It’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t in this, an un-finished mess of a game from Blue Omega. Imagine, if you will that the Prince of Persia decided to get with Lara Croft but they did it during civil-war era America in the middle of a pseudo-futuristic alternative history. The result of that ill-conceived idea- is this game. It’s as if the developers, Blue Omega decided to take all the ‘best’ bits of all the ‘best’ games but never managed to mix them together, let alone finish it off. Game textures are woeful with AI so blind you can ignore it all altogether. Which leaves the player; with this: a maze of level design that can only be directly related to both the tomb raider and the Prince of Persia respectively.
Surprisingly, for a game that initially looks like a third person shooter with all the trappings of a Gears of War rip off; you quickly relies this is in fact a third person platformer with levels built in such a convoluted maze of ledges and ladders that you have to be jazz jackrabbit just to reach them. Personally I’m a big fan of platforming games especially the formerly mentioned Prince and Tomb Raider but the story and the mechanics for shooting simply don’t justify why you have to jump and swing and climb you way to the next section.
You play as Hamilton Rouke a ‘vetran of a devastating war that tore the country apart.’ You go through the game attempting to thwart an evil industrialist that’s taking over the world with steam punk weapons and a drug called PSI which makes an injected person, you guessed it- a super soldier. According to the games booklet though, PSI stands for Prescot Standard Industries, which doesn’t make any sense when they keep saying people have been injected with “PSI”. Many things in this game don’t make sense. The term ‘steam punk’ can be bandied around, but Damnation is more a case of cowboys and magical Indians with gameplay at odds with its own design.
Point in case: early on the game prompts you to take cover. Post Gears of War you could expect that one could actually take cover somehow, in the game. There sure is enough walls and broken buildings around; but alas, the game has no cover mechanic save for a crouch button. Once in said crouch position, you can roll around and try to hit someone with the variety of guns littering the level. Even selecting a gun with the DPAD gives no indication as to which one you just picked as there is no character animation until you hold the left trigger and the right gun magically appears. After a while you realize that enemies are not even worth shooting and it’s simply easier to try and make you way through the maze of platforms to get to the next cut scene. Enemies will return fire but immobile until you run up and shoot them in the face. There are so many features seeming borrowed from Gear of War, including the HUD, reviving downed team-mates and the de-saturation of color that signals death- that you could be forgiven for thinking that you are actually playing a good game. Even death is arbitrary though when the first thing I did in the game is jump off a cliff, only to find that you re-spawn in a spark of blue energy.
Damnation does include both co-op and multiplayer options with industry staples such as Deathmatch and King of the Hill, but as of review no one was game enough to still even play these three months on. Your stereotyped teams mates in the game- pop in and out if you get too far ahead and for someone who is supposed to be the leader, you get reduced to patsy, ordered about and told what to do and when to jump. For a story which justifies ‘you can’t blow up that door even though we have explosives, because we want to save them for later’, even the graphics hate this game.
There is not actually much to say, except that it looks like whomever was using the Unreal Engine chewed it up and spat it back out again, all over the sky.
The levels are essentially set pieces: set atop cliff ledges floating in a murky soup of what one can only assume is someone’s artwork. Character models are only just passable but if you look out toward the horizon you are met with a blurred smear of green brown and blue, sometimes with water below. It’s baffling that Codemasters published this alongside excellent games like Overlord 2 as even the weapons in the game smell of a release well before it’s due. All around the levels weapons are littered but sans textures, instead bright white, in case you miss them. In fact anything that actually requires interaction is white, looking more like placeholder textures than actual materials. The main characters are modeled and animated, but the overall level design looks like a bad Tomb Raider game from ten years ago. The enemies are faceless drones, perhaps mechanical, not that anyone cares. There is a rudimentary ‘vision mode’ that makes allies blue and enemies a blobby red but again, its tactically useless as you can’t move while using it leaving you open to being shot.
The menus and HUD and interface are exactly the same as Gears of War if Gears of War was set during the industrial revolution and released, to an unassuming public; much less bigger, and much less bad-ass.
If there was not a whole lot to say about the graphics, there’s even less to say about the forgettable music and dialogue in the game. All the dialogue sounds phoned in and at times is completely arbitrary with responses being yelled or screamed for no particular reason. There is, as you progress, a voice over in the background droning on about the ‘new America’ and ‘the rights of the worker’ in most levels, but unlike Half Life Two where the messages were addressing a particular audience, with a purpose, these ‘announcements’ seem only to break up the monotony of an otherwise boring game. Further it doesn’t help that the graphics are such you can’t actually see where the voice is coming from.
Damnation was doomed from the start, but for a game that purports to borrow so much from Gears of War, there is no accompanying epic soundtrack or ‘theme’ and because the gameplay is such that each level becomes a rush of trying to trying to avoid the enemy, some better music to break up the monotony wouldn’t have gone astray.
There is no redeeming value in this game as even the resale would warrant a less than average cash-back. Blue Omega have taken a truly curious mix of western and mechanical themes and ground them into the dust. Although it can be said that the company disbanded soon after and there is no one left to blame; even the ad-hock driving sections with motorbikes provide little relief.
Try it if you must for the co-op then move on to more competent releases such as Call of Juez or Gears.
Not too many games attempt the lofty annals of a pseudo futuristic, civil war western, third-person action-adventure platformer and sadly, after Damnation, they never will. You are damned if you like shooters but are stuck with an overly complicated maze of ledges and damned further still if you like jumping but get grounded with the buggy no-cover shooting mechanics.
In the end, the troubled relationship between developers Blue Omega and publisher Codemasters, in which the ‘entire development team was laid off’, only goes so far in making up for this overpriced failure.
Damnation should be hung, drawn and quartered as the developers have risen off into the sunset, never looking back.
AAG Score: 3.5/10
1. Possible steam-punk themes
3. Vertical wall jumping
1. The graphics
2. The gameplay
3. The sound
Reviewed and Written by Ian Crane