Friday, July 15, 2016


For reasons I don't quite fathom (it probably has to do with money) entertainment media likes to do things in threes, or sets of three.  Video games are no exception to this trend.  Mass Effect, God of War, Gears of War, Dark Souls, The Witcher, they all have a trilogy associated with them.  However, this isn't always the case.  There are tons of games that never get a sequel, and there are also a lot of games that blow right on passed the number three mark.  Final Fantasy is up to its fifteenth iteration while Resident Evil is fast approaching it's seventh installment (and that's not even counting all the spin off titles each franchise has).  Considerably rarer is the duelology, or pair of games, so in this blog post I'd like to highlight one such example - Condemned.

Split between Criminal Origins and its direct sequel, Bloodshot, these two first-person action/horror games are a bit unique in that they are set in the modern era, but focus on melee combat.  The player takes the role of Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent attached to a special serial crime unit.  His assignment is to track down "Serial Killer X," a serial-killer killer operating out of the fictional rust-belt urban sprawl known simply as "Metro City."  While investigating the scene of a murder, Ethan's sidearm gets swiped by the lurking Serial Killer X, who then proceeds to use the weapon to murder two police officers, thus framing Ethan for the crime...I guess...I mean didn't they check trigger for fingerprints?  It's not like Serial Killer X wears gloves...that, and I'm not sure how Ethan is supposed to clear his name if it involves murdering a bunch of violent homeless people...

Glaring plot holes aside, Condemned does an excellent job of setting the mood.  Whether it be a subway, library, museum, burned out doll factory *shivers* or huge cabin in the woods (b-b-b-bear?), players will spend the majority of the game poking around abandoned, rundown buildings, mostly at night, while fending off attacks by deranged squatters.  It's never clearly explained in the first game why these individuals are so psychotic, the police dismiss them as being drug-crazed.  However, there are some subtle hints early on that it isn't a simple narcotics induced crime wave.  Dead birds turn up all over the city, and odd bits of metal can be found hidden everywhere.

During development, this game was entitled "The Dark," which is an apt name considering how many foreboding, poorly lit and claustrophobic environments there are in the game.  It also featured a much stronger supernatural element.  The player could even cast spells in the game that would open doors or steal a weapon out an opponent's hands.  A tiny bit of this made it into the final product in that Ethan seems to be gifted with clairvoyance, or some similar psychic power.  I kind of like how they ultimately chose to ground the setting though since, in my opinion, preserving the plausibility of the premise makes the experience a lot more terrifying.  It's a pity the developers backtracked on this when in came to the sequel.

As I said before, the storyline was not one of Condemned's strong points, but what it did excel at was the gameplay.  Guns are rare and have severally limited ammo, so the player has to depend a lot on improvised melee weapons such as fire axes, sledgehammers, crowbars, flat head shovels, chunks of rebar, locker doors, boards with nails in them and pretty much any other bludgeoning object you can possibly think of.  The AI is no slouch either.  Enemies will seek out ambush points, block and even feign attacks to throw the player off.  Breaking up the action is an occasional forensics segment in which the player must locate clues regarding Serial Killer X in order to advance the story.  It's fairly straightforward stuff since Ethan's lab partner, Rosa, does most of the analytical work, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.  The sound design is also great (an often neglected feature in video games).  Here the incomprehensible ranting and raving of adversaries mixed with the sickening crunch of a lead pipe to the face add a lot to the already creepy atmosphere.  What little music there is in the game is also a perfect fit for the setting.

The now-defunct Monolith Studios was responsible for this duelology, and it's easy to see the DNA of their big followup franchise, F.E.A.R. (empty structors, clever AI, a gifted protagonist, and a mixture of action and horror thematic elements).  Unlike that FPS though, Condemned drew inspiration from movies like "Silence of the Lambs," "Se7en," and directors like David Lynch rather than "Ringu," "Akira," and John Woo. it just me or does Ethan Thomas look Asian American?  I guess he's not given his appearance in the second game.  Too would have been a lot more interesting if he had been something other than yet another generic 30-something, scruffy white guy...

No comments:

Post a Comment