Codex Gamicus

Condemned: Criminal Origins, or simply Condemned, as it is known as in Europe, is a horror game developed by Monolith Productions for the Xbox 360. Gameplay takes place in a first person viewpoint using melee combat as a central element. There is also emphasis on puzzle solving, including searching for fingerprints and gathering evidence. In the game you take on the role of FBI agent Ethan Thomas as he tries to track down a serial killer and figure out the mysteries behind a rise in violence within the bleak confines of a deteriorating city.

It is firmly placed within the horror genre, and more specifically survival horror. The game also implements elements of psychological thriller. The game is also notable for its cutting edge graphics and advanced artificial intelligence. Stylistically, Condemned shares many similarities with Monolith's own F.E.A.R.

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 computer sequel to the 1982 motion picture Tron.

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.



In Condemned: Criminal Origins, players take the role of Ethan Thomas, an FBI forensic investigator 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 "crazies" in the hopes of catching the serial killer and escaping alive.


In "Metro City", disturbing events are unfolding: in abandoned areas, violent crimes are increasingly prevalent amongst the homeless, addicted, and deranged. The police are helpless and avoid treading within these places, both because they fear for their own safety and because colleagues assigned to such locations seem to become increasingly violent themselves. Strange localized audio linked to all this is also affecting birds, causing them to flock to the affected areas and die of induced brain hemorrhaging.


In response to a police call, FBI agent and protagonist Ethan Thomas arrives on a homicide crime scene in an abandoned building. On-scene evidence shows a modus operandi matching that of the "Match Maker," a serial killer who abducts and strangles young women, posing them in twisted tableaux with male department store dummies, their faces always partially disfigured.

While Thomas collects evidence, which shows that the Match Maker is missing his right index finger, after smelling cigarette smoke and later hearing loud shuffling noises it becomes apparent that there is still someone nearby: the cops scramble to find him, but the man evades them and is also able to take Thomas' firearm while Thomas is briefly incapacitated from an electrical short. Thomas escapes immediate danger, but is later again ambushed by the killer, who spares Thomas for unknown reasons. Before the fellow police find Thomas, the killer states: "...don't mess this up for us. We are on the same path of righteousness." The killer then hears the door open and the cops shout for him to drop the weapon. He does exactly the opposite, turns and fires at them then hitting Thomas in the head and dragging him for a quick second to push him out the window and onto a car roof.

Subway Station[]

Later that night, Thomas awakens on his apartment couch after an eerie dream about being attacked by a strange man-like creature. Standing over Thomas is Malcom Vanhorn, an old friend of his deceased father, who warns him to flee the police: the two dead officers were killed with his gun and with his disappearance from the crime scene, it appears that he was the murderer.

Now wanted himself, Thomas flees to the adjacent metro station and finds evidence of the killer showing a distinct interest in his Bureau career. Fortunately, Thomas' FBI lab worker Rosa still trusts him and continues analyzing the evidence he is collecting on his quest to prove his innocence.

Thomas traverses the station fighting off violent squatters and their ilk, all the way following the real killer to his hiding place. Aware that he is being hunted, the killer manages to lose Thomas, who continues investigating. He finds a second hideout supporting evidence found on the initial crime scene, and also linking him to a Burnside department store.

Dept. Store[]

Thomas is forced to visit the abandoned criminal-infested Department Store, with evidence and a residual blood trail leading to another Match Maker tableaux. This time, the dummy is female, and the victim male. The victim's facial markings match that of the earlier male dummies and surprisingly is also missing his right index finger. As fingerprints confirm, the corpse is the Match Maker himself.


Puzzled by this, Thomas and Rosa surmise that someone is tracking down serial killers and murdering them with their own methods, a "killer of killers" whom they name "Serial Killer X". The two rendezvous in the downtown library, currently closed for extensive repairs; intending to find an operating computer terminal which they can use without fear of FBI monitoring. Evidence from the Metro hideout suggests he concluded 7 out of Thomas' 9 serial killer cases: they assume the Match Maker to be 8, which leaves number nine, "The Torturer."

There, Thomas is shown an addendum to his personnel file; in addition to superhuman bone and muscle density plus a hyperactive brain serotonergic system, his chest x-ray has the esophagus and larynx areas redacted, with the revelation that the redaction has its own special highly-classified and inaccessible addendum. Shortly thereafter Rosa is kidnapped and forced to detail the Torturer's Modus Operandi to Serial Killer X. When reunited, they link the Torturer's hideout to newspaper reports of Mr. Tibbits, a recently-missing ex-teacher who provided information on him. Serial Killer X is eavesdropping on their discussion and once discovered, flees the library, thus forcing Thomas into a race to find The Torturer and Tibbits.


Thomas and Rosa identify the Torturer as Carl Anderson, a former student at a local secondary school. Believing the school to be the Torturer's hideout, Thomas goes there to investigate. The run-down school is infested with deformed, emaciated people, led by a huge and insane cleaver-wielding lunch lady. Fighting his way past them, Thomas manages to find Tibbets hiding in a locker, with his lips and right arm cut off; but still just barely alive. Before finally dying, the man manages to tell Thomas that someone knocked out Anderson and took him away.

At the crime scene, Thomas finds traces of a restricted pesticide, which he links to Serial Killer X. Coupled with prior evidence, Rosa sends Thomas to the rural town of Brier, where an outlying and dilapidated apple orchard uses the same item.


Thomas enters the house, and begins his search for Serial Killer X. Through discovery of clues hidden throughout the house, Ethan is able to determine where his hideout is, and manages to gain more information about the man and his motives. While in the house he fights more deformed creatures, crazed vagrants and a mysteriously deformed, man-like creature who seems to disappear into thin air. At that moment, The Torturer breaks in to the house, obviously on the run from Serial Killer X. He runs upstairs, and Thomas pursues him. However, he is too late. He discovers The Torturer is dead, having impaled himself with the weapon he was carrying. As Ethan inspects the body, Director Farrell informs him that his lab access is now terminated, and orders him to turn himself in. Meanwhile, Serial Killer X enters the house, in pursuit of The Torturer. Ethan dresses himself up in The Torturer's clothes, and lies on the ground, in wait. Serial Killer X approaches him, exclaiming his disappointment that The Torturer was not brave enough to kill himself, when Ethan strikes at him. A brief fight ensues, but before Ethan can apprehend the killer, Malcom Vanhorn appears, and knocks him unconscious. While on the floor, Malcom Vanhorn confronts Serial Killer X, who is revealed to be Leland Vanhorn, Malcom's nephew. Malcom explains to him that what he's been doing is not his fault, and that he was not strong enough to fight off these homicidal urges. At that moment, Leland lunges forward and strangles Malcom, just before Ethan blacks out.


Thomas wakes up to find himself at the mercy of Leland Vanhorn: he reveals using Thomas to find serial killers, and then killing them by their own methods. As Leland speaks, on the rafters Thomas sees a man-like creature similar to but significantly more mutilated than the one he fought earlier, watching. Meanwhile, Leland taunts Thomas, then cuts off his left index finger with a combat knife. Before Leland can harm Thomas further, he is suddenly jumped from behind by Malcolm Vanhorn, who wrestles his nephew to the ground. As Thomas breaks free of his bonds, Vanhorn yells to him "Quickly! You must find and destroy 'It'. 'It' has caused all this madness. Go! Kill it now!"

The creature taunts Ethan, telling him "You belong to us Ethan. You have always belonged to us". Thomas tracks the creature across the orchard, fighting off deformed freaks as well as a few of the strange man-like creatures. Thomas finally confronts the main creature in the roof of the Orchard's barn, and succeeds in killing it by ripping out its metal prosthetics.


Thomas returns to Malcolm Vanhorn and they drive back to town. Vanhorn tells Thomas that he can never go back to the Bureau or his old life. He has seen the visage of hate. They are the ones who drive people to violence and murder. Along the way and much to Thomas' dismay, he discovers that Leland is alive and in the trunk of the car: the agent wishes to exact revenge from the killer and the older Vanhorn protests, pleading that both Thomas and Leland still have a chance at redemption. After Thomas argues with Malcolm, Malcolm pulls out a gun and several of the creatures from before surround Thomas and Malcom and mutter things in the background. It zooms in on Thomas' face and as a possible easter egg you hear a rambling that is not major to the storyline and is just a random rambling. The voice says "Power for life" or "Cower for life" At this point the player is given the option of taking revenge or showing compassion. If the player chooses to shoot Serial Killer X, the scene ends. If the player chooses to spare him, Serial Killer X pulls out his own gun and aims it around at both Malcom Vanhorn and Thomas. He then puts the gun to his mouth and pulls the trigger.

Some time later Rosa confronts Thomas in a diner after the whole debacle, informing him that the Bureau can link the whole thing to an ancient cult: Thomas finds the idea preposterous, but is unable to provide any evidence to the contrary. While Thomas wishes to tell Rosa all he knows, she warns him with a note that she's wired, so in the end Thomas says nothing. When Rosa leaves, Thomas enters a bathroom. When he enters the lights flash a little and he begins a small cough. He throws up all over the sink and moves in to wash his face, and as he does so one of the creatures appears behind him in the mirror. The screen darkens for a second as Thomas brings his head up slightly. The screen goes back to normal view as Thomas quickly turns toward the screen roaring, revealing that his face has transformed into a mutated visage with a metal jaw, similar to that of the creatures.


Though handguns can be found and used while playing Condemned, it definitely isn't a First person shooter. Almost all of the action is focused on melee combat. When a rare firearm is found the bullets quickly run out and you are forced to either quickly find something lying around to use as a weapon, such as a pipe or shovel, or use the butt of the gun as a weapon. Ammo in the firearms found are what is left of what the AI has used, so the player is encouraged to take out those with firearms in a quickly.

The focus of the experience is on improvised mêlée, 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.

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 (the usual melee weapons in first person games), with the exception being in the School level, where you have brief access to a meat cleaver. Some mêlée weapons fall under the class of entry tool, (like a fire ax 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 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.

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, it also becomes very damaging, causing the enemy's legs to give out. 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 games system of carefully fighting enemies.

The entire game takes place in derelict urban environments, with minimum lighting. The player must use their 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.

At certain areas you will find crime scenes which need to be investigated. You are directed to press a context sensitive button which, when pressed, automatically selects whichever forensic tool is needed in that given situation. You collect the evidence and then, by cell phone, instantly relay any information gathered to a support worker at an FBI crime lab, opening new areas to explore and also furthering the story.

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.


  • Ethan Thomas: An FBI 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 recent Heroes fame.
  • Lieutenant 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 his 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 FBI, 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.
  • The Dark Creatures: Strange, 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 a few of them in the game's final levels. The game's final boss is a creature with more metal piercings and mutilations than the rest. They are known as "Dark Watchers" by their model names.

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.

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-execute producer of the television series The Shield, would be writing the screenplay for the film under the working title Species X. The project's name had since been changed to The Unforgettable by 2006.

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. As of January 25, 2007, David S. Goyer and Basil Iwanyk are attached to produce.


As of May 6, 2007, the Xbox 360 version had a score of 82% on Game Rankings based on 81 reviews [4], and a score of 81% on MetaCritic based on 72 reviews.

The PC version had a score of 79% on Game Rankings based on 30 reviews, and a score of 78% on MetaCritic based on 24 reviews.


A sequel titled Condemned 2: Bloodshot was officially announced by Sega on May 10, 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is scheduled to be released in early 2008 and will contain a multiplayer aspect, however no official word has been given regarding it save for it's inclusion.

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