Monolith's dark, creepy & disturbingly grisly first person horror/action title is now available for the PC. by Vaughn Smith

April 12, 2006 - Condemned: Criminal Origins is an acquired taste. However you won't know that until halfway through the game. By that point you'll either be in the for the long haul, determined to see how the story unfolds or ready to turn it off and check out MySpace. Monolith did an admirable job porting their X360 launch title to the PC and nothing is missing in the translation. The control mechanics have been replaced with keyboard/mouse input, but since the original game featured a healthy targetting radius, you won't find the speed of the mouse nor its accuracy provides any real advantage over the X360 version.

What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Confined spaces? Dead bodies? A pipe wielding disgruntled department store mannequin with a score to settle? Correction. Make that extremely disgruntled. I guess standing in one spot for extended periods of time without moving can really drive you insane. Whatever your particular psychosis, Condemned: Criminal Origins will do its best to exploit it and turn you into a quivering pile of man-blubber in the privacy of your home...all in the name of entertainment courtesy of developers Monolith.

You could say Agent Ethan Thomas is having a really bad day. Up until the events that kick off CCO, Thomas had been a topnotch FBA investigator on the Serial Crimes Unit with a flawless record of solved cases under his belt. When two police officers are murdered during an investigation of yet another serial murder and the murder weapon just happens to be Thomas' gun, things go from good to bad to really bad to worse for our mysterious protagonist. He has to clear his name while tracking down the Match Maker, a serial killer who just happens to be making quite the name for himself. That's a feat in itself considering there is a lot of killing going on around town. Even the killers are being killed. CCO's story unfolds with as little interruption from cutscenes as possible and manages to keep you interested from start to finish.

Armed only with his forensic tools to investigate crime scenes, his trusty taser gun and his unflappable partner Rosa whom runs analysis on all of the evidence he unearths, Thomas literally has to rely on whatever is lying around to take down the numerous drug addicts and other beings inhabiting this nightmarish landscape of despair. That doesn't mean Thomas is defenseless; quite the contrary. For the first time in a survival horror game, I think ever, no one leaves ammo lying around which means when you're out of ammo, you're OUT of ammo. Surely some players will hate that mechanic but I think it's absolutely brilliant as it creates real tension. And you'll know your gun is empty as Thomas will automatically flip it around to use the butt of the gun as a melee weapon. But it gets better. Every melee weapon in the game has a limited lifespan and will eventually become useless against even the weakest foes. This forces you to use literally whatever you can get your hands on at the moment. Throughout the game you'll use 2 x 4's, metal conduits, desk drawers, shovels, signs, axes, sledgehammers, crowbars, mannequin arms, paper cutters, coat racks, rebar and of course a selection of handguns and rifles. For the first half of the game I completely forgot that Thomas had a taser gun which slowly recharges itself (that's because I'm one of those 'never read the manual type players' and I must have ignored that info when the game explained it). Once I used it though, I came to rely on it quite heavily as it will slow down even the toughest foe, even killing some of the weakest. A tasered foe will be stunned momentarily allowing you to either get close and steal their weapon (great for firearm toting maniacs) or to apply a few bashes to the noggin. If you come to rely on the taser you'll be pleased to know it receives an upgrade later in the game.

Each weapon is rated in terms of the following four categories - Damage, Speed, Block, Reach - and you'll have to decide if it's going to cut the mustard for the challenges that lie ahead. Some weapons deliver great damage to your foes, but provide little protection in the way of blocking. Some are fast and weak, some are slow and strong and some are just right. Certain weapons such as the fire axe, sledgehammer, crowbar and shovel are required for busting or prying open doors or locked cabinets that you'll need to pass to continue on your merry way, but you can still use them upside the head of someone crazy enough to get into your face. And let me remind you that they will do that.... I don't know if it's just me but I can't help but think "Here's Johnny" ala Jack Nicholson in The Shining when I'm smashing down a door with an axe. Is that wrong?

Thomas can only carry one weapon at time and can only drop weapons when he picks up another. Throughout the game you may have to purposely drop a weapon in order to pick up a weapon of another type. There is a catch though; the weapon you discard may be picked up by an enemy and used against you. Such is life in the big city. Using the taser or a quick kick will keep enemies at bay allowing you to take down opponents without wasting valuable ammo or risk wrecking your melee weapon. One constant is Thomas' flashlight which in Silent Hill fashion casts a small sphere of light, which gives way to the fear inducing madness of the atmosphere. What lies beyond the light in the dark areas is the big question. If your eyes can't see it, your ears definitely will hear it, but more on the wonderful audio momentarily.

As you're traversing these incredibly dangerous environments, you'll often come across locations which require more brains than braun. When you are in an area that requires investigation a pop up screen will invite you to turn on and use a context sensitive forensic tool. I wasn't exactly crazy about the "hand holding" that Monolith had to do to get you to choose the right tool - which they explain as your incredible instincts - as it seems a little forced, but looking at it realistically there really wasn't any possible way around it. Remember dear readers, they have to pander to the lowest common denominator when it comes to determining the level of intelligence of their audience and like most good developers they realize that game reviewers will be playing so they have to make it easy, otherwise we'd never get through it. The various forensic tools aren't difficult to use and to call their interactions mini-games is too much of a stretch. You'll have a UV Light for locating traces of blood invisible to the naked eye. Laser Light which shines a greenish hue onto fingerprints, shoeprints, fibers etc. and a Gas Spectrometer which detects decaying matter. Once you've used those tools to locate the evidence you'll have to rely on a few more gadgets to collect evidence which Rosa will then analyze for you back at the lab.

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System: PC, X360
Dev: Monolith
Pub: Sega
Released: Apr 2006
Review by Vaughn