I'll be damned...
There's a saying, damned if you do and damned if you don't. I've looked at the various reviews of Damnation on various platforms from our gaming peers and I've come to a conclusion that Damnation is a game that falls into that category. It's a third person shooter that adds in vertical combat and some free-running style navigation wrapped up in a Steampunk inspired Wild West setting.
Damnation's story is a fairly generic one. The bad guy, Prescott Standard Industries has taken over, setting themselves up as the defacto rulership and making a play to take over fully. You're cast in the role of Hamilton Rourke and along with a couple of sidekicks you can bring justice to the varmints that have done the people wrong. Along the way there's betrayal and the typical heroes journey. The story is delivered using the in-game engine and some cinematics, it's not bad, it's not stunning...but it's not terrible.
Damnation's controls are twitchy, which is a bad thing when you've got a game with such scope as this. There's no direct cover system but you can duck behind walls and behind things to stop the myriad of enemies from turning you into swiss cheese with their weapons and you do have a regenerating health state, as is prevalent in games these days. There's the usual mix of aiming and zooming in with a variety of Steampunky weapons. The main problem is that whilst the enemies can put a few holes in you rather quickly dropping you to near dangerous health levels, it takes a bucket of bullets to stagger one and the kick/accuracy of the weapons may force casual gamers to give up in frustration.
Once you get the hang of the twitchy aiming and movement controls, you now have to apply them to Assassin's Creed, PoP and Tomb Raider style free-running/parkour style navigation. Rourke can climb the environment quite well and whilst there are multiple routes in the games massive levels you can for the most part go gung-ho to the current area, often shown by a brief panning cut-scene to let you know where you have to get to. This kind of freedom is a plus point in the game and it's one of the games actual highlights. It doesn't force you down a particular path very often.
For the most part the parkour style navigation is solid and it's fairly easy to get to grips with, there are ropes to shimmy across and a bunch of other environmental objects you can use, zip lines, ladders, ropes and even the odd route you might not have thought possible.
For the most part you'll be tagging along with a few AI buddies, who can get knocked to a down but not out state, forcing you to abandon your fight and backtrack to help them back up. They can use the environment just like you and navigate any of the tricky jumps and free-running areas with ease. You can hang onto ledges and ropes whilst you shoot, slide down zip lines and so on, shooting, this little addition changes up the tactics in combat and does help to enliven the game's combat.
You also get some vehicle sections that have twitchy handling and some pretty nice death defying stunts. For these parts your AI buddies will climb aboard the vehicle and provide covering fire as well.
Later on you'll get access to Spirit Vision, where you can stop and briefly view the positions of enemies in the environment. This is a useful tool for playing cooperatively with a friend (covered later) and eventually allows you to bring a friend back into the game if they've been taken down just by looking in their direction and pressing a button. A very useful cooperative move if you work in tandem and one of you becomes like a party healer.
The problem is that Damnation gameplay wise doesn't really feel all that fresh, we've seen a lot of third person shooters and the ridiculously long time it takes to take down an enemy only adds to the frustration factor. You don't feel like a wall climbing, shotgun toting Wild West Steampunk badass when it takes an act of the Gods to bring down a measly guard. You'll also find that the AI has an uncanny habit of knowing you're about to snipe them from a mile away. The weapons look nice; they don't however seem to have much in the way of power and are pretty vanilla like the: pistol, explosive thing, machine gun thing, sniper rifle thing and so on. There's a railway spike gun, which was quite fun and had about as much power as a sneeze from a gnat though.
The game suffers from characters catching on scenery objects and the odd glitch where you can fall through the world and die.
The graphics in Damnation are a mixed bag, there are some nice textures and some interesting themed designs...the main problem again is that the game lacks polish. There are some very irritating issues involving texture tearing and ripping for instance and whilst they're not game breakers per-se, they are a little jarring. The game has some nice light/shadow effects and overall it's average in the graphics department. The frame rate doesn't chug for the most part either.
The environments feel a little static and stale too, whilst the maps and levels are massive there's very little to do in them except shoot a few bad guys, climb around and rinse/repeat for the early game. Things do get interesting later on and fans of Tomb Raider will like the climbing/free-running no doubt. I was impressed by the sheer scale and since I persevered with the game I began to enjoy it a lot more, especially in terms of scaling to the highest point I could find in the level and raining down sneaky shots from above. The level design is the best thing in Damnation.
Animations are passable, they're not exactly top notch at times and there are some times when the enemy animations seem to freeze or in one case fail to line up with the action they're doing. A reload in this case, seemed to indicate that the enemy had actually managed to tape an invisible weapon to the side of their previous gun. For the most part though they look decent and work well. Cut-scene animations are not bad and there's a good range of emotion to the characters for the most part, some of the scenes do appear a little stiff.
There aren't really many physics based things in the game. You have the typical ragdoll effects and so on, that's about it. Explosions toss people into the air and if you're lucky to score a good shot with a supposedly powerful weapon, well, the enemy might flop for you.
A mixed bag again, the AI is decent enough for the most part. It can navigate any place in the environment but sometimes stops to run up against a wall for a few minutes or gets caught on the scenery - it's a shame since having an enemy that can flank you by unexpected methods is a great touch. Both enemies and allies can suffer this problem and even then with an enemy expect to spend a few rounds of ammo denting their awesome armour. The AI is good though unless it's on your side, then it's pretty inaccurate and gets hurt a lot.
Damnation has a fairly decent sound library. The guns though, again, because they are Steampunk all have this rattle and hissy quality. It's not a bad thing, it could be a little more pronounced with some of the bigger weapons but isn't a game breaker at all. The game's sound is nothing awesome to write home about but still a good quality. There could have been some more ambient life to the various levels but they did a nice job on some of the later ones.
I quite like the music in Damnation; it has the right mix of ambient and driven themes with Steampunky undertones.
There are some good voice actors in Damnation, the voice acting in general isn't too bad and it doesn't grate (most of the time). There are a few lack-lustre performances and some badly delivered lines. If this kind of thing doesn't bother you though, you should have no problem with it. The script is solid for the most part but it does have some slightly clichéd dialogue - only to be expected with a Steampunk Wild West game really.
Damnation's multiplayer often suffers from drop outs, lag and a few other issues that need resolving with a patch. There are times it lags and you discover that you mistimed a jump or totally failed to connect with a hanging ladder. This is critical for a game that tends to rely on vertical combat. There are a few modes that are of interest as well, Damnations take on King of the Hill in a map called Shaft is a nice and bold move. There are multiple routes to the top of the map and you have to hold the hill (platform) over the abyssal depths below, one wrong move can send you falling down into the darkness. Spirit Vision lets you see your opponents and where they are, allowing you to pick off campers and deal with snipers at your leisure. Being able to hang off ledges and sneak around also adds to the tactical variation in mp. Sadly through, most people I met online just wanted to deathmatch and blast things leaving the unique style of gameplay very much underused by all but the most stalwart tactical player.
One nice feature of the game is the inclusion of online and offline cooperative story play, where you and a buddy can go through the whole campaign as Rourke and a sidekick. It's nice to see the developers supporting that style of game, so they get a few good marks from me since I love co-op gaming. Kudos to them.
Damnation could have been a pretty good contender a year or so ago, however, with the newest game engines, prettier graphics of other games and the fact that Vertical Combat isn't exactly a new thing since the Tomb Raider games evolved and we've seen a lot of true VC in CAPCOM's Dark Void videos. Damnation deserves kudos for trying a hard genre, a hard game style and attempting to add a fresh new coat of paint to an old painting.
It just doesn't quite work...a case of too little and definitely too late. It is a fun (at times) and quirky game though that's worth persevering with, despite the bugs.