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Imagine a world of sheer, relentless terror. A world in which savage, dishevelled lunatics wander around dilapidated buildings, always ready to attack, while you trudge fearfully in pursuit of goals that you can barely comprehend. A world in which just poking your head around the wrong corner of a department store can bring rage and bloodshed down upon your innocent head. A world in which there are no safe places, and nowhere to hide.
But enough about the joys of the post-Christmas sales in Coventry. We’re here to talk about Condemned: Criminal Origins, Monolith’s Xbox 360 launch exclusive and one of the most distinctive titles I’ve come across this year. Of course, it does have a lot in common with the above description, but that doesn’t begin to do Condemned’s world justice. Not since SWAT 4 has a game done urban squalor this well. Where Rare, for instance, used the 360’s power to create the super-shiny surfaces of a future techno wonderland, or the Oz-like scenery of a fantasy world, Monolith has used it to create environments that practically reek of rising damp, pooling vomit, rotting trash and leaking excrement.
The look isn’t totally original – all that grim dead city chic is straight from David Fincher’s Seven or Fight Club, and all the psychic weirdness and FBI style is borrowed from The X-Files – but it makes for a refreshing change from the usual. In gaming terms, Condemned resembles a first-person Silent Hill, except with a truckload more detail. No matter how repellent the visual content gets, you can’t deny that the lighting, modelling and texturing is beautiful. On a high-definition screen, Condemned is top notch stuff.