Condemned engages in a torrent of ‘meta-scares,’ programmed scare-tactics in which the designers accept the fact that you’re playing a game, rather than try to make you forget it. They embrace the idea that you can’t look two ways and send enemies from two directions. They deny you the information you take for granted in other games and play upon gaming tropes. Piling on ammunition supplies and then giving you no boss to fight. Scaring you in forced perspective animations, when you can’t react immediately, and jarring you in moments where you expect to be safe from enemies.
A traverse through an abandoned shopping market is made infinitely more terrifying by the groupings of mannequins that line hallways and rooms. Some wear dingy Santa hats. I smacked a few upon arrival, to double check their inanimate appearance. It seems inevitable that one will jump to life and come at me, but eventually there are too many to check in a single room and after whole minutes pass without your paranoia validated, I start to forgo the wrench-to-the-head checks. That’s when one pounces on me with a guttural scream. Somewhere, a designer laughs manically. “I knew it!” I shout, my confidence bruised and my nerves completely shot.
undergoes some radical departure from its origins. Drifting into the supernatural, it never deviates from the formula it originally introduced, but never stops heightening all of it. Detective tools are for murder scene investigations, until you’re using them to track and read the cryptic wall-scratching of a maniac. You’re a dutiful police investigator, until you are framed for multiple murders and find your cryptic personnel file with, perhaps most disturbing, your x-rays with whole organs
redacted. Heck, even your firearm, which should be for shooting, is re purposed as a blunt tool in desperate times.
The game wants you unnerved and never comfortable with your location, your weapons, or your allies. It succeeds here, as for the first time I found myself having to pause before to move into rooms, and it accomplishes a horror experience so effectively, that it became a group activity to play it. Condemend: Criminal Origins
set a high precedent with horror games for me. It showed remarkably cunning design, with carefully laid traps and constant psychological warfare designed to undermine the player, and did so with a tight-lipped, twist-laden story. It is terrifying, riveting, and just plain amazing.
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