Good games that could have been great

Not long ago I borrowed and played The Darkness. The Darkness was a a solid game. It was fun. It was good, but through the entire play I felt if they had spent another six months on it, it could have been great. The primary issues with the game that could have been improved were the graphics and control. It also felt like, to me, it had a pretty limited number of locations.

I also recently borrowed and finished Condemned: Criminal Origins. Condemned is in the horror / action genre. It came out in 2005 for the 360 (and PC and ?) and has some flashes of genius. The graphics are pretty nice, the controls are pretty good. While there is some shooting in the game, firearms are few and far between and come with very little ammo. There are a reasonable number of health packs, but there are few enough that you are often on the edge – you have to play carefully. The game’s combat is mostly melee (kicking and hitting with weapons found in the environment). The melee combat and blocks must be carefully timed. This leads to my first complaint of the game: blocking is almost required to play, but the blocking timing is kind of strange and difficult. Even after completing the game, I never really got the hang of blocking. That said, I was able to complete the game even with my almost complete inability to block.

My biggest complaint of Condemned, though, is the fact that it closes almost every door behind you. If you see a health pack you “kind of” need, you better take it – you probably won’t be able to go back to get it. The game is heavy with “hunting for special items” (birds and metal) but it is really easy to miss one. A few paces latter you realize your mistake and want to go back and get it but no dice – the door is now closed. ARGH! This makes achievement hunting in the game a huge hassle. I really enjoying achievement hunting in 360 games but in Condemned it is just far too big a drag. Even if you use a guide to find birds and metal, it is very easy to miss the item and then you are SOL unless you want to play the entire level again which could easily take 30 to 60 minutes. And if you miss something again… ARGH. I started to play Condemned a second time to clean up my missing achievements but decided it really wasn’t worth it.

Even in spite of those things, if you aren’t hung up on achievements Condemned does show lots of moments of genius and is genuinely scary at times. The graphics are pretty nice, the sound is very good, and the gameplay is a lot of fun. It is a refreshingly different action game. It has enough “checkpoints” that even when you die you aren’t generally set back very far. I can easily recommend Condemned.

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