If Condemned featured any cute pink fluffy bunnies, it would show them with their heads off, intestines spilled, and furry tails spread liberally across the room. That’s the type of rabid violence Condemned feeds on, and it wouldn’t be the same experience without it. While countless people speak out against the graphic violence in video games, Condemned is the giant middle finger pointed straight upward in their faces, showing how and why it’s necessary.
Taking bits from popular TV crime dramas, the dank, infested, and drug-addict filled hallways make for gaming’s best scare experience. It’s unrelenting in its first-person view as you play a FBI agent accused of murder. The only way to clear your name is to traverse areas the police won’t even touch anymore to find the true killer.
It’s easy to find things wrong with the title. Combat is simplistic, and hardly changes even with a wide variety of weapons (from sub-machine guns to desk drawers). It’s a matter of swinging to land a blow, blocking, then launching again. Logic tries to find a way in, but when a sledgehammer can’t knock out a wooden door and you’re told to find a fire axe buried inside the level to perform that same task, it feels like busy work.
Those minor complaints are outweighed by intensity of the populated halls of a mall, school, and orchard (amongst others). The mall level alone offers countless creepy moments as the drug ravaged people inside mimic the manikins scattered about, lying perfectly still until you make your move. It’s an emotional drain to play Condemned, as every corner could result in an attack.
Each scenario is played up for maximum effectiveness. The rarely lit areas constantly have people running about around the player, whether in front, back, or above them. Some of it is pre-planned, and others use the AI to create the situations. With a full 5.1 system, you’ll find it hard to not look behind you every time a bottle is kicked over to be sure it’s the game.
Immersed in violence, the game steps away at times from its brutality to continue on an investigation. These moments offer little freedom, and it feels restrictive. From a game design standpoint, it makes sense however. The need to fumble around with numerous detection gadgets would needlessly slow down the game, and if this guiding-hand style moves the hard-to-comprehend story along to get to more action, so be it. You won’t feel like an FBI agent, and it’s not important that you do.
It’s also easy to write this off as a Doom 3 copy, rarely offering light beyond a flashlight. While a few brightly lit sections wouldn’t have completely hurt the game, this is what joins the levels together. It feels connected inside the variety of locations. What would have greatly helped is a map. Given the lack of lights, it’s easy to walk in circles, missing that black ladder on the wall that takes you to the next portion of the stage. A guiding hand of any kind wouldn’t have lowered the immersion any more.
The lack of multi-player seems like a striking miss-fire, but this is not a game where it would work. It relies on the solitary confines of its walls for effect, and lessening that with someone else along for the ride would defeat the purpose. At around six hours, it’s a short ride. On the plus side, it’s one worth replaying, and the numerous Achievements mean you won’t do everything on the first time through.
Even if the brutality of it all doesn’t prevent you from eating while playing, the scare factor will. This is the essence of what we should expect from a new generation of consoles, and while it still carries some of the basic design flaws we’ve come to expect from the previous generation, there’s little doubt that Condemned doesn’t try to do everything to ensure the player has the experience the developers intended.
Condemned is a rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Violence.