Short Script: Condemned: Criminal Origins

As I was reading this article about the ill-advised comparison between Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and movies, I couldn't help but pick up on a line of thought that I had already drawn myself when playing Condemned: Criminal Origins. At the time the game hit me out of left field (I played it sans expectations a couple of years after it was released), so I decided to give it another quick playthrough. Along the way it naturally got the Short Script treatment, but it's also a good case study for the point I'd like to make. The abovementioned article states that, while movies are not inherently better than games, they will always surpass games that slavishly imitate them. This imitation ensures that there will always be comparisons made between the two (as I did for Call of Duty: Black Ops here). The comparison is ultimately untenable (games simply can't be held to the standards that movies have come to define), but some games drive their imitation of movies so far that it becomes unavoidable. I haven't played Uncharted 2 myself, but I've watched the better part of a playthrough on YouTube, and in doing so, I somehow feel I have played it. But this is not about linearity, it's about repetition. Movies are about economy, about saying as much as possible in a limited amount of time. Games don't have (or allow themselves) such constraints, but ironically suffer for it. A single sequence in a movie might be exhilarating, but games blindly take such sequences and then repeatedly copy them across entire swaths of gameplay. This diminishes the power of that single sequence through endless repetition. Naturally, games are repetitive by necessity, because it would be a logistical nightmare to craft a game composed of wholly unique moments. Still, this aspect of repetition is probably most apparent when looking at gunplay and firefights. In that respect, I'd like to point to Blood Simple, a movie I once extensively analysed for a term paper. It's the directorial debut of the Coen brothers and an excellent film. But rather than compare it with games, I'm going to contrast it within its own medium. Blood Simple is sparse in its exposition. It introduces its primary characters and the relations between them in a few opening lines, and then lets the events play out. As before, movies are about economy. More importantly, Blood Simple features a single revolver that becomes an important plot and focal point throughout (the theatrical poster gives it striking visual prominence). Because the revolver is used sparingly in a way that the viewer knows when it is loaded and when it isn't, it creates a palpable sense of Hitchcockian tension. As the famous director said: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it". Giving the viewer of a movie more information than the characters in it creates a sense of unease that carries more weight than the typical shock scares. As such, a single gunshot in Blood Simple has more resonance than every bullet fired in your average John Woo flick. And that is exactly what Condemned gets right. It's one of the few first-person shooters that focuses its gameplay on a comprehensive melee system as a primary form of combat. Firearms are only occasionally available and limited in their operation (for instance, they can't be reloaded), but they are very powerful. The player cherishes each one he comes across and actively fears enemies that carry them. To rehash the analogy that closes the previous paragraph: a single gunshot in Condemned has more resonance than every bullet fired in your average Call of Duty game. This is also very effective in making the player feel helpless but not frustrated. Helplessness is what makes horror games interesting: the realisation that you're facing odds you might not overcome. That is one area where another horror game, Dead Space, falls short. But that's something I will get into when I finish its Short Script in time for the release of its sequel.



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