Friday, 6 February 2015

Condemned: Criminal Origins (PC) - Part 2

Click the highlighted text if you missed out on part one.


Surprise, he's not quite dead yet! Agent Thomas awakes on his own couch (after a bit of a nightmare), to find that an old friend of the family has turned up. Here’s where the plot goes a bit… askew.

It turns out that this guy, Malcolm Vanhorn, was the one who carried Ethan back to his apartment after the fall, and he knows a bit about what’s going on. He also claims that the police will blame him for the murder of Detective Dickenson and Officer Becker as the crime was committed with his gun. They probably shone a green laser or a UV light at the bullet wounds and got back the make, model and serial number of the pistol. Of course if they recovered the murder weapon they’d find someone else’s fingerprints all over it, Officer Becker had reported in that they were chasing the suspected serial killer so people knew he was there, and the building was swarming with other killers too (I left 9 dead lunatics around for proof). But Vanhorne is convinced that Agent Thomas is going to be the one who goes down for shooting them because… I dunno, maybe there’s a conspiracy?

Anyway Ethan actually believes the guy, so now he must go on the run, to prove his innocence live the rest of his life as a fugitive. The cops are knocking at his door, so he heads out of the window, but on the way he sees his favourite serial killer staring at him from the building opposite. Then JUMP SCARE, a bird suddenly smashes into the glass hard enough to crack it. Oh oh, I wonder if I can collect it!

Shockingly the game didn’t give me free reign to wander the streets after climbing out of my window. Instead it funnelled me right down into another craphole full of narrow hallways and psychopaths who kill on sight.

I just happened to find some photographs of Ethan’s apartment down here too, along with some developer fluid, and fortunately Rosa is still willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and help me analyse them. With her help I'll be able to track these photos back to the room where they were developed. Oh by the way, that shovel on the floor is the blue keycard to get me through electronic locks, and the crowbar I’m holding is the green keycard to open up switch boxes. 

Aw crap, a bag of Cheezee Pooz? That means that F.E.A.R. and Condemned might be set in the same universe! Somewhere in this world right now an evil psychic might be leading an army of cloned super-soldiers on a killing spree through every crappy run-down derelict building they can find, and those are the places Ethan likes to hang out!

F.E.A.R. (PC)
Worse, it means that Norton Mapes might be nearby! Man I hate Norton Mapes.

You know, this game really does remind me a lot of F.E.A.R. and not just because they came out around the same time and use the same engine. I think Condemned is the scarier game though, and not just because in F.E.A.R. I had bullet time, a flying kick and a gun that could shoot metal rods through people and pin them to walls. In fact I found that F.E.A.R. was the tougher game overall, so I guess things become less scary the more times you return from the dead to give it another try.

And the sledgehammer is my yellow keycard, to remove padlocks. It's possible that a shotgun would work on them too, but I doubt it. The game's very keen on me using the exact right tool for the job.

Man I love that frosted glass effect. It’s kind of ruining the creepy atmosphere though, as every time I a door like this I’m momentarily transfixed, stepping from side to side to see the effect from different angles.

Well I guess that’s the closest the game gets to an open space. Again it’s trying to make me look for a bird though, and I don’t know why. It would’ve been cool if Rosa and Ethan had even the slightest discussion about why the birds are dying or what’s driving everyone crazy, but they’re only concerned about the serial killer who shot Dickenson. I realise that hunting a serial killer while simultaneously escaping from the law is something that demands a lot of focus and attention, but seeing as Ethan's taking a quick break to sniff out a decaying bird carcass, you’d think they’d use this opportunity to at least talk about what I’m going to do with it. Plus neither of them seem even slightly bothered that I’ve got a double digit kill count just walking to the station from my apartment building.

Oh hang on, here’s one of the lunatics now in fact. I guess the investigation zones aren’t actually as safe as I assumed they were, though I very much doubt anyone’s going to attack me while I’m on the phone.

I’m just waiting for that plank of wood to come swinging out of the shadows.

Man, I don’t even know why I’m using the laser to follow the trail of developer fluid, as it’s not like I’m overwhelmed with possible routes here. Arkham Asylum did a similar thing with its detective mode, but that had a reasonably big open island to get lost on. If they're trying to trick me into thinking I'm deliberately heading somewhere, they've failed.


Aha, I knew I could count on the folks who made Blood 2 to eventually give me a train station level! I love underground train stations in games for some reason, with their beautiful gleaming tiles covering every wall and floor. Though less so in real life.

Oh I found the place where he was developing all those photos of Ethan by the way. It turns out he was spying on Ethan for reasons… not much of a revelation there, but the chase is still on!

I’ve finally come across something more deadly than a board with a nail in it! Sadly it’s a bit limited in its stopping power, as I can only stop one person with it before I’m out of ammo. Next time I stun someone and tear the gun out of their hands I’ll try to do it before they’ve emptied 5 rounds in my direction.

It occurred to me that maybe I could duck in and out of cover and lure them into wasting all their ammo on nothing, but I don't know if they even can run out of bullets, and the possibility of getting my hands on a firearm is far too tempting.

Actually fuck revolvers and pump action shotgun, I want a desk drawer!

One thing I like about this game, is how I haven't found a single flat screen so far. Everything’s a CRT, every computer monitor, every TV. Ethan's forensic gadgets and the hordes of lunatics roaming to streets gives the game a ‘day after tomorrow’ feel, but it's set in places where nothing new has been installed since the day before yesterday. It’s very much like walking around in 2005 with the lights off actually.

I love how games with a ‘modern day’ setting eventually become a frozen slice of the time in which they were made, especially when they have a 3D world I can explore. Just a shame about all those people trying to hit me with pipes really.


I don’t know why I just hit the quick save button after reaching a checkpoint, must be these two huge dudes with sledgehammers making me nervous. Especially now that I can only see the one of them.

Oh shit, that’s not the outcome I wanted! I ran up and tased the guy, then quickly buried my axe in his head. Suddenly the screen goes red, and I spun around to see a sledge hammer coming my way. Then then screen went black and game over was upon me. There may have been a few more hits than that, I can’t say that I was counting, but I can assure it was over very quickly. And that was my very first death in the game believe it or not.

A little while later I got a chance to point my gadgets at a mannequin arm and put enough clues together to figure out that it came from Bart's department store. Bart's abandoned rundown crappy department store in the middle of the worst part of town, to be precise. Fortunately the trains are still running and I'm at a station, so getting there won't be hard.

Don't worry, I'll stop soon. I couldn't quit before getting my FBI guy killed at least once though.


The hallucinations are getting a little worse now, but they’re nothing that Ethan can’t handle. Probably. The loading screen for this level did mention that strange sonic disturbances across the city are affecting birds and liquefying their brains, so I suppose it’s possible he’s getting a bit of brain damage here.

Thank you Malcom Vanhorn for being as useless over the phone as you are in person.

The maniacs have gotten a bit more premeditated in their insanity now, as they’re hiding amongst the mannequins in this abandoned department store. Any one of these guys could step down and try to wrap a rebar around my skull, so I’ve been kicking all their heads off as I go just to be safe. I'M NOT THE CRAZY ONE SHUT UP.

Uh, I guess I’m not going this way then. They’re all missing a hand though so I’m pretty sure these are all your typical unmoving, non-threatening plastic humanoid clothes models. I’ll leave them be, spin around, and head back the way I came.


Mannequins should not be sneaking up behind me like that! I'm pretty sure these are just a figment of Ethan's slightly enhanced imagination, but they're still blocking his path well enough. I guess they're all gathered here to encourage me to drop down the hole in the floor then.

Sure, why not? Descending further into madness sounds like a laugh.


Oh damn, I just killed seven or eight enemies in a row in the middle of a Mass Effect 3 smoky dream forest! Or maybe I didn't, I honestly don't know any more.

I'd make a joke about about Ethan really going off the deep end now, but he's clearly still on the shallow side of the pool! At this point in the game I'm not sure what enemies are real and which are figments of his imagination, but it's pretty much irrelevant as they hurt him either way. The ceiling of the school seems to be reforming from the shattered glass though so normality should be restored shortly. Or never.

The combat on the other hand has actually gotten easier for me, now I can take almost anything down with an upgrade taser shot, followed swiftly by my boot. Of course getting too reliant on that also means tense moments waiting for the thing to charge back up again when there's more than one nutcase in the room. Anyway I'm like two levels away from finishing this now, so I really need to turn it off before this accidentally turns into a Let's Play.

One last thing I want to mention is that while the achievements might not be all that, the concept art you unlock for getting them looks fantastic. There's also 'making of' videos here to be unlocked, for folks curious to see how the cutscenes looked before they added Ethan's head. Is the first PC game to get the benefit of Xbox 360 achievements? Maybe, I can't be bothered to check, but I do know that they haven't been wired up to activate on Steam I'm afraid.


Condemned: Criminal Origins is basically a horror game, except designed especially for me. I couldn't get into the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill due to their 'awkwardness is scary' design philosophy and I'm put off from playing the current batch of first person YouTube-bait horror titles as hiding from enemies instead of smacking them with a 2x4 doesn't really appeal all that much, but Condemned is definitely more my style.

I suppose you could argue that the player is too empowered and there's too much combat for it to work as a proper horror game, and I can definitely see how it could put people off. On normal difficulty I was killed off around five times and was restarted basically in the same place afterwards thanks to the checkpoints and quick saves. And most of those deaths were due to being cornered by a boss. Fortunately the game doesn't rely on the fear of having to replay a chunk of the level for its tension. The game isn't short on enemies, but it knows how to dial down the pace for a bit and keep you waiting for the next ambush. I'd often see them dart across the hallway in front of me or hear them getting on with their freaky psychopath business in some other room, but I never quite knew when to expect that sledgehammer swinging out at me from the shadows.

It helps that it looks and sounds pretty great for a 10 year old Xbox 360 launch title. Horror games need good audio, and this has great audio. The gunshots are bit more 'oh dear it appears that someone has brought a handgun' than 'oh shit, oh shit, I'm not going out there', but that's my only complaint. Little moments like when I pulled a pipe out from a shelf and knocked all the others to the ground with a noise loud enough to alert the entire floor to my location were made memorable to me due to how believable it sounded (and how much of an idiot I felt when I did it).

The game reminded me a lot of Bioshock at times, as it felt like I was hiking through the ruins of a fallen city, fighting the crazed survivors of their own private little apocalypse; except instead of being encouraged to wonder what happened here to make it so bad, I was continually reminded to keep my mind on chasing the serial killer. Bioshock tells the story of its city through the environment and the audio diaries, Condemned tells it through loading screens and the occasional message to pick up a dead bird, and the result for me was a feeling that they were saving the main plot for the sequels. And the storyline it does have... isn't really the best in video game history, though the actors do a great job trying to make it work. On the other hand though Condemned never once forced me to escort a Little Sister, so I guess it actually wins this round. Sorry Bioshock.

One issue the game has is that with 8 hours or so playtime it's kind of short. Wait, did I say 'issue' just then? I meant to type 'thank fuck it doesn't drag on forever!' It does have a level select so that you can replay levels to find all the collectables, though the downside to this is that finding collectables is actually really tedious. Plus the chapters are about 45 minutes to an hour long each, so there's a lot to replay in one go if you do that.

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to give this my highest award, as it's kind of unambitious in its scope and the story is ultimately disappointing, but it gets the 'scary game with timing-based brawling' bit right and that was enough for me to want to play this through to the end.

And that's it, it's over. I'm done typing about Condemned now. But if you want to share your own thoughts about the game, give some feedback on my site, or just want to guess what the next game is... huh, two games this time? Anyway leave a comment if you want to do any of that stuff I just mentioned, and then enjoy the rest of your day.


  1. HOLY MOLEY NO!!!!
    That dead crow startled me so much I stopped reading there. I needed a warning for explicit content!!
    What insane developers think it's a good idea to put a dead animal as an options menu? Make them appear in one dramatic spooky scene of the game, maybe, but the damn options menu?

    Yes, I'm the one who asked for the reviews of Postal and Mortal Kombat. That dead crow is scarier than both those games combined, because unlike those two games, that dead crow looks convincingly realistic.... a little too realistic, like they used a photo. Gross, man.

    Incidentally, you've been giving gold stars and prizes to everything, even a game without pictures about a quiz show. You're free to give a gold star to Atari's E.T. if you feel like it, but I think gold stars have lost their original meaning of coveted value by now.

    1. Yeah, I know how you feel about the bird. I nearly didn't include the shot at all, but it IS the first thing you see when you start a new game so I figured I should. It does have a warning above it, but in retrospect it was a bit vague (because I wrote it before I knew what the rest of the article would contain), so I've just reworded it to be more specific. There's nothing that photoreal in the rest of it though, so if you skip past you should be safe. Shame you can't skip past it in the actual game as it's on every loading screen!

      Also yeah, my rating system was terrible to begin with, and it hasn't gotten any better with time. I made one dumb decision four years ago that's become really hard for me to fix, and that was to call it a 'gold star' at all. Back at the start I was mostly playing games I couldn't stand, so when I found one that I actually LIKED in some way, it was a big deal. So I eventually started giving out gold stars, in a 'wow, I didn't hate this one' kind of way. But it's still a 'gold star' looking award and that's always going to be understood to mean a certain thing, and I should've realised that before attaching the image to 237 posts.

      So the problem isn't that they've lost their coveted value, it's that they gained a coveted value, and that's my own dumb fault. To me stars mean 'liked - enough to want to play again', prizes mean 'loved - enough to not want to stop playing', and I apologise for it being misleading.

  2. Great review/playhrough Ray! Love the screenshots. Sorry for the late comment here btw. I am going to play this soon. Just played FEAR and Unreal Gold thanks to your blog here. This game indeed dies look scary. Markiplier did a good job playing it on youtube (and James and Mike playing Friday the 13th on the NES had me laughing as well).


Semi-Random Game Box