Condemned: Criminal Origins is a grim crime thriller that lets you play the role of a detective and investigate the murder of a young woman. The game features a dark and paranoid atmosphere with some disturbing imagery. The player controls the protagonist, an FBI agent Ethan Thomas, who was summoned to a crime scene in an abandoned building. His job is to collect the evidence, such as fingerprints and fluids, and send it to the FBI forensic laboratory to find clues to the mystery. Thomas will use the information he gathered to solve puzzles and access new territories of the fictional Metro City. His goal is to track down the murderer who is likely a famous serial killer. The job proves to be dangerous, as Thomas has to visit some of the darker places in the town and fight thugs and psychos, while the main villain seems to keep an eye on him.
The combat system in Condemned: Criminal Origins is more realistic than in most first-person shooters. Here, firearms are able to kill people in one hit, however, they are seldom used, and the ammunition is very scarce. Ethan Thomas mostly uses improvised weapons, like shovels, wrenches and even a mannequin arm. Melee weapons also allow you to block enemy hits, and mastering timely blocks is essential to avoid being killed.