Condemned: Criminal Origins is in my opinion the better of the two condemned games, and the best game to come out at launch. Yes it had bugs, and yes it had things that needed to be improved upon, which happened with Comdemned 2: Bloodshot. Even if you've played Condemned 2 and think it Criminal Origins would be a step back, you should play the first game because, though it doesn't have as many features, it offers a better playing experience.
To save some people some time, I'll start off by saying this game is not in the least bit family friendly. If gore bothers you, this game would not be a good idea to play.
From the beginning the game sets itself up as a particularly violent horror game, bordering on the sadistic at times, which gives the tone for the entire game. What really sets Criminal Origins apart from Bloodshot is its far more visceral feel. While the game does dip into the supernatural near the end, the majority of the game takes place mostly in reality with the occasional psychotic episode. To me, this is what made the game great.
You play as Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent tracking a serial killer refered to as SKX(Serial killer X). The game has a pretty good mystery arch, which won't leave you guessing but it will leave you wanting to know what happens next. It's much like listening to a great story that you can see where it's going, but you just love to hear the next part anyway. The game does a good job of drawing the player in. It offers several varied locations all of which are drenched in a dark ambience that help to keep the experience nerve-wracking. A feeling of wariness is felt throughout the entire game. You'll find yourself at times being hesistant to go around a corner, or checking behind you just to make sure. The lighting can be a bit of an issue as the game is extremely dark. I'm not a big fan of straining to see so I turned up the brightness a little, and everything worked far better for me. The game's enviornment and atmosphere are its big winners, along with an interesting story arch.
The technical side of the game is far less impressive. The graphics are sub-par, and though I didn't buy a 360 until well after a year of its release I'm pretty sure they would have been sub-par at release. The combat is clunky. Hand to hand combat, the big selling point of the game, can be fun for a while but isn't implemented that well. It does make sense that you can't do anything terribly amazing while wielding a piece of rebar, but simply bashing heads can only go so far to maintain interest. The gun combat is even worse. You never carry extra ammo on you, so you're always limited by that. It doesn't make much sense limiting you at all times to the ammo in your gun, but that's how the game works. You do get a tazer which can be very useful to stun enemies for an easy melee kill, which more often than not replaces your side arm in terms of what you jump to first.
The sound is the game's best technical aspect. There combat effects can sound grusome, and the voice acting is mostly well done. Being the game's best technical aspect doesn't mean that it's great, just that it's about at par for what you'd expect.
The game's replay value is poor. The main thing that sucks you in is the story, and once that is wrapped up the combat is not something you'll come back for time and time again. It definitely makes a better rental because one play through will take you a good 10-20 hours, but that's about all the play time most people will get from this.
Condemned: Criminal Origins, is in my opinion a better game than Bloodshot. While it offers a less refined and clunkier experience than Bloodshot, Criminal Origins offers an experience that is better. It may be older, uglier and more awkward, but at the end of the day an experience that sucks you in is still an experience that sucks you in....unless you don't like gore. Then it'd probably be an experience that makes you retch.