While Sega was showing some intriguing stuff behind closed doors at this year's E3 - like next-gen versions of House of the Dead, Sonic and After Burner - there was one title which was not only playable on the show floor, but consistently attracting an admiring crowd.
"Gritty" is just about the best way to sum up Condemned: Criminal Origins, Sega's new Xbox 360 launch title which is being developed by Monolith. With the full power of Microsoft's wonder-machine cranking out the urban goodness, Condemned is the equivalent of a midnight jaunt down a Manchester side street with a "Kick Me" sign stuck to your back - only with more serial killers in the mix.
Playing as a disgraced ex-FBI agent, your goal is to track down the fruit loop psycho that the Fed's have inexplicably linked to you and show him the might of your muzzle through some intense, atmospheric FPS action.
What differentiates Condemned from your usual first-person blood-fest is the entirely open nature of the game. Unlike most titles in the genre, your presence in the environments is entirely incidental, meaning you've got complete freedom to tackle levels any way you like without the constant threat from a million enemies all genetically predisposed to shred you limb from limb.
That's not to say combat plays second fiddle - get on someone's bad side and you'll be locking and loading with the best of them. In the level we saw, your character gets caught in the middle of a blazing gun battle between the cops and a gang of street thugs. If you're going to make it through the environment, you'll need to bust some caps to clear the way. Obviously though, run screaming at either side with your weapon pulled and they'll turn their sights on you.
Talking of weapons, Condemned's deadly arsenal comes in two distinct flavours - the usual firearms like pistols and shotguns and a whole bunch of visceral melee weapons, including sledgehammers, crowbars and axes. Uniquely, all melee weapons are seamlessly integrated into the environment. If you spot something lethal looking, chances are, you can grab it and start dealing out some destruction - in the E3 demo, we managed to wrench the door off a nearby locker and use it to batter an oncoming enemy senseless.
You can also pull piping directly from the walls and wield it as a handy blackjack. We're told that these sorts of weapons are environment specific so, for example, during your reconnaissance of a nearby department store, you'll be able to pull the arms off mannequins and bitch slap your assailants silly.
If you can use something offensively though, your opponents can too and the game's AI is smart enough to spot lethal objects left lying around and enemies are indiscriminate in their use. You'll need your Taser if you're cornered with nothing to protect yourself - one quick zap and opponents fall to floor, letting you grab their arsenal for yourself. It's both a highly amusing and singularly effective strategy.
But interestingly Condemned is not all intense action and gunplay. Reflecting your character's time at the FBI, you've also got a number of forensic tools at your disposal - perfect for accumulating evidence and tracking down your serial killer prey. Whenever you enter an area with something suspicious nearby, the game lets you know and that's when your detection and collection tools come into play.
It's kind of like CSI: Wherever without the glossy people and designer clothes and your detection tools include stuff like the black light, which lets you search areas for matted hair, blood and the like. Locate something and you can whip out your sampler to collect the evidence and whisk it to your friends back at the lab. Sooner or later, they'll get back to you on the communications tool, with new info on your quest - all done in-game using voiceovers, which progresses the story nicely while keeping the action as immersive as possible.