Condemned: Criminal Origins


Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Productions /
Price Range: $11-20
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: Adults Only
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)

Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Genre: , , Psychological
Rating: 1 of 5 (awful)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 1 of 5 (extreme)
Adult Content: 2 of 5 (heavy)

Condemned: Criminal Origins.  Illustration copyrighted.

Condemned: Criminal Origins uses a gritty, first-person perspective to convey the of a whole city turned into homicidal maniacs. The game’s developers have claimed such movies as “Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en” as their inspiration. Like those movies, Condemned is about a desperate manhunt for a serial killer, and the path to that final confrontation is savage, visceral, and unnerving.

Players assume the role of one of the good guys: Ethan Thomas, an agent in the Serial Crimes Unit (SCU). The beginning of the game has you using your forensic equipment to gather clues at the scene of a grisly murder in Metro City. This emphasis on gathering evidence sets Condemned apart from the rest of the “shoot first ask questions later” approach of most first-person games. You’re an investigator, not a soldier, and unlike scientist Gordon Freeman of Half-Life fame who gradually turns into a one-man army, Ethan Thomas retains his vulnerability until the end. This first homicide appears to be the work of a serial killer known as The Match Maker, who pairs mannequins with female victims in a romantic setting and then kills the girl. Just as Ethan is about to bring The Match Maker to justice, something goes horribly wrong, and within hours citizens all over Metro City are inexplicably turning into homicidal maniacs. Are they high on some new drug? Doubtful, since birds are falling out of the skies all over town. Something more sinister is going on here, and Ethan has to find out what. So what is it? This is the question that kept me playing through the next very violent 12 hours.


Condemned: Criminal Origins looks just as creepy as it did upon its release late in 2005. Most of the game takes place in the dark, with Ethan’s oft-malfunctioning flashlight providing the only source of light. Whether Ethan’s pursuit takes him into a department store (complete with mannequins), high school, subway, or out of Metro City into an abandoned farmhouse you’ll go deep into places you’d rather not be, knowing that some crazed killer is waiting for you to walk into his or her trap. It’s a really unnerving experience, and the graphics and sound go a long way in making it feel real. The crazies who sneak up on you are also endowed with some really sharp Artificial Intelligence, which makes for a deadly game of hide and seek that usually ends with them rushing you from behind. They even feint attacks, which may force you to misjudge your Block timing, and leaves you open to the “real” attack. These violent psychotics may be insane, but they aren’t stupid. Needless to say, you’ll have to think quick on your feet once these nutcases come out to play.


Since the game has Ethan tracking serial killers you’re going to witness their handiwork plenty of times. Mutilated corpses abound. Two men are shot dead before your eyes. Ethan starts the game with a handgun but is later forced to improvise, fighting with anything he can use as a weapon. For example, he can rip a pipe off the wall and bludgeon his enemies with that. Ethan can kill with a fire axe, sledgehammer, paper cutter, mannequin arm, crowbar, rebar, 2 x 4 with nails or bolts on the end, meat cleaver, locker door, and anything else he finds lying around. You can also find firearms and gun your enemies down, but ammo is in short supply so these are used sparingly. You cannot dismember your enemies but sometimes bloody chunks of flesh fly off their bodies. Sometimes they spit blood and teeth before charging you again or fleeing to a new hiding place. Enemies who get hit by Ethan’s tazer babble uncontrollably and spasm. The tazer is always in Ethan’s inventory, but it takes a few seconds to recharge between uses. Sometimes the tazer completely electrocutes them to death. When they get so dizzy that they fall to their knees, Ethan can move in for one of four fatality moves: grabbing them by the head and snapping their neck, punching them, slamming their head into the ground, or headbutting them to death. When Ethan gains access to fire he can set his foes aflame and watch them burn to death. All of your enemies are insane, so while they usually come after Ethan they do turn on another and you will witness many bloody fights. Sometimes you’ll want to wait for them to kill each off. Women as well as men, young and old, murder one another and are murdered. A man’s lips and arm are cut off. Another loses a finger to a knife-wielding psycho. You track blood trails as you search for clues. A severed arm is found dangling from a net. Certain enemies appear starved and mutilated with skin burned or torn off, or masks or pieces of metal grafted into their bodies. At one point Ethan grabs those metal pieces and rips them out of a man’s body. Ethan tears a man’s lower jaw off his face. Emaciated ex-humans skitter across the floor and when they get close they get in Ethan’s face and bite him. A torture victim is seen impaling himself on a crowbar. Another man shoots himself through the brain with a handgun. The game plays with your sense of justice– you can play executioner and shoot an unarmed man in the head. Ethan smears himself with a dead man’s blood. Ethan vomits several times and we see him in perilous situations too many times to count. The whole game is a perilous situation!


Spoilers ahead…
The insanity infecting the city is said to be the work of a cult. Ethan is told that he possesses a “gift”, having certain instincts that enable him to sense clues at a crime scene. He also has visions of what happened there and sometimes these visions are surreal and impossible.

Ethan angrily yells the F-word once, and the psychos use it randomly. I heard no more than 5 times. The rest of the profanity comes at a regular rate, but is not constant or excessive. Every so often we hear sh**, a**, bas****, da**. God’s name is used in vain, as is the name of Christ.

Two characters helps Ethan maintain his grip on reality.


There is no sexual content.

I played the Condemned: Criminal Origins demo on Xbox Live, and while that demo of the game’s first level left me shaken and disturbed, I didn’t realize how far the full version of the game would go in its exploration of insanity and violence. This game’s one saving grace is to say that these people are out of their minds as they do all these horrible things to each . One of the game’s characters makes this very point in hopes of swaying Ethan’s hand away from vengeance: “They can’t help it!” If the events of Condemned had happened in real life, and these people stood before a judge in a court of law, they could rightly plead innocence due to insanity. But having played the entire game, I can say that this consolation really doesn’t make it much easier to witness such violent deeds in a video game. If you’re really interested in playing this psychological thriller I strongly recommend you re-read the paragraph that describes the violence and go from there. It’s too bad the ESRB doesn’t use the Adults-Only rating because this is one game that deserves it.


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Year of Release — 2005

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Answers Network.

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