellent sound effects that all blend together to cause quite a disturbing game. The enemy AI works well, they hid behind walls, sneak around and grab weapons too.
Condemned plays like most first person shooters do, the difference here is that the game relies on you using items around you as weapons, they may be metal pipes, handguns, signs or whatever. This is where Condemned actually has some variety, different weapons have different attributes, some are heavy and harder to swing, others fast to swing but less damage will be caused when you use it. The game is very, very violent, for me to say that I sometimes winced when I cracked and enemies neck or smashed a metal bar across a womans face after years of playing games is hopefully enough to give you an idea on how disturbing the game can be graphically.
As I have previously stated, Condemned doesn't do anything new, infact its a very linear game indeed. There are hallways, subways, shopping centers and more but they are all very enclosed places so you must not expect to go wandering around large environments like you do sometimes in other first person shooters. There are various points in the levels where you will also have to pick up a certain weapon to break down a door or crack a lock, be it a sledgehammer or a fireaxe, but don't worry, as you wander around the levels if you see one of these weapons on a wall, you know 100% that you'll need it in a minute or so to get through the level, so it it basically leading you by the hand here.
The game isn't just about violence though, there are some varied parts where you get to use forensic tools to uncover more of the puzzles that are in the game, sometimes you have to use your camera to focus on body parts and take photos, sometimes you have to use gas sensors to find decaying bodies and such like. These tools do add a bit of variety to the game, but I would have loved to have seen more devices in the game and for them to be used in a variety of ways as the game really could have set itself apart from other titles in this way, instead it gets shouldered with other titles like Chronicles of Riddick, not a bad thing mind you. Another let down here is that you are told when you need to get out a forensic tool to use and you never get to choose what one to try out, the game always goes with the right one at the right time, so it sometimes feels as if there isn't a real reason to use them other than moving the story along.
The game has about 50 achievements for you to collect for Xbox Live! Gamerscores, these are strange ones, you have to collect dead birds and various pieces of metal, I guess what is even stranger is that I quite enjoyed looking for them, what does that say about me? The game will take you around 12 hours to complete, but to get all of the achievements it will most likely take you about 15 hours.
Graphics & Sound
Graphically Condemned really appealed to me, I'm a big fan of darker, more adult looking titles and to have one come out at launch was quite a surprise to me. The game is dark and I don't mean that in just a psychological way either, you spend nearly all of the game wandering around dark rooms, corridors and subway systems with just a torch as your friend. What is excellent here is shadow work, sometimes simple shadows can provide scares in the game they are that realistic, knock a light and it will swing around sending light all over the place and casting shadows just how they should be. The look of the game is similar to the Silent Hill titles, but Condemned shows what next generation titles can do. The characters look good, the environments are great to look at with everything looking suitable grimy and rust filled. There are a couple of problems though, one problem is once again showing up like it has done on other 360 titles, clothing and certain textures have some plastic sheen look to them that developers have really over used in titles so far. Lastly, although the game looks good, the environments were repeated over and over during the game, so you sometimes felt as if you were playing an previous level again.
Another plus in Condemned is how well the game is animated, some of the addicts that you fight against move so well, they really do look like human beings walking around. Knock a weapon out of a enemies hand and they look around panicked as they try to find out what happened to them and blood flies all over the place. The game also has a number of filter effect used too, these are for hallucinations and general attempts and freaking out the gamer, every time they work well, especially the blurring effect that I started to think was me getting tired at one point!
The 5.1 sound is almost perfect, the music is excellent and fits in with the style of the game perfectly, it does just the right balance of being there in the background but never being too intrusive. Sound effects themselves are hideous, but in a good way - the fight scenes sound realistic, pulling pipes off of walls, shooting guns etc all sound as close to real as I feel they can do at the moment. The only slight disappointment I had was with the voice acting, but it isn't too bad either, it was simply that I didn't feel the voices fitted with the characters.
Condemned is a good launch title for the Xbox 360, it has excellent sound and graphics, it is also excellent in the way it does melee combat, but what lets it down slightly is the linearity, the levels are too samey and the graphics can end up repeating themselves too often. Condemned is however very scary, its one of the few titles in recent years that has actually managed to make me jump. Be warned, this isn't a game for children to play, it is graphically very violent, but for us adults looking for something a little bit scary and bloody, I'd say go for it. Condemned is one of the few launch titles I have really always wanted to keep going back to.