It’s scary. It’s very scary. Playing Condemned in the right environment, the surround sound turned up and the lights turned off, can be an intense experience; exploring a poorly lit, fire damaged library knowing that criminals stalk its hallways and you’re only armed with a piece of piping and a torch means you take every step with caution, searching the shadows and straining to hear distant movement. If you see your adversaries then your prepared, if not, you’ll jump out of your skin.
The whole concept of Condemned is that you play an FBI officer on the hunt to the truth of a dual cop killing of which you are wrongly accused. On the trail to the real killer and his motives you trek through subway stations, an ancient department store, an isolated house and a few more beautifully modelled environments. The detail at which the levels are modelled are incredible and add to the atmosphere of the game as everything is dark and all seemingly in a state of urban decay.
At first you enter these areas to escape capture but that soon turns into a quest to hunt down clues about the real killer which in turn reveals a quite disturbing and intriguing storyline. Luckily you never have to decide what a clue should look like and instead your FBI issued spidy-senses start tingling to indicate one is nearby, after which you then pull out one of a range of evidence collecting devices to scoop up the item in question. The tool itself is self-selecting but you still have to try and figure out what the game actually wants you to collect.
As always in these situations the path to the truth is never easy and it seems those on the streets are either on some new drug or generally don’t like the cops sniffing around, either way everyone you meet will want to take your head off with any close combat weapon they have to hand. Initially you have a gun to fight back with but ammo is in extremely short supply and you’ll rarely get more than a single clip at a time.
Once out of ammunition you can pull pipes from walls and planks from the floor as most items that look like than can be held in your hand can be separated from the background and turned into your weapon of choice. Each has their own sets of characteristics: some are heavy hitting but take time to swing whilst others are very quick to block oncoming attacks but not very effective at dishing out damage.
Without a firearm combat could be considered very repetitive as it is constant loop of blocking your opponent’s attacks before lashing out with one of your own, however that is looking at it in the same way as saying that an FPS is simply “pulling a trigger over and over”. Each enemy has varied attack speeds and patterns also changing by their ability to use any weapons they find, exactly like yourself, so each encounter is a mini-tactical battle as you block and counter followed by a moment where you have to try and decide whether to go in and hit again or wait in case he flails wildly.
Condemned also seems to be one of the few games that actually has a “fair” health system i.e. you have exactly the same as your foes. With an average weapon you can take down an attacker in roughly three to five hits, however, they can do exactly the same to you. If you do not master the art of blocking quickly then you will die quickly.
As a backup, especially in the cases of being attacked from several directions, you have your Taser at hand, firing a short blast of volts into the chest of anyone your target it at. This will stun them for a few seconds allowing you to close in on them and give you some free attacks.
…and that seems to be about it for Condemned: scary and immersing; lots of melee combat; interesting story line. Doesn’t sound much at all but it pulls it off very well. The fights are carefully balanced, spread out and never laid on too much as to make them seem a chore. Sega have achieved a balance that mixes a horror movie with an FPS as each time combat happens it is more a relief that the wait for the scare is over and you can set about your scarer with a locker door.
The standout level has to be the Orchard House which appears towards the end of the game. It incorporates all that is good about the game with the tense exploration of rooms, the following of clues and a heavy dose of close quarters fighting. This area is gorgeously modelled and the level design allows some great set-pieces.
As always with computer game storylines it goes slightly pear at the end as it takes in the obligatory end boss but it holds up very well and is one of the reasons I wanted to see it through to the end. Empathy with the main character may be overdoing it but it always felt as though if you pushed on a little further you would discover a lot more.
When played in the right circumstances and conditions Condemened is a great game and I will more than likely play through it again at some point but at this moment I feel too drained. My advice, play one level a night in the dark but make sure you have something bright and cheerful on standby for afters; this is not the game to play before you go to bed.