Should Damnation be damned or raised to the heavens?
Every once in a while, a game comes along that completely blows your expectations wide open. Moseying on into town, Stetson angled down over its eyes, Damnation is one of those very games. But for all the wrong reasons.
Damnation actually looked like it might be good, and as such we expected it to be good. And why not? Codemasters have a pretty good track record when it comes to quality games and word was that this was to be a steampunk Western-themed shooter, with the acrobatic elements from Prince of Persia chucked in for good measure. Sounds quite promising, right? Well, yes. But you’d be dead wrong. While Damnation is indeed a steampunk Western-themed shooter with some PoP style platforming, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Static screenshots really don’t do justice to just how bad the game looks.
Seriously, don’t be fooled. It never gets this exciting.
Telling the complete and utter gobbledygook story of Hamilton Rourke, who leads a ragtag band of rebels fighting against the malevolent Lord Prescott and the PSI, an army of serum enhanced miners on a mad rampage. Along the way Rourke is trying to find his missus through some ancient Native American mysticism and the aid of some truly inept AI partners. The story isn’t actually worth following as it’s conveyed in such a roughshod, amateurish way that it will stretch your attention span to the very limit. Badly animated and lip-synced cut scenes with hokey dialogue and seriously lacklustre voice acting test your patience further, which means that engaging with the narrative is nigh-on impossible. Beneath the horrible presentation – deep, deep down beneath – is a pretty decent concept, but the game itself is just so damn dreadful to play, that’s it’s not worth the effort to find it.
Graphically, Damnation is ugly and generic, sporting dodgy PS2 standard visuals, with rough textures, bland characters models and glitches all over the shop. The animation is laughably stilted and floaty with some of the climbing particularly mirthsome as Rourke’s legs dangle lifeless presumably because the animators couldn’t be bothered to work on them. Granted, Damnation started life as an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod, but when the final full-priced product is this shoddy, there’s really no excuse for such poor quality.
More damagingly, the shooting mechanic itself is broken. Aiming and firing feels inaccurate, with very little in the way of feedback when you hit an enemy. Weapons have very little heft or weight to them and the lack of a cover system leaves you exposed like a sitting duck at times. The climbing and acrobatic elements of the game fare a little better and the verticality of some of the levels is fairly impressive, although Prince of Persia does a far better job than what you’re presented with here. Rourke can vault from walls, shimmy along ledges, flip over walls and swing like a chimp, but the animation (yes, again with the animation) is so ropey that it renders the entire activity a joke. There are some nice touches like having to hold R1 before you leap across a gap, which makes annoying deaths a rarity. And when they do occur, you’re immediately respawned right where you left off, which keeps the frustration to a minimum.
The unintentional laughs keep on coming when your idiotic AI buddies get themselves incapacitated and start calling out for help, with the same line of dialogue on a constant loop. Thankfully, once you gain the Spirit Vision ability, you can revive your comrades from anywhere you like, and see enemies through walls. Speaking of which, the patchy enemy AI varies from the just plain dumb to the ridiculous one-hit kill crackshots that’ll blast you into pixellated chunks when you’re least expecting it, so Spirit Vision is an essential asset. Still, iffy collision detection, bad guys glitching into and out of existence and the incongruity of the flat-textured enemy character models against the grainy backdrops rounds out the numerous ineptitudes and shortcomings this game has, making for a truly abhorrent piece of shovelware.
And yet, you can’t help but feel that this could have been a pretty decent game based upon its premise. Had the overall execution been up to scratch, you’d relish the challenges that the game sets you amid the massive vertiginous levels, constructed from rusty metal, decaying masonry and steam-driven gears and pistons. Instead, when the camera pans around the vast stages, where you’d normally gasp in awe, you sigh in exasperation at the prospect of more rubbish ahead. Even the bike sections feel slow and sketchy, the wall-riding gimmick making for some disorientating moments that almost threaten to be interesting, but end up feeling underdeveloped and dull.
The bike sections largely consist of holding down the accelerator and boosting over gaps. Pretty standard stuff really.
The characters don’t look too terrible in cut scenes. In-game, they’re flat and vacant.
It’s a shame really, because Damnation is as complete a package as any game currently available. There’re online versus and co-op modes, splitscreen and an array of unlockables to hunt down, but all of it is utterly futile and presented in the most banal and uninspired way imaginable.
In closing, Damnation promises so much but delivers so little that it’s barely worth playing. Switch off your brain completely and it’s almost bearable for half an hour at a generous push, but you’ll be too distracted by pop-in, slowdown, clipping and other inexplicably bad technical issues to really enjoy the experience. If by some bizarre fluke this gets a sequel – and on the basis of this hideous tripe, it really doesn’t deserve one – we strongly urge developer Blue Omega to spend some serious time tightening up the core mechanics of the game and scrubbing the visuals up to the standards we expect from our games these days. In fact, scratch that. We strongly urge the developer to tear down their mechanics and start from the beginning. This doesn’t look anywhere near how a game built using the Unreal Engine 3 should look. The concept may be solid, but Damnation should be cast into a fiery pit for all eternity. Damnation? Abomination would be more apt. Avoid.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Successfully traversing a massive level after overcoming the urge to switch the game off.