Condemned: Criminal Origins
Sega/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
PC, Xbox 360
When tasked with choosing a particular horror game from the long and distinguished list, Condemned: Criminal Origins sticks out for a number of reasons. It was one of the best Xbox 360 launch titles, it had a nice CSI-style investigation system, and it let you smash tramps in the face with a brick. All good, valid grounds to recommend the game to others, and yet none of them come close to the one overarching element that everyone who played it will remember.
Picture the scene: it’s dark, it’s late at night, and you’re creeping through an old abandoned shopping mall. Tip-toeing up escalators and through racks of dirty clothes. Most of the windows are broken and Christmas decorations lie scattered and left to rot. In your left hand you hold a torch, lighting your path as you move forward after the serial killer you know is calling this place home. In your right hand, your trusty brick, or lead pipe, or whatever else you’ve managed to scrounge from the environment.
It’s important to have a weapon on you at all times in Condemned, mainly due to the crazy tramps that hide in the shadows and attack you as you pass them. If you’re quiet you can hear one now, giggling as he darts across the back wall of the shop, sending a glass bottle skittering along the floor. Even when you can’t hear them, you know they’re there. Standing still, waiting for you; some of them have decided to dress as mannequins, you see, posing in ripped suit jackets and fingerless gloves. Spend too long trying to work out if that’s person or plastic, and they’ll spring to life swinging. To make matters worse, the mannequins appear to be shifting locations – not much, just a little here and there. A pass of your torch will reveal one standing by a doorway you swore had been clear a moment ago. Sometimes it’s subtler – a change in pose, or a twisted head.
But the worst is yet to come. Emerging into the mall, you see a row of them standing on the other side of a fence. Five mannequins, silently staring at you, their carved faces deathly white. Moving past them, there’s a flash of thunder and a noise somewhere close by. Swinging your torch around, you find them standing behind you. Only there are more of them now. Turning to continue on, a mannequin blocks your way where once it was clear, gazing forward blankly. You push past it, but another flash and another skitter of movement and the corridor you just passed through is filled with them, the closest just inches away from you. Suddenly, you don’t want to turn back around, because you know they’ll be there, filling the corridor ahead of you. And when you finally do, there they are, hemming you in, forming a tight circle around you.
Smashing a window, you climb through and drop down a hole to the floor below. Looking back up, you see them, standing at the edge of the hole, gazing down at you. A narrow escape, perhaps?
The entire sequence lasts for all of a minute, perhaps two, but like any good horror it stretches itself out to feel far longer. The pacing is spot on, moving steadily from unnerving to full-on panic. It’s a fantastic set piece in a game that’s been largely forgotten, and little moments like this are peppered throughout – although most are used for quick, throwaway jump scares rather than extended sequences such as this.
Condemned 2 dialed back the horror elements to focus on gunplay/fighting, losing a lot of what made the first such a great little game. The story, although it wavers towards the end, is well told, and the forensic investigation scenes are decent, tasking you to use a variety of gadgets to track blood splatter, photograph fingerprints, and so on. No doubt available for pennies nowadays, any self-respecting fan of horror titles owes it to themselves to give it a go.
Just wait a day or two before going shopping once you’re done.