Condemned: Criminal Origins

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a video game developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sega for PC and the Xbox 360. It was released on November 15, 2005 in North America and December 2, 2005 in Europe. A version was released for the PC on April 11, 2006. Released in Japan and in Asia, it was known as Condemned: Psycho Crime.

Players can expect a particularly gritty tone, as the developers cite such films as The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en as inspiration for their game. Monolith Game Designer, Frank Rooke, was also noteworthy of design collaboration in the game Tron 2.0, a sequel to the 1982 motion picture Tron.

The game uses a first person perspective and, like other current games, tries to put the perspective to new use. Condemned: Criminal Origins places an added emphasis on melee combat and puzzle solving, including searching for fingerprints and gathering evidence. It is firmly placed within the horror genre, and more specifically survival horror. The game also implements elements of psychological thriller. The game was also notable at time of release for its cutting edge graphics and advanced artificial intelligence. Stylistically, Condemned shares many similarities with Monolith's own F.E.A.R.

A sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot was released March 11, 2008 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.


In Condemned: Criminal Origins, players take the role of Ethan Thomas, a SCU agent (Serial Crime Unit investigator that uses forensic tools) framed for a double cop murder he did not commit who becomes trapped in the condemned sections of a fictional American city named "Metro City" while hunting a serial killer. Thomas' investigation is further complicated by a mysterious phenomenon that is transforming the transient population of these areas into insane, violent psychotics. As Thomas, the player investigates crime scenes using forensic tools and techniques, while fighting off the constant assaults by "the influenced" in the hopes of catching the serial killer and escaping alive, and also prove that he is innocent to the police.



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 first-person shooters, 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 with firearms quickly.

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, shovels, and 2x4s. The word often employed by the developers of the game to describe the combat is 'visceral'. A Duke Nukem 3D style 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 his neck.

The artificial intelligence displayed by enemies requires the player to think on his 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.

It should be noted that although there are sharp weapons in the game, one cannot stab or dismember enemies. In fact, the player can almost never wield an actual knife or sword, with the exception being in the School level, where the player has brief access to a meat cleaver. Some mêlée 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 gun 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 minimum 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

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.

Plot summary

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 murder they observe is one of a young woman. She is on the floor with strangled wounds across from a male mannequin. Ethan along with his colleagues agree that the murder was most likely one of the Match Maker's, a murderer that Ethan has been on the trail of for quite a while. After they observe the scene further they move into another room where they smell smoke. They decide to go after the suspect they hear above them by splitting up. While searching for the suspect, Ethan is flung from an electrical box by the resulting charge of activating it. This makes him accidentally drop his weapon and a man hiding in the shadows takes it. When Ethan manages to chase the man into a small dead end room, the man subdues Ethan and begins to try to convince him that they were on the same side. Ethan's colleagues enter the room as this event takes place, and the man shoots at them before shoving Ethan out a window onto the street.

Ethan wakes up 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 two of the officers that the man at the crime scene shot. Ethan is determined to prove his innocence.

He soon finds evidence that the man is interested in Ethan’s SCU career. Later, he finds the body of the Match Maker, killed by his own method of operation. He presumes that the man at the crime scene is trying to kill the serial killers that Ethan is looking for, referred to in the game as "Serial Killer X", so he searches for the one that he thinks is next, the Torturer.

Shortly before finding the Torturer, Ethan is attacked by a strange man-like creature. Ethan kills the creature, and then finds the Torturer dead, also killed in the same way he killed his victims. Soon Ethan finds the mysterious killer, who is revealed to be Leland Vanhorn, nephew of Malcolm Vanhorn. Malcolm arrives and knocks Ethan out to prevent him from hurting Leland. Leland then knocks Malcolm out.

When Ethan revives, 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 jumps Leland from behind and begins to wrestle him. Ethan manages to free himself, and Malcolm tells him to kill the creature saying that it is the cause of Leland’s madness. Ethan pursues the creature as it tries to escape. He eventually corners it in a barn and kills it.

As Malcolm drives Ethan home, Ethan discovers that Leland is alive in the trunk of the car. When Ethan looks in the trunk, he is given the option to shoot Leland as he lies tied up. If he does not shoot Leland himself, Leland pulls out his gun and waves it at Ethan before committing suicide. Later, Ethan and Rosa are having a conversation in a diner when Rosa reveals that she is wired, possibly explaining that she still trusts him. Rosa then leaves the diner, after which Ethan goes to the bathroom. Something bizarre happens in the bathroom and Ethan's face becomes that of the man-like creature.


  • Ethan Thomas: An SCU investigator with a highly successful record, due to his possession of supernaturally keen investigative instincts. Thomas has psychic visions throughout the game, and later in the game it is revealed that he has superhuman muscle and bone density, a hyperactive serotonergic system, and something mysterious in his esophagus and larynx. Thomas' superhuman durability is demonstrated several times throughout the game, such as recovering within seconds from electrocution, a 2-story fall, being thrown from a speeding subway train, and by being slammed repeatedly against the wall by mysterious forces. He is voiced by Greg Grunberg of Heroes fame.
  • Rosa: Thomas' forensic investigator at headquarters. Thomas sends Rosa crime scene data electronically using his data collection tools, and Rosa analyzes and interprets the data for him. She trusts Thomas, and continues to help him clear his name after he is framed for murder by Serial Killer X.
  • Malcolm Vanhorn: An old friend of Thomas' father, Malcolm "assists" Thomas at various points throughout the game. He appears to know more about the mysterious phenomena gripping the city than he lets on.
  • Serial Killer X: A serial killer who hunts and kills other serial killers, executing them using their own methods. He has been following Thomas' career for some time, using Thomas' investigation into serial killers to help him track down his victims. Thomas begins hunting SKX after the killer frames him for the murder of two cops. SKX is eventually revealed to be Leland Vanhorn, the nephew of Malcolm Vanhorn. Malcolm believes that Leland is not in his right mind due to the influence of the creatures, and is not responsible for his actions.
  • Farrell: Thomas' superior at the SCU, Farrell seems convinced that Thomas is guilty. Farrell makes occasional calls to Thomas over his cell phone, at first trying to convince him to turn himself in, then later threatening him and Rosa.
  • Dark Watchers: Mysterious, mutilated man-like creatures with pieces of metal protruding from various parts of their bodies. They wear torn black robes, and fight with long metal sticks in a style based on eskrima. Thomas has visions of these creatures stalking him throughout the entire game, and finally ends up fighting three of them individually in the game's final levels. The game's final boss is a creature with more metal piercings and mutilations than the rest, quite possibly a leader figure among them; recently, the Primagames Strategy Guide for Condemned 2: Bloodshot makes mention of this character being known as the "Dark Primary". They are known as "Dark Watchers" by their model names. During the game, if one collects various optional items such as dying birds, it is revealed that they are members of a cult that are causing the mysterious rise in criminally insane individuals. This is expounded on in the sequel, as the Oro, a cult with special sonic abilities, is revealed to be the cause of the city's madness, and have similar metal implants to the Dark Watchers, and when Rosa discusses conspiracy websites on the Oro, concept art for the Watchers are shown.

Forensic tools

Detection tools

  • UV Light - The UV Light's primary function is to detect traces of blood visible and invisible to the naked eye causing it to stand out brightly if within the light range of the device. It will illuminate the immediate area directly ahead of the device with a purplish light.
  • Laser Light - The Laser Light device produces a relatively small cone of light that's greenish in color. It's capable of illuminating latent pieces of evidence invisible to the naked eye, causing it to stand out brightly if within the light range of the device.
  • Gas Spectrometer - The Gas Spectrometer monitors the presence of a foreign substance in the air, displaying its concentration in a meter. The player can use the meter to track down the pollutant's source such as fumes (most notably methane gas emitted by decaying flesh).

Collection tools

  • Sampler - The Sampler evaluates the chemical makeup of a piece of evidence and transmits that back to the lab for identification and evaluation.
  • 3D Scanner - The 3D Scanner captures the three dimensional aspect of evidence and transmits the information back to the lab.
  • Digital Camera - The Digital Camera is used to capture images that are transmitted back to the lab for evaluation.

Unlockable content

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. One interesting thing to note about Condemned's achievements is that they only total up to a value of 970 gamerpoints, with every other retail 360 game having a total of 1000. 30 points were reserved for "additional future use", but as of yet, no game update has supplemented the deficiency in gamerpoints.

In certain pieces of unlocked concept art, street names can be seen in the subway stops which make it clear that the game was at least originally intended to take place in New York City. Furthermore, if all birds and metal pieces are collected, a series of Propaganda Reports will be made available. These provide further background to the story in the form of classified documents.


Early versions

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 bring it to you through the air, and another spell saw doors and other obstacles break in front of you, 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.


The Xbox 360 version has a score of 82% on Game Rankings based on 81 reviews , and a score of 81% on Metacritic based on 72 reviews.

The PC version has a score of 79% on Game Rankings based on 31 reviews, and a score of 78% on Metacritic based on 24 reviews.


A 6 Part Episodic Online Game was released on the Condemned: Criminal Origins Website and was set before Condemned: Criminal Origins. 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 begins.


In February 2008 all copies of Condemned were confiscated in Germany because of _Representation_of_violence. Distribution in Germany is now prohibited by law.

Film adaptation

On October 4, 2005, Warner Brothers Studios announced plans to release a film adaptation which is set in the same "universe" as the then upcoming Condemned: Criminal Origins. Warner Bros. Studios had acquired Monolith Productions during 2004 and is expecting for the movie to receive a currently to be announced 2008 theatrical release date. A report from The Variety states that Kurt Sutter, co-executive producer of the television series The Shield, would be writing the 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. However, 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."

Also connected with the project is Jason 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 state 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." 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.


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