Condemned: Criminal Origins

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Condemned: Criminal Origins game cover

Condemned is a game about taking a loose pipe and smacking the crap out of looters, murderers, and… monsters. Cuz why not.

Console PC, Xbox 360
Developer Monolith Productions
Publisher Sega, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Genre Survival horror
Release Year 2005 – 2006
Game Number 1
Purchase (PC) Purchase from Humble Store.
Purchase (Xbox 360) Purchase from Amazon.

Crime drama has always been a fascinating subject to me. It has a lot of potential in being mixed in well with horror, showing how a police officer must deal with the hard reality that someone killed other people in the most atrocious ways. In the film world, The Silence of the Lambs did this extremely well and ended up being this intense, horrific experience. So does Condemned: Criminal Origins fulfill that same role in video games?

Well, yes and no. There are definitely serial killers you have to deal with in the game, but some of the horror elements don’t really lean on that aspect alone. So, let’s take a closer look at Condemned: Criminal Origins.


Out on the Streets

So much to my surprise, Condemned: Criminal Origins was developed by Monolith, the same developer behind the F.E.A.R. series. Should I be expecting random onryou to pop up around the corner?

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

You play as a detective/FBI agent named Ethan Thomas, where your job is to investigate a homicide committed by a serial killer known as the Match Maker. Along the way, you come across psychotic and violent people waiting to murder you. Later on, a mysterious figure ends up murdering your fellow police officers and takes away your gun, framing you for the crime and making you a wanted man by the FBI.

However, your forensics partner Rosa Angel and a mysterious elderly man named Malcolm Vanhorn—who claims to be a friend of your father’s—assist you in clearing your name and finding the man responsible for killing your co-workers as well as other serial killers.

I will admit outright that this is a great premise for a story. But there are some discrepancies that I must discuss as we go along here.

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

The gameplay is unlike any other survival horror game I’ve played. While there are some first-person shooter elements, this is not really typical a first-person shooter. Your walking speed is very slow and deliberate, even when you’re moving faster. You can only carry one weapon at a time, so unfortunately you can’t have a firearm and a melee weapon at the same time.

Firearms such as pistols and shotguns are deadly against your enemies, though you won’t find additional ammo and you have to use a new firearm when one served its purpose. So unfortunately, you won’t be using guns for long. I get why the game doesn’t want you to overuse firearms, but it’s pretty stupid that you can’t reload weapons and instead have to switch for a loaded weapon. Does Ethan’s training as a FBI agent and detective not cover that?

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

Melee weapons are your best bet for survival. You can use anything from metal pipes, broken conduits, 2×4 boards covered in nails, fire axes, sledgehammers and whatever else you can come across. Each weapon has different stats in damage output, swinging speed, blocking ability, and reach. It’s up to you to find the ones you are most comfortable with.

Interestingly enough, your enemies consist of violent drug addicts waiting in the darkness ready to ambush you. Beating down enemies with melee weapons can be a tedious process, especially when you’re fighting multiple enemies at once. Learning how to time your blocks is important as you can easily lose your health quickly.

But luckily, you have a taser that lets you temporarily stun enemies and make them vulnerable to attacks. However, the taser needs time to recharge after one use so you can’t rely on it too much.

Overall, these combat mechanics are not too bad but can be frustrating when it becomes difficult to block. It’s even worse when you have nothing but a melee weapon and one of your enemies has a firearm.


Exploration and Investigation

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

Some areas and safes can only be accessed using specific kinds of weapons, such as fire axes, sledgehammers, and crowbars. So you may spend a good portion of the game searching for one of these in order to move to the next area. Often, you may find yourself walking into a trap in order to acquire a specific weapon.

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

One of the interesting aspects of the gameplay is that you can use forensic equipment in certain areas. While there is a bit of a learning curve to using this mechanic (since there are a handful of tools you will have to use and you have to read up on how the controls work), this mechanic helps move the story forward and also allows you to gather evidence for later. It’s a pretty neat touch that adds to the experience.

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay dead bird

There are two different collectibles scattered throughout each chapter: dead birds and broken metal pieces. Finding these is optional since their only purpose is to unlock artwork, cutscenes, and achievements.

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay

Overall, the graphics are okay and there are some genuinely creepy moments in the game (the mall comes into mind). But there really isn’t a whole lot to look at. You spend much of the game wandering around in dark areas, usually in some underground location or poorly lit building. While the visuals are appropriate, I can’t help but feel that they lack imagination.

One of the first things I noticed about Condemned is that some of the character models feel like they belong to an earlier era home console.

Condemned: Criminal Origins Malcolm Vanhorn

It’s strange because the original F.E.A.R. was released only slightly before this one, and the models looked generally better in that game.

Still, I have to give props for some of the enemy designs for looking generally pissed off and deranged. And some, hideous.

Condemned: Criminal Origins gameplay


What the Hell is Going On?

Condemned: Criminal Origins Leland Vanhorn

As you progress through the game, you identify the man who framed you as Serial Killer X. Just like the addicts around Metro City, Serial Killer X mysteriously turned into a violent and calculating person. But furthermore, the addicts are physically taking a more ghoulish appearance.

Condemned: Criminal Origins Oro Dark Primary

You also experience hallucinations à la Twin Peaks quite randomly, but the game never bothers explaining why this even happens. You get these grainy visions of shadow people and a man with a mechanical jaw, but they don’t mean much in the long run.

In spite of the underlying mystery of what is causing people all over Metro City to suddenly turn aggressive, Condemned has a slow plot progression and explains very little about what’s actually going on. Whatever potential the story had was undone by the lack of development. It’s annoying that you spent several hours on a game, only to learn a little beyond the initial premise.

So yes, I didn’t like the story. It could’ve been good but it was hesitant to even take those few steps forward.

While I know that some people find Condemned: Criminal Origins quite scary, the game never really makes me feel terrified of what’s to come. Yes, I get creeped out a couple of times. But the dull atmosphere and seemingly random plot devices keep me from going off the edge. It’s like the team behind the game didn’t quite know how to make a game scary, so they inserted random cutscenes in hopes that you would feel a chill. It’s strange considering how F.E.A.R. managed to pull this off better.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I played the game and it can be fun. But I wished it went further with how the story unfolds so I can be genuinely disturbed by its alleged horror. Otherwise, I like how it’s more of a tactical first-person game than a typical first-person shooter.

Condemned: Criminal Origins











  • The combat mechanics are quite unique and functional, turning the game into a tactical first-person game.
  • The scripted forensics scenes are interesting to watch, though most of the equipment don't have much use during gameplay.
  • The graphics are decent for the era, though character models look a bit off.


  • The story is nonsensical and none of the characters stand out as being memorable.
  • The horror atmosphere is lacking.
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Condemned: Criminal Origins
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