a review of Condemned: Criminal Origins
a videogame developed by monolith productions
and published by sega
for Microsoft Windows and the microsoft xbox 360
text by Brandon Parker
If you take every serial killer movie cliché and let them sit under a swinging light bulb in a dark, blood-stained, dilapidated room for a few hours, you’ll eventually wind up with Condemned: Criminal Origins. The opening credits mention something about an original concept being somewhere in here. At first I just thought they meant the concept where law enforcement officials in the future have the right to kill anyone who looks vaguely homeless or might possibly become dangerous someday. Which is really not so original, the idea could have come from any number of newspapers. But it’s handy, since the game is swarming with 2×4 wielding vagrants that you kill brutally without a word when they get upset once you intrude upon their makeshift homes. Injure them enough and instead of, say, arresting them, the game offers you a few different options of breaking their necks or bashing their heads in or what have you while they’re laying helpless. So it’s really just an attempt to try and fit the circle-shape called a police procedural into the square-hole called the first-person-shooter genre.
This Original Concept by Jason Hall and Nathan Hendrickson begins with an investigation at a crime scene in a typical horror movie what-a-stuffhole type building. Don’t worry though; the investigating is made easy by magic automatic clue detecting cameras and flashlights. Wait… my god. It’s the same M.O. as the others. We got a serial killer at work here! Suddenly you hear movement upstairs. The officers on the scene throw a stuff fit and scream for backup while crying, “The killer’s still here!!” The lights flicker and shut off, “That sick bastard, he’s playing with us!”You’d think their first thought would have been, “Oh it’s just some transients hecking around upstairs,” especially if you lived in the bloodthirsty raging hobo filled world that Condemned takes place in, instead of, “Good god, the killer left the body here, waited for an officer to wander into this labyrinthine stuffhole, find the body, radio it in, waited for his backup to arrive, then waited for the FBI to show up, then flipped the light switch off, just to mess with our heads! We’re dealing with a brilliant madman obviously.”
The crime scene itself has a dead girl posed with a mannequin that has a scarred face. That’s it, that’s the M.O.. Seems pretty ridiculous, taking the time to get mannequins and pose them like that. That’s the bottom of the serial killer shtick barrel, if you ask me. He puts more time into the mannequin than killing the girl. It’s like the girl is just some after thought, maybe they just keep catching him robbing the department store of its mannequins so he has to get rid of them like that, all he wants is a mannequin without getting caught.
Being an Original Concept, of course it has some Original Loading Screens. They consist of important looking classified-type FBI documents which try to help explain some of the finer plot points, like the endless waves of homicidal bums being simply due to an “increase in crime and drug use,” and offer helpful tips like “use block to your advantage” (so you don’t get mixed up and try to give yourself a disadvantage). There’s also, of course, a wide variety of bullets randomly strewn about on top of the document. Somebody who shoots stuff owns that document, you see, so take it seriously. I bet it was Mr. Hendrickson who thought up the bullets bit, or maybe it was a joint effort, I wish I knew the creative process of the minds at work here.
Each level consists of room after room of the same thing, yet they all don’t really look like any one thing in particular. I can’t ever really tell what the hell kind of building I’m supposed to be in. They all just look like the basement of somewhere. Room after room of some place’s basement, and it’s hard to tell where you’ve been and where you’re going.
In Condemned: Criminal Origins, slow and unresponsive combat is a feature, not poor design. Firearms are rare, so it’s mostly swinging slow pipes and hammers and things. Why make a game half-police investigation and half-first person shooter if you’re just going to dumb down the investigative parts and eliminate firearms yet still fill the game with hordes of enemies whose presence never really has a good explanation? I don’t know!
The story in the game is probably where most of the original in the Original Concept originally originated from. They took a dream-like approach to the narrative and-ah, who am I kidding. None of this makes any sense. I have a feeling the people who made this video game watched and enjoyed a few movies before, and maybe even a particular David Fincher one, but if this game was a movie they wouldn’t be able to get away with half the stuff here. One minute you’re thrown out of a window and land on a car after a guy shoots some policemen with your gun. In the next scene your waking up in your apartment and an old man is sitting there just watching you. A complete stranger, he says, “Oh me? I was a friend of your fathers.” And we’re just supposed to take all this nonsense in stride because it’s a video game and the main character has a special jawbone or something. How do you argue with a special jawbone? You just don’t.
Strangely enough, there are one or more individuals out there that think this series would make a good movie, or make good money as a movie, so that’s what they’re doing. Although it’s not going to be a direct adaptation, just set in the same “universe” as the game. I assume hordes of dirty looking murderous vagrants are to be expected. Maybe they’ll make a game based off the movie and call it “Se7en.”