The first time I saw Outlast, my mind automatically remembered a forgotten psychological horror classic that was released back in 2006. It’s shocking to realize that fifteen years have already passed since the initial release of Condemned: Criminal Origins. Despite its old age, this now-retro survival horror title manages to create a thrilling atmosphere mixed with an engaging combat system and interesting ideas that still hold up to today’s standards.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of those unrivaled titles that will forever remain in my memory no matter how old it gets. We can only hope that we will at least get a port to the Condemned 2: Bloodshot game on PC and current-gen consoles, or why not a sequel someday soon? One can only dream.
Players take on the role of FBI agent Ethan Thomas, who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. After further investigation, Ethan discovers that the culprit behind all this mess is a murderer known only as Serial Killer X. This man is renowned for massacring other killers using their own methods. Hence, he is responsible for executing one of Ethan’s coworkers using their service gun. As a result, Ethan takes all the blame on his shoulders. To clear his name, Ethan sets out on a psychologically dark quest to catch the wicked Serial Killer X.
Throughout your playthrough, you go on to investigate and take pictures of pieces of evidence that’ll lead you to the killer. Every evidence leads to another, and this feature is quite enjoyable if you’re a fan of detective stuff. Condemned: Criminal Origins was developed utilizing the Jupiter EX engine, also used on F.E.A.R and its sequel, as well as Code Of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island.
While it’s true the game is played through the first-person perspective, there’s limited gun usage as it puts heavy emphasis on melee combat. Ethan is a powerless man, and the only way to defend himself against the wave of twisted people he encounters is to take advantage of whatever he finds in his environment. Personally, I believe that making firearms rare to find creates a sort of struggle and realism. It makes the experience memorable, and the emphasis on the melee combat mechanics emulates the feeling of relying on one’s prowess to exceed his own fears.
That feeling matches the combat system pretty well. Guns are highly sparse. Not only that, but the guns you find carry very limited ammo. Once Ethan runs out of ammunition, he can use that gun as a way to defend himself. Furthermore, there’s a cavalcade of arsenals that Ethan can use, including a sledgehammer, fire axe, wooden piece, and wall pipes. Usually, Ethan finds those weapons either scattered around except for the pipes he pulls off the walls.
Unlike other first-person shooters where melee weapons feel weak and useless at times, in Condemned: Criminal Origins, the combat includes brutal finishing moves which gives it a real meaning. You can approach your enemies and finish them off with whatever you’re holding in your hands. The game is all about melee combat, and how quickly you can handle your foes. If I had to make a comparison, the melee combat is kind of similar to The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. It requires timing and quick reaction to enemies’ attacks, but on the one hand, one has to be patient and wait for an opening rather than bursting blindly and mindlessly pressing the attack button.
One thing I found to be a nuisance in the game is how Ethan can only carry one weapon at a time. Sometimes, when players stumble across a firearm, they’d be forced to backtrack to the location where they left their best weapon and switch it with the gun. Ethan is an FBI agent, but he can’t carry a gun and a melee weapon at the same time? It doesn’t make sense. But for some reason, this made me remember another obscure title called Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a grimy video game where you go through one of the creepiest environments you could ever imagine, and the game kind of shows you that from the get-go. Ethan infiltrates a variety of environments that are all abandoned, but you can still hear and feel someone’s lurking in the shadows. It will only take you a couple of seconds to realize that and get ready to take on whatever you encounter. While Condemned: Criminal Origins may look dated when it comes to the textures and the graphics, the overall gruesome aesthetics still captures the feeling of uneasiness and unsettling that causes the player to feel stressed.
Amongst the environments that I fell in love with is the mannequin’s place. That chapter in the game puts everything on the game to its full use such as the light engine, the horror, the atmosphere, and the story. The mannequins place makes the bravest of players paranoid as even enemies are dressed as mannequins, so it’s hard to distinguish between the real and the fake thing. Not only that but also, there are lots of hallucinations and visions that haunt Ethan to the point where his flashlight stops working properly for a couple of seconds.
A psychological horror game usually reaches its peak when it succeeds at making the player feel paranoid, worrying that something will come out of the shadows. Unlike F.E.A.R where you encounter paranormal visions here and there, in Condemned: Criminal Origins, you fight real things. Aside from the mannequin’s environment, there’s another scary corner that’ll send chills down your spine, and that place is the subway underground. Players will encounter monsters similar to the Lying Figures seen in Silent Hill 2. They crawl on walls, and patiently wait for their prey. These monsters will easily manage to stress you enough as they usually show up behind your back.
Looking deep into Condemned: Criminal Origins, we can notice how the developers used a handful of blockbusters movies as their inspiration for the game’s atmosphere, story, and tension. Such movies are Saw, The Silence of the Lambs, and Seven. If you’ve already watched these movies, you’ll notice how they share identically the same ideas. Thrill, crime, psychology, detective scenarios, and most importantly, explicit gore.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a superb horror video game that is sadly forgotten these days. 2005 was a hell of a year for horror gaming with lots of groundbreaking titles that still haunt players to this day such as Haunting Ground, Fatal Frame III, and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Unfortunately, Condemned 2: Bloodshot didn’t sell well, so I doubt that this series will ever see a revival ever again. However, we can always go back and play this gem only to appreciate how horrific and gruesome it is. If you’re looking for a great horror game and want to crack some skulls, Condmended: Criminal Origins is for you.