When you speak of horror games, Condemned Criminal Origins usually makes the list. It's a psychological, survival game with a combat system that relies heavily on melee with only a smattering of gunplay. Getting this close to your antagonists makes for a lot of brutal and bloody encounters and most importantly, induces an atmosphere of constant tension.
You play as an FBI criminal profiler named Ethan Thomas who is investigating a serial killer tagged as the Match Maker. At a certain point in the game, you lose your gun, which is then used to wound you and kill two of your colleagues. From that point forward, you become implicit in these murders and a wanted man. To prove your innocence, the only way forward is to find the real killer. In this you are aided by a fellow FBI forensic investigator named Rosa and a stranger named Malcolm Vanhorn, who seems to be helping you for his own mysterious reasons. Thomas' particular ability is an uncanny talent for visualizing a crime scene and deciphering important information about the perpetrator. He also has a psychic link to the serial killer and experiences visions of the victims deaths.
Due to the melee mechanics, the game is fairly difficult on normal. Most combat is up close and personal and you need to master the timing of blocking to avoid taking damage. You also have a kick function that knocks enemies back. The AI can be pretty tricky and will feign attacks, ambush you, and even flee to look for better places to attack you. Enemies consist mainly of the homeless and vagrants that have mysteriously gone berserk and live in the condemned and derelict locations that make up most of the game. They will assault you and each other on sight, so that sometimes, if you hang back, the numbers can be culled amongst themselves. Once you have them down, you have a few moves you can use to finish them off.
Later in the game, Ethan will also encounter a new enemy called the Oro. They are members of a cult and come in two varieties, crawlers and dark watchers. These become the primary enemy in the sequel Condemned 2: Bloodshot.
Some of the AI carry guns, which you can then pick up after disposing of them, but ammo is only what is left in that gun, then it becomes useless. So, try to get your hands on one before the AI uses up all the bullets. You can only carry one weapon at a time, but later you will gain a taser gun that doesn't affect your carrying capacity. Other weapons consist of environmental articles such as pipes, two-by-fours, fire axes, crowbars and various other accoutrements, which are all used by the AI as well. Sometimes, if you need to break through a door or into a safe, you will need to find a particular item, such as a fire axe, to progress. Weapons stats vary slightly, but not by much. Generally, the more damage an item does, the slower it is so that heavy weapons are not really your best choice. You can also find health packs lying around, but nothing is in huge supply in this game.
Another gameplay element is to investigate crime scenes by gathering and analysing clues. While searching for the serial killer, Ethan will come across people the Match Maker has killed. You can conduct a crime scene investigation by using a scanner to locate forensic evidence. You can then record it and forward this information to Rosa who will analysis it and report back to you with the results, thus progressing the story. Later, you will actually physically meet up with her for a segment of the story.
Visually, Condemned Criminal Origins is not a pretty game. The condemned part of the title is literal as it has you traipsing through mostly condemned and derelict buildings. The environments are therefore pretty squalid and it's caught in the gaming era where character rendition is also pretty ugly. However, it makes up for this in atmosphere and its aura of constant tension. The downside, though, are floors that are littered with debris, which can slow movement to a crawl at times and make you feel like you're wearing lead boots. Traversing stairs is also a particularly painful experience and there are a lot of them.
The game is divided into chapters and at the end of each you get a stat summary. Collectibles in each segment include dead birds, which are related to why the citizens might be going beserk, and metal pieces, which are related to the Oro. Once the chapter is concluded, you will not be able to go back if you missed finding these. Birds are easier to find as they can be located by smell, but the metal pieces are particularly hard to find as they blend in with the environment or are hidden behind moveable objects such as pop machines. However, they are indicated by eyes drawn somewhere in the vicinity. In some levels, you can find a TV, which will earn you a badge. Also, be careful of going through doors within a chapter as some of these can lock behind you.
How horrifying you find this game is pretty subjective. It is tense and can be pretty disturbing in places. Personally, the worst for me was the department store filled with creepy mannequins, which I have a phobia about to begin with. Users have some complaints with the game that include repetition, slow movement, and story, but overall, it's fairly well received.