Thursday, July 24, 2008


3:10, too late to be up my dear
Riot gear cash cow, don't you just bring the fear
With a tight install base, you got it just right
In those bastard's sights, Lord just might smite it
And grant you a well deserved respite
Seems like, song keeps droning
No new news, old news, build your building, but first call zoning
They'll have your head for this, you know what happened last time-
Crisis, crime, scraping grime off your life as you see your own light at tunnel's end

Now I have never, called in to question, the possessions and repossessions
Playing tricks on your own secession
So let me have my time, 3:09
Get back to bed, you Deadhead, redead army
It isn't time


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Condemned: Criminal Origins

I think violence in video games is something we now take for granted in some respects. There's the ongoing Jack Thompson-led battles to convince us that our games are indeed driving us to insanity, but that's it. The only issue anyone really takes with the violence in our games are the disgruntled, misunderstanding outsiders who believe it's just too violent. Playing Condemned made me realize there's another facet of video game violence we often miss: the emotional impact of violence. It's been touched on in games like the Metal Gear Solid series, but never, I think, in the way this has. Violence is a means to an end for gamers. Devil May Cry, for all it's fun, is basically a flashy action film where any individual kill barely leaves a memory. I do not believe this is always a bad thing; not in the slightest. We need gaming's Total Recalls to it's Saving Private Ryans. Otherwise, it'd all be dire, depressing material. But I think that's where I appreciated Condemned the most: for making me feel repulsed, disgusted, sometimes even sorry for the violence I was committing on the screen.

Condemned was really messing with my emotions all throughout the 10+ hour experience. The manipulation of fear is obviously central to the experience of a horror-themed, and Monolith proves they have an excellent grasp on how to do it. In a game with a central theme of tracking a serial killer while stalking dark, decaying buildings and battling deranged druggies, I could really tell Monolith was taking generously from the Silence of the Lambs pot. The effective atmospheric effects create a sense that an enemy could come from any locked door, maybe even right behind you. So much of the game reminded me of the final confrontation between Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill in the basement, and I found that fascinating.

Much like Silence of the Lambs, Condemned uses it's brutal violence to back up that sense of fear. After all, without the threat of consequence, what is there to really fear? The violence within Condemned was so harsh that it sometimes made me want to avoid fights. I think there are many contributing factors to this. I think part of it is that the violence itself is so stripped down. We're used shooters where we take down the enemy with a bullet from a few feet away. In Condemned, you're beating down deranged hobos with nail-covered 2X4's and lead pipes. The combat is given a sense of weight and impact, helped along by the game's Breakdown-esque manipulation of the first person camera. Motion blurs occur at appropriate moments, while choice points in the game involve vomiting on the floor and being thrown down stairs with the appropriate twists and turns of the camera. On top of that, the game tells the bulk of it's story without reverting to cutscenes. The game's story in an of itself seems to take place within the span of a single night.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game's visuals is it's use of "psychological effects". Without warning (and loading times, surprisingly) the world around you will suddenly change from nightmarish to even more so in Silent Hill fashion. One of the spookiest moments in the game involved entering a room owned by a stalker of the main character and seeing brief flashes of walls covered in photos. But Monolith managed to add more to these moments than a scarier paint job, going so far as to slowing your movements, an extremely effective trick for fostering a sense of helplessness.

Ironically, the game doesn't even play much like an FPS at all. If anything, the combat is most analogous to a late 80's/early 90's arcade brawler like Streets of Rage. Fights often boil down to drunken strikes with makeshift weapons. Finding firearms is a rarity, and even then, are disposable due to the complete lack of ammunition. Unfortunately, the combat can often feel slippery and difficult to control, and often falls apart when multiple enemies are brought in. Your slow movements in-game make it difficult to handle more than one attacker. While the game was obviously developed to be slower paced, being a first person game developed with consoles in mind first, the enemies don't seem to accommodate this as much as I would like them to. Beyond the mechanics of the game, the combat leaves a strong impression due to how brutal it is. Your usual enemies are clearly insane; they'll scream and swear loudly while relentlessly following you. The heavy sounds, camera, and violence level all contributes to pretty unsettling fights with finishing moves that leave your opponent with a broken neck. It's the kind of violence that keeps itself from jumping straight over the top, but disturbing enough to give you the appropriate chills.

I didn't really know what to expect when I bought Condemned, but I came out pretty satisfied. I think I value the horror game that can truly grab and manipulate my emotions the most, and Condemned worked beautifully in that regard. The story's somewhat abrupt ending and the potential for improvement in the game has left me wanting more, and I certainly hope to get my hands on the sequel in the near future.