Condemned: Criminal Origins

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Condemned: Criminal Origins
Condemned Criminal Origins.jpg
Developer(s)Monolith Productions
Designer(s)Frank Rooke
  • Joe Waters, Jr.
  • Kevin Stephens
  • Matthew Allen
  • Eric Kohler
Writer(s)Frank Rooke
Composer(s)Nathan Grigg
EngineLithTech Jupiter EX
ReleaseXbox 360
  • NA: November 22, 2005[1]
  • EU: December 2, 2005
  • AU: 2005
Microsoft Windows
  • NA: April 11, 2006
  • EU: April 13, 2006
Genre(s)Survival horror

Condemned: Criminal Origins[a] is a first-person survival horror video game developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sega. It was released worldwide in 2005 on the Xbox 360, with a Microsoft Windows version released in 2006. With the developer citing films such as The Silence of the Lambs, Seven, and Saw as inspiration, the game places an emphasis on melee combat and puzzle solving, including searching for fingerprints and gathering evidence.

Upon release, Condemned was met with moderate-to-good reviews by players and critics. Many reviewers cited its storyline and lack of progression as the game's biggest faults, while its solid controls and fresh approach to horror were praised. A sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, was released in 2008 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. There was also an internet prequel and a planned film adaptation to expand the Condemned franchise.



Although the game is played entirely from a first-person perspective (only broken for cut scenes), it is not a traditional first-person shooter. Firearms are present, but are somewhat uncommon. Unlike many other games from a first-person perspective, though, firearms are especially deadly, often killing enemies with a single shot. The guns that can be found, or taken from enemies, are only good for as long as the current ammo in the magazine lasts; once this is depleted, the butt of the gun can be used as a weapon. To complicate matters further, enemies operate firearms from the same ammo reserve, meaning once the enemy has been dispatched, the player only gets what ammo was left over from the fight. This encourages players to attack enemies carrying firearms quickly to maximise the amount of ammo they can obtain.

The focus of the experience is on improvised melee, allowing players and enemies to collect, or even pull, weapons from their surrounding environments, such as pipes, locker doors, shovels, and 2x4s. The developers of the game described the combat as "visceral". A quick-kick is available for attacking without, or alongside, a hand-held weapon, and attacks can be unleashed in different directions and configurations, such as left to right or overhead, but combat is notable for not utilizing a combo system, unlike similar titles such as The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. In many cases, blocking is necessary both before and after landing a successful hit. The player can also perform "finishing moves" when the opponent is on his knees, such as headbutting or breaking their neck.

The artificial intelligence displayed by enemies requires the player to think on their feet a great deal more than similar games. Enemies are able to flee and hide effectively, often surprising the player by quickly appearing from a concealed spot. Enemies can also effectively feint, in order to trick the player into blocking at an inopportune time, leaving themselves open for the real attack.

Some melee weapons fall under the class of "entry tool" (like a fire axe for a rotten door, or a crowbar for a locked safe) and act as keys in the gameworld, allowing the player to access new areas or locked boxes.

The player also has a taser which when used stuns the target, does some damage and allows the player to seize the stunned enemy's weapon. Later in the game, Lieutenant Rosa gives the player a new upgraded taser, which is much more powerful, causing the enemy's legs to give out. One hit or shot after that will kill any enemy. Common uses for it are safely attacking enemies with guns (since it allows players to stun them from a distance and then seize the gun while the enemy is incapacitated), countering an immediate attack (since using the taser does not require the precise timing that blocking does) and obtaining the chance to make a free hit (a hit where the player does not risk being hit first). However, it has to recharge between shots so it cannot be used to bypass the game's system of carefully fighting enemies.

The entire game takes place in derelict urban environments, with minimal lighting. The player must use a flashlight to navigate through the game's constantly darkened environments, while dealing with frequent enemy ambushes.

Near the end of the game, the player loses both the flashlight and the taser. This means all strategies which required the taser become impossible and the only personal light source becomes burning planks, which means carrying a gun reduces visibility. This effectively forces the player to rely exclusively on blocking, hiding and evasion for defense and close range attacks for offense.

Crime scenes[edit]

Condemned directly involves the player in crime scene investigations, offering the ability to, at the press of a context-sensitive button, call upon a suite of forensic tools to find and record evidence. The player character is linked to an FBI lab via his mobile phone throughout the investigation, allowing (almost immediate) remote examination and analysis by his support worker, Rosa. Crime scene evidence can be used to solve puzzles, allowing the player to pass previously impassable barriers, and provide clues to the overall mysteries of the story.

Examples of evidence include fingerprints, footprints, fibers, fluids (such as blood or chemicals), particles, residues, markings/etchings, material, imprints, wounds, small objects, documents, and body parts.

The player character is gifted with the instinctual ability to detect when forensic evidence is nearby, allowing players to bring up the detection and collection tools when appropriate. However, the "instincts" of the character only vaguely highlight the area in which the evidence resides; it is up to the player to methodically sweep the scene and catalog any findings.



Condemned: Criminal Origins is set in the fictional American city of Metro. The player takes on the role of Ethan Thomas, a crime scene investigation agent with the FBI's Serial Crime Unit, as he traverses the seedier sides of the city. His journey takes him through a number of condemned buildings as he searches for the one who framed him for murder, the evasive Serial Killer X. Along the way, Ethan must use his investigative intuition and technology to examine evidence left behind by SKX, all the while fighting off the violently psychotic denizens of Metro City, who seem to be driven to such madness by a mysterious, yet seemingly extraneous force.


The game's protagonist is Ethan Thomas (voiced by Greg Grunberg), an SCU investigator with unusually acute investigative instincts. He also is stated to have superhuman durability, as demonstrated by his ability to recover quickly from electrocution, long falls, and blunt trauma to the head, among others. He is aided in his investigations by Rosa, a forensics investigator at headquarters.

The primary antagonist of the game is Serial Killer X, who is hunting the serial killers that Ethan is searching for, killing them by the methods that they themselves use. Near the end of the game, he is revealed to be Leland Vanhorn, nephew of Ethan's friend Malcolm. Malcolm believes that Leland is being influenced by mysterious mutilated humanoid creatures that are causing an increase in insanity throughout the city.


The game begins with the protagonist, SCU agent Ethan Thomas, arriving at the scene of a murder. He and his fellow officers go into an abandoned building that is surrounded by psychopaths and criminals. The crime scene they investigate is one of a young woman. She is on the floor with strangulation wounds, sitting across a table from a male mannequin. Ethan, along with his colleagues, agree that the murder was most likely committed by the Match Maker, a serial killer that Ethan has been investigating. After they collect evidence from the scene, one of the officers smells cigarette smoke. Believing that the smoke must be coming from their suspect, they decide to split up and go after him. While searching for the suspect, Ethan tries to restore power from an electrical box. Due to an electrical surge, Ethan is shocked, and drops to the floor, causing his weapon to be thrown from his hand. A man hiding in the shadows takes it and flees. Ethan manages to chase the man into a small, dead-end room, where the man holds Ethan at gunpoint and tells him they have similar goals. Ethan's colleagues enter the room and tell the man to drop his weapon, and are promptly shot by the man with Ethan's gun, who then shoves Ethan out a window onto the street.

Ethan wakes in his apartment with Malcolm Vanhorn, a friend of Ethan's father, at his side. Malcolm warns Ethan that he is wanted for the deaths of the two officers who were shot with Ethan's gun. Ethan is determined to prove his innocence, although his own sanity appears to be slipping, as throughout the game he suffers numerous horrific visions, and all the while is forced to fight to the death in self-defence against homeless men and women who have inexplicably been driven insane.

He soon learns that the killer is interested in Ethan's SCU career. Later, he finds the body of the Match Maker, killed by his own modus operandi in an old department store. He presumes that the man at the original crime scene, referred to in the game as "Serial Killer X", is the culprit and that he is trying to kill the serial killers that Ethan is looking for. Ethan searches for the one that he thinks is next, a serial killer dubbed "The Torturer".

Ethan tracks the Torturer and Serial Killer X to an abandoned apple orchard in the rural town of Brier. Shortly before finding the Torturer in the farmhouse, Ethan is attacked by a strange man-like creature. Ethan kills the creature, and continues in his search. He searches through the farm where he eventually finds the Torturer dead, also killed by his own modus operandi. Soon, Ethan finds the mysterious killer, who is revealed to be Leland Vanhorn, nephew of Malcolm Vanhorn. Malcolm arrives and knocks Ethan out with a shovel to prevent him from hurting Leland. Leland then knocks Malcolm out.

When Ethan awakens, he is tied up and at the mercy of Leland. He explains to Ethan that he has been killing the serial killers that Ethan had been hunting, and that he intends to kill Ethan as well. As Leland thinks of all the ways that he can kill Ethan, cutting Ethan's finger off in the process, Ethan notices another man-like creature hiding in the rafters. This creature is known as "The Hate" and is identified as the source of the madness gripping Metro City. Malcolm attacks Leland from behind and succeeds in wrestling him to the ground. Ethan manages to free himself, and Malcolm tells him to kill The Hate, saying that it is the cause of Leland's madness. Ethan pursues The Hate as it tries to escape, fighting waves of hideously burned homeless men along the way, and eventually corners it in a barn and kills it.

As Malcolm drives Ethan home, Ethan discovers that Leland is alive and in the trunk of the car. Malcolm still believes that Leland can be saved from The Hate's influence, but Ethan does not and is furious at the revelation. When Ethan opens the trunk, he is given the option to shoot the tied-up Leland. If he does not shoot Leland, Leland pulls out his own gun and waves it at Ethan before committing suicide.

Some time later, Ethan and Rosa are having a conversation in a diner when Rosa tips him off that she is wired and the FBI is investigating Ethan, while revealing that she still trusts him. Rosa then leaves the diner, and Ethan goes to the bathroom. While in the restroom, Ethan apparently experiences another vision while watching his reflection in the mirror, and his mouth becomes deformed and wide open just like The Hate's mouth, before the game comes to an abrupt halt.

Unlockable content[edit]

The version of Condemned: Criminal Origins for the Xbox 360 console employs the achievements system mandated by Microsoft. As the criteria for the achievement awards are met, bonus content is unlocked, which can then be accessed from a special menu. Content includes concept and production sketches and paintings, work-in-progress animation, video from motion capture sessions, and a rather lengthy video showcasing a complete level from an early version of the game. These features were later carried over to the PC version of the game.


Condemned: Criminal Origins was originally known as The Dark, quite far into production. Under this name, the game was largely similar but differed in several key areas. The player character was known as Agent Cross, and the game appeared to follow him on a government-sanctioned investigation, or investigations, rather than acting as a rogue on the run from the law. Although Cross possessed the supernatural leanings of Thomas from the final game, he could actually use various magical spells. For example, a spell could be uttered to pull a gun from an enemy's hands and another spell saw doors and other obstacles break in front of the player, seemingly negating the need for a fire axe. The forensic tools used by Cross also differed, as the detection and collection tools were typically one individual item – the UV light, for instance, could illuminate clues and then be used to physically swipe across them to take samples.[citation needed]


Condemned: Criminal Origins received "generally favorable reviews" on both platforms according to the review aggregation website Metacritic.[25][26] GameSpot said of the Xbox 360 version that "it captures hand-to-hand combat with intense, lifelike brutality like no other game before it".[13] In Japan, where the same console version was ported for release under the name Condemned: Psycho Crime (コンデムド サイコ クライム, Kondemudo Saiko Kuraimu) Famitsu gave it a score of 25 out of 40,[7] while Famitsu Xbox 360 gave it a score of two nines and two eights for a total of 34 out of 40.[6]

Detroit Free Press gave the Xbox 360 version a score of all four stars and said: "Though the game could be longer and could stand more diversity, the cold shivers that run down your spine while playing it are an undeniable rush".[23] Maxim gave it a score of eight out of ten and stated that the game, "while not entirely original, still creatively mixes the first-person punching of [The Chronicles of] Riddick with the jump-out-at-you frights of Doom 3 and the investigative thrills of the best CSI episode".[27] The New York Times gave it a favorable review and wrote that "the game is also creepy in another way; you spend much of it essentially beating homeless people to death with pipes. Admittedly, these people attack you, and in fact will often attack and kill one another if you just get out of their way, but I still found it disturbing".[28] However, The Sydney Morning Herald gave it a score of three stars out of five: "Frights are common as disturbingly psychopathic vagrants lunge at you from the shadows. The violence is raw, barbaric and unsettling".[24] Edge gave it a score of six out of ten and called it "a scary, vicious, visually progressive if rather hollow next-gen showcase that doesn't outstay its welcome. If you want to spend a night or two in the company of the future of horror videogaming, you could do a lot worse".[29]


In February 2008 all copies of Condemned were confiscated in Germany because of §131 StGB, which outlaws the dissemination or public display of media "which describe cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against human beings in a manner which expresses a glorification or rendering harmless of such acts of violence or which represents the cruel or inhuman aspects of the event in a manner which injures human dignity". Distribution in Germany is now prohibited by law.[30]

Other media[edit]


A six-part episodic online game was released on the Condemned: Criminal Origins website. The protagonist is Agent Mallory, who is searching for a serial killer. In the last episode, Mallory is killed by Serial Killer X. The game ends where Condemned: Criminal Origins begins.


A direct sequel to the game was released in 2008. It was titled Condemned 2: Bloodshot to show the character evolution in protagonist Ethan Thomas. The game was developed by Monolith and published by Sega, the same companies as the original. It expanded on the gameplay elements from Condemned and added several new features such as online multiplayer and environmental kills.

Film adaptation[edit]

Warner Brothers Studios announced plans to release a film adaptation which is set in the same "universe" as the then upcoming Condemned: Criminal Origins in October 2005.[31]

A report from The Variety stated that Kurt Sutter, co-executive producer of the television series The Shield, was to be a writer of screenplay for the film under the working title Unforgettable.

According to earlier drafts of the script, a police officer hunts down a serial killer in an attempt to clear his name from murder, but during the process he discovers that he may be tied to other ongoing murder cases in an unusual way. The cop soon begins to question throughout his investigation upon discovering his supernatural abilities, "who he is as a man, until he realizes he's not a man. A tug-of-war emerges among a faction of good and evil aliens".[31]

Also connected with the project is Jace Hall, a former Monolith CEO who joined Warner Bros. to become vice president of operations over their gaming division. Hall, along with Nathan Henderickson, was responsible for the film's concept and claimed that he seeks to "come up with something specifically designed to use multiple mediums to tell stories that had some continuity and connective thread... We wanted to create a universe that, like a Star Wars, was big enough where different stories could exist".[32] Variety indicated that the plan was to introduce audiences to the "universe" of Condemned with Criminal Origins, followed by a film adaptation which will tie-in with a sequel video game gradually expanding the story's universe.[32]


  1. ^ Known in Europe simply as Condemned.


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