Condemned Criminal Origins Review / Preview for Xbox 360 (X360)

Condemned Criminal Origins Review / Preview for Xbox 360 (X360)

Monolith’s cleverly designed mazes disguised as levels are the star of the show. Throughout the games 10 chapters you will smash, bash, kick, taser and shoot your way through an apartment building, subway station, library, dilapidated department store and a school to name a few. The detailed environments are downright anal retentive – how many games feature mud and tape already sanded on the drywall for goodness sake? Everywhere you look you’ll discover little touches of reality which only seek to immerse you further in this photorealistic nightmare. The levels are kept tight and confining to magnify the feeling of claustrophobia as you wander narrow passage ways and navigate hundreds of dark corners in the anticipation of something or someone already aware of your presence just waiting for you….It’s classic horror movie ‘Don’t go in there!!’ kind of stuff, but of course you have no choice; you have to go in there if you want to complete the level. You’ll probably rely on the tried and true, keep your back to the wall methodology, but you’ll feel positively naked when you enter a room that opens up to both directions. The only rule is that you must play CCO in the dark with the sound cranked. Anything less than that and you’re a big baby. If you just can’t bring yourself to play it that way, check your birth certificate. Are you sure you’re old enough to be playing this M rated game?

While the levels are linear there is still much room for exploration. Each level consists of three objects you can hunt for – dead birds, metal pieces and TV’s decked out with X360 systems. That’s why there is such a shortage of new 360’s…they’re all in this game! There are a total of 50 Achievements players can strive for which consist of locating various amounts of birds, only using melee weapons, using all of the guns, finding all of the metal and TVs etc. These Achievements then unlock various other goodies. One of the pickups you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for are the Health packages littering the levels. Pop one or two of these to bring you back to speed. Be careful though as you definitely don’t want to waste them.

Thomas moves around the level at a decent click but he can sprint if he needs to. The sprint button drains as he runs and considering the action to do is a little awkward (requires pressing in the L analog stick) I rarely hussled Thomas’ fat ass beyond his normal pace. Attacking requires pressing the R trigger, while blocking is mapped to the L trigger. Your taser is activated by a quick press of the L Bumper and if you want to get close and personal you can kick someone with a press of the R analog stick. Forensic tools require the use of X, while evidence collection requires a quick press of the R trigger. Control is extremely pick up and play and while many might not care for the FPS perspective in a game that relies so heavily on melee fighting, it simply manages to put you face first into this freaking horror show. I love it. It works like magic.

Monolith’s previously released and equally as disturbing F.E.A.R. for the PC was one of this years hottest (and scariest) looking games. I’m frankly amazed that they were able to create two of the most compelling gaming experiences of 2005 and have them released so close together. Unlike F.E.A.R., CCO was created on next gen hardware which obviously means that Monolith had early X360 dev kits when they began construction on Condemned. The overall quality of the production is even more impressive considering they were working on first gen dev kits as well as rushed to have the game completed for the Xbox 360 launch. Visually Condemned in high def is nothing short of jawdropping. I would often catch myself just reading the signage or investigating the little details, simply because there was so much to see. Everything from the ornate design of the train station, the decaying plaster walls with peeling paint, the cliched kitty cat ‘Hang In There Baby’ office posters, the discolored ceiling titles, taped boxes, the cardboard Santa Clauses decorating Bart’s department store, the shrinkwrapped books waiting for distribution in the library…the environments in COO are painstakingly detailed.

The character models are all disturbing in their own way whether they are human or not and I give Monolith credit for creating characters who weren’t digital representations of Hollywood wannabes. Thomas is a middle-aged, heavy set FBA agent with a pugnose which is in direct opposition to the pretty boy cops on the lam ala Max Payne / Jack Slate (Dead To Rights). Rosa, his partner is equally homely which I thought was absolutely wonderful. I was expecting the usual hot female partner but I was pleasantly surprised that the hardnosed reality of the game trickled down to the characters themselves as it’s the only subject matter that keeps this bizarre story grounded. The various thugs and creatures you’ll encounter are equally as impressive. You’ll find more variety in the human thugs than some of the cookie cutter monsters, but that doesn’t make them any less startling when they appear out of nowhere to attack you. My personal favorite was ‘Lunch Lady Doris’.

CCO also uses ambient sound effects to sustain the tension of the game at Red Alert. Those with Dolby 5.1 or at least with good speakers will get the most out of Condemned’s abuse of your auditory faculties. Footsteps, screams and whispers will keep you on the edge of your seat because aside from the demented ‘Deck The Halls’ in Bart’s Department store, you won’t be treated to any ingame music soundtrack. Unfortunately the voice acting is extremely hit and miss. The script isn’t bad at all, but the emotionless delivery contradicts the onscreen tension. Let me just say that in regards to earlier Sega games like House Of The Dead and Capcom’s original Resident Evil, CCO’s voice acting comes off like an Academy Award winner, but I’ve definitely heard better.

Negatively speaking there really isn’t much I can complain about, although I’m sure some gamers would find the pace a little repetitive. The game does lose some points for it’s linear nature because you know you’re being lead down the garden path to the end of the level while Thomas’ “instincts” manage to take the fun out of deciding when to use your forensic tools. I also found it odd that nobody wants to bring our poor hero a gun. Everytime he has a clandestine meeting with some major figure in the game, he walks away empty handed and starts the level with zippo. Someone around here was whining that the game was entirely too repetitive and consisted only of the following:

  • Find a weapon
  • Open a door
  • Beat up bad guys
  • Open another door
  • Repeat above to taste
  • Find the end of the level

It should be noted however that all games can easily be stripped down to their basic elements, but it’s how the game plays out inbetween these factors which determines the entertainment value.

CCO has all of the gameplay, story, visuals and atmosphere that you could possibly want in a mystery game and I think does them all to a proverbial “t”. It’s not the longest game you’ll have ever played the first time through (10 hours or so), but since it offers a selection of difficulty modes, the robust roster of collectibles which unlock movies that shed more light on just the hell is going on and rewards you for meeting various objectives, there is a decent dose of replay value. Monolith is definitely onto something and I can see Condemned: Criminal Origins becoming a franchise along the lines of Silent Hill featuring changing protagonists. Out of all of the launch titles available for the Xbox 360 CCO manages to set itself apart from the competition providing an action packed, spine-tingling adventure that hasn’t already been done to death on the current gen consoles. If you’re a thrillseeker who isn’t afraid of things that scream in the darkness, you just found your next challenge.


  • First-person view gives maximum visceral effect.
  • Next-generation lighting, mapping, and filtering techniques provide for environments of unprecedented detail and visual quality.
  • Intelligent enemies respond strategically to your offensive and defensive maneuvers.
  • High-level physics allow players to manipulate background items, which respond realistically when picked up, kicked, or bumped.
  • A tightly wound story is backed with strong character development and major plot twists.
  • Meticulously crafted 5.1 surround sound will cue players to the location of off-screen enemies.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

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