It's been a little while-- three weeks probably-- since I finished playing through the PC port of Monolith's first-person thriller Condemned: Criminal Origins. I liked the game a lot. The combat was really fun and felt a lot different than in any other action game I can really think of. The ending got a little weak, but not for gameplay reasons, really. It was more of an artifice thing-- the final boss of the game seemed sort of like a vague idea of a 'bad guy,' and the wacky "OR IS IT...?" final shot right before the credits was a let-down. Also, on my machine the entire outdoor farm level looked like absolute garbage. I guess it was a function of having my graphics turned to medium, but the grounds of the farm seriously started looking like Quake 2. There was nothing but mid-tone ambient light and all the textures looked washed out and shitty. I still wonder if it's my fault for not having a computer that could run the game at top-tier graphical settings, or if the outdoor part of the last level just looks like that. I didn't crank my settings up as a test to check. Maybe it looked that awful on the 360, but I can't imagine that. It's not even a case Condemned being one of those games that completely loses it in the final act (ala Half-Life,) there were just a few aspects of it that were really distracting.

I enjoyed the enemy AI a lot, especially the few times when their system to search for and acquire better weapons came into play. There were a couple of times when I dropped a gun with a few rounds in it in favor of some entry tool or powerful melee weapon and forgot about it, only to have a dangerous psychotic toss aside their rusty pipe and pick up the gun, surprising me with a sudden burst of gunfire. Really cool, really made me think about how I needed to carefully track all my cast-offs. Tangible implications of persistent useable items. Good stuff.

One thing that started to wear a bit thin as the game progressed was the central combat mechanic itself. Combat in Condemned is both nuanced and very simple at once. It breaks down to "swing or block?" and while each weapon differs in its few basic stats (speed, block, attack power, reach) it pretty much turns into a somewhat repetitive bludgeon fest after the first few chapters. The appearance and stats of each variant of the single weapon type in the game can be quite diverse, but the weapon types themselves could use a bit more variety.

To this end, I'd propose two new aspects of combat in Condemned. One is the breakable "one-time use" (OTU) weapon. A OTU weapon is something that deals extra damage and possibly a status effect (such as stun) on impact, but is destroyed after one successful use. This would probably take the form of a beer or wine bottle. Brandishing such a weapon would bring an extra element of strategy to the following encounter: by carrying a OTU weapon, the player would have a distinct offensive advantage over the next enemy they face, but also be at a couple of distinct disadvantages: for one, you can't block with an OTU; it would break. Second, after its first use, deploying an OTU leaves you completely unarmed. So, if the player comes across a single enemy while holding a beer bottle, the OTU is great, because the player can bum rush him and lay serious damage and a stun on the enemy, essentially leading to a free kill. On the other hand, if the enemy gets the drop on the player while he is armed with an OTU, the player is unable to block incoming attacks; and if he comes upon a larger group of enemies, he will be left briefly unarmed after attacking the first of them, leaving him open to follow-up attacks from the rest of the group. It's a risk/reward setup that adds a new element of strategy to weapon selection in Condemned, and adds some variety to what can often be fairly dry encounters.

Going along with these breakable OTU weapons would be the ability for 'standard' weapons to break instantly on block, depending on what they were hit with. In Condemned, if someone is attacking me with, say, a fire axe or crowbar, I can successfully block it with a rotting 2x4. Both logically and from a gameplay standpoint, it would be more interesting if some weapons could be broken when attempting to block other, more powerful weapons. If I were brandishing the 2x4 with nails, and came up against a psycho with the fire axe, sledge hammer, etc, I would need to reconsider blocking his attacks to avoid being disarmed, and possibly search around for a more durable weapon such as a steam pipe or locker door. Similarly, if I had a poweful melee weapon and came across an enemy wielding a desktop or wooden plank, I could swing on them with impunity, knowing that they would be unable to block my attacks, and actually would suffer for trying.

I guess you could combine these two features into one category called "Strategic Item Breakability." I think it would add a lot to the combat dynamics of Condemned, a fun and engaging action thriller whose own gameplay simplicity can sometimes work against it.

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