The survival horror genre is one of the trickiest genres around. You need the proper combination of story, gameplay and environment to really stand out. Condemned: Criminal Origins launched with the Xbox 360 and it shows how far the genre has come. Granted, it's not the absolute best survival horror game out there but the fact that it was launched shows that the genre is becoming more of a mainstay within the industry.
In Condemned, you are in control of FBI agent, Ethan Thomas. Ethan is your typical good guy FBI agent who happens to fall into series events putting him under the spotlight of the FBI being accused of murder. What follows is a storyline that focuses on serial killers, and their disturbing behavior making for a change of the supernatural cities that try to punish your sins or a city full of zombies.
Where Condemned really shows its uniqueness is by its first person mode. Granted, the whole FPS is nothing new, but the usage of FPS as a tool of the survival horror is great. Unlike your typical FPS game, you're not shooting a lot of enemies because there's a lack of ammo. So instead, like a good survival horror game, you have to use something else to defend yourself because how scared can you be if you have a shotgun with tons of ammo. While controlling Ethan, you'll have to use a variety of weapons such as boards, pipes, and even your own fists to fight off the enemies. With that, these weapons you use are not the typical basic weapon of the FPS game that you attack with no visual effect. These weapons cause some painful looking blows making for just brutal action. If there's a downside it's that it can feel a bit repetitive.
Addition to the action is a forensic side of gameplay. Maybe the developers are big CSI fans I don't know, but there's a real attempt to add to the story and the overall horror of the game with this gameplay. When you're in forensic mode, you have to use the tools of a crime scene investigator (UV Light, Spectrometer, digital camera) to find the evidence on the scene. These points in the game are interesting as they help move along the story but they don't offer a challenge. You don't figure anything out on your own. Instead you just keep using the tools until you get everything you need, and the game tells you all the details. The game could have been just fine without it.
Since this was a launch game for the Xbox 360, it's important the game shows off the power of the 360. Other games at launch didn't impress the public much, but Condemned is a different story. While some character models are used over and over again, they have such great detail that it's almost sickening how grotesque some of the enemies look. The game creates a great atmosphere that's perfect for survival horror. The use of shadows and lighting look spectacular and really shows off the power of the 360. A negative is that some levels look too much alike. There's lot of details but some levels look like the same room or hallways over and over again.
Adding to the atmosphere is the sound effects of the game. Nothing adds to the creepiness of a survival game like some good scary sound effects all throughout. The shuffling of the feet in the dark, the screams of the enemies that is off screen, and the crunch of fists into the skull. Voice acting in the game is solid, and helps improve the overall experience.
Coming in at about 10 hours, Condemned: Criminal Origins definitely fits into the survival horror genre which is notorious for short games. It's still great when a new game comes into the genre and brings something new. Considering that this is a launch game, this is great surprise in the Xbox 360 launch line-up.