Condemned: Criminal Origins was one of my favourite games on the Xbox 360 and PC and I’ve lamented before about how Criminal Origins was, ironically, criminally ignored by many gamers.
So, naturally when the invite arrived from Sega to nip over to its UK headquarters to go hands-on with both the singleplayer and multiplayer sides of the sequel to one of the Xbox 360’s scariest FPSs, I was all over it like blood on a crime scene.
The cliffhanger ending to the original Condemned was arguably the weakest point of the first game and, although I’ve played Criminal Origins through at least five times and unlocked all the extras possible, I’m still not exactly sure of the story line. I suppose part of my obsession with Condemned comes from my overpowering curiosity.
To quickly recap, the original Condemned started with players as Ethan Thomas, an investigator for the FBI specialising in serial killers, who gets framed for murder and is forced on the run. Teaming up with his old partner and a mysterious old man who Ethan remembers from his childhood, the main task throughout the game is to stay one step ahead of the police and bring the real killer to justice.
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Now, that may sound simple, but Condemned The First rapidly complicated matters. Dead birds were raining in the night-drenched city, seemingly killed by some sort of sonic attack which was also driving people insane. Deformed and depraved bums and winos were crawling out of the woodwork to kill you and a strange monster was stalking Ethan on his hunt. Unlockable content hinted at the involvement of the cult and, without ruining the game for you, the end of the game took a massively unexpected twist which left players unsure of what the hell was going on. By the end of the game, it wasn’t even clear if Ethan was still human or not.
It was, in short, very gripping stuff.
Condemned 2 doesn’t pick up the story straight away though and instead skips forward an entire year. In the interim an awful lot has changed for Ethan and the world he lives in. Suspended indefinitely, Ethan has become a violent drunk with a gritty, criminal edge to him. He’s haunted by what he has learnt and seen and sees spectres everywhere; frustrated by his inability to help or be heard and aware that he has only seen the tip of the iceberg, Ethan has turned to a heady mixture of drugs, booze and casual violence. The bandages on his wrists suggest a suicidal edge and even his voice has changed from the calm reasoned sound of Greg Grueberg, to an altogether moodier and grittier personality.
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Ethan has watched the world around him descend into mysticism and madness. Black ooze and filth blankets the alleyways and arteries of the dying city and the craziness players thought they had dealt with in the first game has now returned tenfold. Clearly inhuman creatures are hunting in the back alleys and strange devices are appearing on buildings everywhere, worsening the situation. Ethan sees all this happening and does nothing.
Then the phone call comes.
A garbled message and mixture of threats comes to the attention of the FBI, mentioning both Ethan himself and Malcolm Vanhorn – the mysterious figure who was both mentor and tormentor to players of the first game. The commissioner orders Ethan to be bought in and tasks him with finding out what the hell is going on and tracking down Vanhorn. Ethan agrees and plunges himself back into the mystery, eager to have his questions, both old and new, answered.
Where is Vanhorn and why does Ethan keep seeing an ooze, covered figure following him? Who is the masked man on the TV that keeps ordering Ethan around? What is the purpose of the sonic emitters cropping up throughout the city and why has Ethan himself been pulled down into the thick of all this? These questions, Ethan wants answered and, strangely enough, so do I.