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15 February, 2015

4 Indie Developers Who Could Make Condemned 3

Spoiler Warning:

In this article we discuss the possibilities for Condemned 3. Naturally, we discuss crucial plot points from Condemned: Criminal Origins, and Condemned 2: Bloodshot that may be considered spoiler-ish.

This month, Jace Hall - the CEO of Condemned creator Monolith Productions - expressed his interest in leaving the future of the Condemned franchise in the hands of an interested indie developer. It's obviously a series the studio has no intention of continuing in-house, which is a damn shame as despite its relatively poor commercial success, it's a cult classic and rightly so. However, the idea of opening the door to an indie to continue it forward is mouth-watering, and it's certainly got us thinking. Which indie team would we like to see take the reigns of the gritty survival-horror series? Whether it’s a reboot, a mobile iteration or a direct sequel to the strange conclusion of Condemned 2: Bloodshot, here are Grab It’s top indie contenders to take control of the established franchise.

1. Frictional Games

I’m going to start this list off with what might be an obvious choice for some. Frictional Games has a list of established survival-horror games on Steam, including the point-and-click series, Penumbra, and what has become a genuine genre classic, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. With Amnesia, Frictional Games proved how utterly nerve-wracking a game could be when the power to fight back is taken away from you, and that the waiting game might just be the scariest game of all.

Since that title's release, we’ve seen many developers take this gameplay route - including blockbuster affairs such as Alien: Isolation - and grapple with the idea of hopelessness. In doing so, we've seen proof it can provide a compelling experience. Condemned featured a similar style. As any good survival-horror does, Condemned gave players a handful of limited resources to fight back the crazed aggressors that inhabited Metro City. If you were lucky enough to find a gun, the ranged weapon would only be as useful as the size of its clip, and after that, the fight would devolve into an opportunistic brawler. Leaving the player scrambling for the nearest blunt object with which to defend themselves.

Frictional Games are versed in making their players feel true desperation. But, that’s not the only comparable theme that tethers the Amnesia franchise to its console peer, Condemned. Condemned 2: Bloodshot played with the idea of alcoholism, and an atrophied mind that effected the player’s input. Main character, Ethan Thomas, spiralled into a booze-soaked nightmare after the events of the original, and this trait would ultimately affect the characters accuracy, and his credibility. Similar to the way fear and anxiety operated as a detriment to the player in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

With the mysterious project, SOMA, on its way to PC, MAC, Linux and PS4 soon, Condemned might be an ideal project for Frictional to move on to next. Whatever the case, I think the indie developer would be the safest bet in providing sleepless nights for players of the next Condemned game.

Speaking of experience in the field of jump-scares, and an unreliable narrator, this next developer helped found the wildly popular franchise that had you fleeing from manic splicers in an underwater dystopia.

2. Day For Night Games

For reasons that still escape me, Day For Night’s gorgeous project, The Black Glove, fell a whopping $300K short of its Kickstarter goal last year. Since then the studio - comprised of veterans from Irrational Games' BioShock series (grab it here) - has gone quiet on what’s next for them, or for The Black Glove. Whether or not The Black Glove will see the light of day, or the dark of night for that matter, is yet to be seen. But the Kickstarter page made it quite clear that a whole lot of time, money and love has already been poured into this project, so I can’t see the studio giving up on the title any time soon. Making the next Condemned could be just the stepping-stone Day For Night needs to prove themselves as an independent developer that is worthy of your attention.

While that sounds self-fulfilling, I still think Day For Night has the grit to take on the Condemned franchise. Do you remember the tense excitement of scrambling for ammo while running from a Big Daddy, or eavesdropping on the spine-chilling conversations between the citizens of Rapture? I do. I also remember, vividly, the first time I met a Houdini Splicer. I was bedridden with the flu; trembling hands and a pounding headache that stopped me from performing even the most relaxing tasks, such as playing games. My neighbour Sarah popped over to check up on me, and I asked her if she wanted to play BioShock while I watched from the safety of m bed.

About ten minutes in to our play session, Sarah came across a table while searching for some health. A light flickered from behind, and an antlered silhouette was cast against the wall in front of us. Sarah and I shared a worried glance before she tilted the joystick ever gently, turning the character dramatically. The Houdini Splicer appeared before abruptly vanishing and Sarah, as if she were actually face-to-face with the grotesque Rapture resident, tossed the controller forward and threw her hands up helplessly. We both howled out in unison, our screams of terror amplified by the other. We collected ourselves, and for a good minute my headache dissipated while my aching body was soothed, because my entire psyche was focused on piecing together what had just happened. 

Although Day For Night Games’ Joe Fielder has openly discussed his dismay for the dark and brutal, horror gaming scene, it’s undeniable that this team has a knack for designing an eerie and unsettling atmosphere.

In my personal opinion, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, jumped the shark a bit towards the end. Day For Night Games could bring the series back to Earth, creating a psychological horror that dabbles more with the unstable condition of the human mind and less with the supernatural. It may seem counter-intuitive for a developer who has only recently left a blockbuster franchise for a more personal endeavour to attach themselves to an established brand, but, Jace Hall has assured fans that who ever takes over the Condemned franchise will have unbridled control over development, and that Condemned 3 would be made “without inference or limitations.”

Hall also stated that it would make sense for a mobile developer to create a Condemned title for portable devices, while another developer focuses on Condemned 3. Which leads me to my third indie developer who should play a role in furthering the Condemned franchise.

3. Simogo

Whether it’s a mobile spin-off, or the official threequel to Condemned, I knew going into this article that the Swedish developer responsible for Beat Sneak Bandit and Device 6 would be a tough sell to fans – well, to console gamers at least. Because mobile gamers know that everything Simogo touches, from its earlier child-friendly fare like Bumpy Road, to their recent matured outings, like The Sailor’s Dream, turns to gold.

At its top layer, Condemned: Criminal Origins is about a detective investigating a serial killer who is killing serial killers; pretty interesting right? That’s long before we get into the outlandish, supernatural themes revolving around the clandestine organisation, “The Oro,” who are manipulating society through ultrasonic sound, and main character Ethan’s “perfectly tuned vocal chords” (see what I mean about jumping the shark).

With a mobile spin-off, Simogo could explore a different story set within the Condemned universe. One that embeds itself at the roots of the franchise’s story, except told from a different character’s point of view in another part of the world. Simogo’s unique brand of gamebook meets puzzle narrative would be the perfect carrier for a detective story. Imagine exploring the pages, swiping left to right looking for clues you may have missed, finding crime scene evidence that doesn’t align with a serial killer’s modus operandi, in order to progress forward to the next chapter. All accompanied by the same foreboding, "pop-up book" art style that helped define Year Walk as one of the best horror games available on the App Store. 

And even if we must endure a sequel that continues on from the convoluted ending of Bloodshot, Simogo would be capable of granting some depth to the shady organisation that wants to turn the citizens of Earth into homicidal maniacs. I absolutely loved Device 6 for two reasons, one, its crafty puzzles, and two, its mysterious narrative. It is a page-turner in the truest sense of the phrase. Beginning with little more than a name, Anna, and an image of a doll, Device 6 pulls you along, begging you to find out more about the castle, and eventually, the ominous group known as HAT. If whomever makes the next Condemned wants me to actually give a toss about The Oro, they need to do it with style and a dash of subtlety, something that Simogo has in spades.

To read more from Simogo, check out exclusive Making of Device 6 interview with the studio in Episode 1 of Grab It.

4. Sam Barlow

First up let me say, I am not ignorant enough to believe that one man could make the next Condemned game all on his lonesome. All I am asking is that Sam Barlow, the creator of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and interactive fiction classic, Aisle, has control of designing the narrative. Whether that is with the aid of his mother studio, Climax, or with another capable indie developer, including Sam Barlow on the team would be a sure-fire way of giving the next Condemned game the story it deserves.

I was one of the lucky few that got to play Silent Hill: Shattered Memories without the hindrance of clumsy motion controls. I first bought the game on PSP, and although the port received mixed reviews at the time, it still holds up as one of my most cherished UMD purchases. With Shattered Memories, Barlow took the storyline of the first Silent Hill and reimagined it from the ground up with a huge emphasis on the psychological side of psychological horror. If you didn’t catch it, part of the game was spent from a first person POV, answering an intrusive therapist’s questions on matters involving addiction, family, love etc. How you responded not only altered the story, but also morphed the landscape of Silent Hill. In addition to this entirely unique approach to storytelling in video games, Barlow also ditched combat (which was always shoddy anyway) for a more desperate sprint for survival.

The game’s finale, where the character begins to piece together the events leading up to the disappearance, was, in my opinion, one of the most poignant, and chilling moments in our medium's history. And its multiple conclusions ranged from bittersweet, to disturbing, to the outright bizarre (Silent Hill’s infamous dog/UFO variant ending was still present). What kind of person you, the player, saw yourself as was the catalyst defining what ending you arrived at, and I’ve not seen anything in the horror genre, or otherwise, quite like it since.

So, Sam Barlow is an amazing storyteller who is practiced in the art of survival-horror, yet that is not the only reason I believe he should be involved in the next Condemned - watch this trailer...

That ominous trailer is for Sam Barlow’s upcoming title, Her Story. The Steam Greenlit title places the player in the boots of an individual sitting at a police database terminal. Barlow states the main gameplay element as “listening,” in addition to searching for terms in the computer terminal to uncover contradictions to statements made by the interviewee - a suspect in her husband's murder. 

Condemned’s detective elements fell victim to the same tropes of Batman: Arkham Asylum, where the player is given some kind of fantastical technology that does all the work for the player. Solving puzzles in both the aforementioned games was often as difficult as pushing a single button. If the Condemned series were to stay true to its detective roots, Barlow (a fan of the detective genre) would be capable of creating a much deeper puzzle-solving challenge. I’m thinking along the lines of Condemned meets L.A Noire.

As gaming ages, players are getting harder and harder to scare. Last year’s demo for the next Silent Hill game proved that not only is internal conflict just as scary as a floating, decaying corpse, but that beloved franchises can be completely reinvigorated when put in the right hands. And just as Kojima’s work is inspired by his passion of film, Barlow’s art is influenced heavily by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and David Cronenberg. Barlow is a true auteur whose individual style is weaved masterfully throughout his work. His Condemned would be a big shift for the franchise, but one that it desperately needs if the series is to contend with the quality of alternatives in the modern survival-horror genre. 

Brodie Fogg

     - BioShock
     - Beat Sneak Bandit
     - Bumpy Road
     - Device 6
     - Year Walk
     - Episode 1 of Grab It
     - The Sailor's Dream
     - Aisle

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