As stiff as dried papier-mâché
Steam punk… What a ridiculous concept. Futuristic technology in a dated society is no new ordeal in the media world, but it only seems that with it your product is almost certainly destined for the kiss of death. Let's face it now, there are only a handful of steam punk related products that have actually been any good and simply put, to me, it doesn't quite have the same fascinating subtext as its proper neo sibling, cyber punk.
So needless to say, because of this, my own initial impressions of Damnation are poor. As it turns out, Damnation itself is poor. Though despite the hate for steam punk, Damnation's failings are something that were not in vain as past it's problem there is an entertaining action-adventure game to be experienced, with closer attention to exploration elements than other counter-parts it might be compared to. The story of Damnation echoes as an "what if?" scenario to the American Civil war of the mid nineteenth century. Abe Lincon's administration has collapsed and the now lawless American states are split between rebel forces and the imperial PSI forces that dominate thanks to their gene enhancing serum. As Rourke, Damnation's equivalent of Marcus Fenix, you reply to a distress call from Terra Verte – one of the remaining neutral governments in America Yet as the events proceed you eventually find yourself deeper into the conflict as the tides of war change involving the usual twists, plot development devices and diversion pieces.
It goes without saying that Damnation has a rather silly approach to its universe that might often at times not be taken seriously. It is a throwback to the old children's cartoons of the eighties in a lot of ways but Damnation tries to pull off a more mature, disturbing look to it's appeal – again lifted from Gears of War. It doesn't work. The campaign can be played entirely from the get-go alone but it is optional to go it about co-op through net play and on Xbox 360 and PS3 via splitscreen additionally. The first few moments of Damnation can be disorientating as the controls are a little awkward borrowing a number of platform mechanics from the Lara Croft games but using the same aiming and lining up shot mechanics as IO Interactive's Hitman series. This would seem rather odd because clicking A as an action button like you regularly would instead has Rourke do a rather hilarious moon jump of some sort. It can create some bizarre situations, as when you're neck deep in a firefight looking for some easy way to escape fire, the jump button certainly proves no assailant in your bid to survive.
The levels of Damnation play like a rather unique hybrid between shooting galleries and platforming designs and this probably doesn't work in the action-adventure's favour either. There is often a use of towering structures that you have to think about climbing more laterally and general problem solving that has you going from site A to B, but inbetween it are some gormless goons from C. And gormless they are because the AI of Damnation is simply baffling.
It is forgivable that when playing solo that your co-operative buddy isn't the brightest spark, they will often be seen charging into the firefight and getting killed in a matter of moments. The problem is persistent in many other co-op shooters including the AAA Halo games. Yet Damnation doesn't compensate this, not with a solid enemy AI atleast anyway. It would seem that Blue Omega was almost completely blind to any sort of tactical input into the approach of developing their bad guys and that really sucks. None of them work as a team, take cover or retreat like they should near death and in Damnation it is notable that the bigger the enemy, the bigger the dumbass they become. In some instances it is possible to literally stand a couple of metres away from your foe, while they continue to remain oblivious to your intentions no less, until you hail several days worth of lead down their throats.
That is without feeling the discontent of the guns themselves. One of the most important things about a shooter is whether or not the weapons you use are fun to play with or not. In Damnation, none of the weapons feel right. Rather than go through the whole list, I think I'll only note the three most bothersome points. Firstly the machine gun: It lacks any sort of recoil, any sort of accuracy and doesn't at all resemble the automatic rifle or sub-machine gun hybrid that it is meant to represent. I will agree that this is steam punk weaponry and therefore able to make creative liberties with such naturally futuristic designs but it would have been much preferable to have an SMG and Automatic rifle as separate weapons rather than combined awfulness. You see, the machine gun is the single most replenishable weapon, and from beginning to end it is the thing you'll most often be seeing – and only in its initial derivative form might I add.
Secondly on my annoyance list is the Revolver. Most commonly, this hefty pistol is supposed to be one of the most powerful guns being a rarity for it's sharp accuracy and arm dislocating recoil. Despite this, the revolver is not only one of the more common, yet higher tier pistols, but lacks any extra punch over the standard assortment. Someone might play the excuse that this is a Wild West setting, everyone has some form of a colt and making a pistol like it so overwhelming would kill the game. I say Blue Omega should have taken those liberties with the Steam Punk theme like they did with the machine gun and left the revolver as it is in the place of something else. Jerks.
Lastly, lets not forget the Automan gun. This super heavy weapon is found after only killing these robotic giants following the third arc of the story and quite frankly poses no worth. Why? Because when you find it often there is nothing else to use the gun on and besides that it is the least versatile weapon in the game and cannot be stored for later use. This problem might not have been such a bother had Blue Omega not decided to shove the weapon over and over in Rourke's face, but needless to say, pointless.
Combined, these elements of play make Damnation somewhat of repetitive action adventure, so much so that only an hour's worth of play can feel like a day's worth of torture. I will say Damnation isn't really terrible but it doesn't do a sexy job of being different either. The presentation and prowess of Damnation's visual design is underwhelming. The characters lack any sort of facial expression and move as stiff as dried papier-mâché both physically and psychologically. It is all forgettable at best. Despite the odd scantly clad lady or two, it doesn't succeed in sex appeal either, that is Damnation right there alright. But on the fipside, the game is easy to run on modern computers these days so it has its payoff.
What saddens me about Damnation is that it is a game that definitely had potential. For all its worth it can be imagined that Blue Omega probably had something completely different on their mind while they were making their game, maybe the development time was put on restraint or they fell victim to the Gears grey, dystopian factor like Timeshift did. Omega Blue caved in all of their creative designs in order to succeed commercially. Ironically we all know now that this plan didn't work. Shortly after their muck up with Damnation the company was forced to disband and became the only interactive release by them furthermore. I'd like to say this is worthy of a curiosity play but Damnation is impossible to recommend, for a rental or otherwise. Ignore and save yourself from this bitter pill.