“Take one rich Industrialist Dictator, add it to an alternate 20th Century America, throw in a few cowboy freedom fighters and what do you get? A Wild West themed steampunk extravaganza!”
Take one rich Industrialist Dictator and his PSI forces (Prescott Standard Industries), add this to an alternate 20th Century America, throw in a few cowboy freedom fighters and what do you get? A Wild West themed steampunk extravaganza! Damnation is a rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ game which severely lacks any stereotypical gun slinging buckaroos (yeehaw!), but which makes up for this with it’s wonderfully detailed steam-powered foundations.
You play Captain Hamilton Rourke, the epitome of the brooding protagonist. He is a man of many talents – A veteran of a civil war that tore his country apart, a member of a guerilla army (the Peacekeepers), who are fighting against the big bad industrialist I mentioned earlier and also a sweet, loving man who is hunting for his missing fiancé (d’aww!).
Alongside Rourke is a number of misfits who each have their own story to tell. These include a feisty and well-endowed Native woman, an old Professor with an estranged daughter, a braggart Mexican and another Native with some serious tattoos.
So what does “steampunk” actually mean for this game? Throughout the entirety of Damnation you will come across steam powered tanks, trains, motorbikes and aircraft. Oh, and a lot of the enemies you will face are also steam-powered. One of the most impressive aspects of this game is the way the developers integrated the steam power into the game’s weaponry. I personally get a kick of how shiny the your arsenal looks.
But you only have to look at Rourke below to see how awesome steam-powered guns can be.
My first thoughts upon putting this game into my Xbox 360 were “Holy crap, this is Gears of War gone old-school Western!” and I don’t doubt for a moment that I am not the only person who had that thought. The title screen, the pause screen and even the god-damn font seems to have been nabbed from Gears. Now I realise that Damnation started it’s like as a UT4 mod, but I didn’t realise it meant there would be so many serious similarities. Like Gears you have a single player mode, a co-op mode (you can host/join) and a multiplayer mode too.
Damnation is played in the 3rd person and has the same shoot-over-shoulder system that worked so well in Gears. You are able to hold three weapons at any time and my first problem with this system is when swapping weapons mid-battle. It is extremely delayed when in combat and I find myself having to retreat to cover because my primary is out of ammo and my secondary refuses to come out to play. Thankfully you can duck, dive, jump, leap and climb things to get out of the way of bullets. If you really wanted to be careful and know your options beforehand in case your weapons decide not to swap out, then you can use a “power” that you inherit pretty quickly in the game from the local seer. This “power” allows you to view enemies through walls so you can prepare yourself instead of running in blindly and getting completely owned in the face. It is also a useful skill to have around when your team mates have been downed so you can revive them from ANY location on the map without having to risk your own life to rescue them.
The environment is one of the biggest aspects in this game and also one of the biggest hurdles. There are a variety of places to get intimately involved with which range from industrial towns to underground mines. Each of these require you to scale buildings and walls to find alternate routes to your destination because a bridge has been blown out or someone didn’t think that building a pathway to navigate a working mine would be the smart thing to do instead of relying on a few planks of wood nailed into the wall.
The one thing I really like about these vast settings is that you have multiple paths to choose from to get from Point A to Point B. This means that you have a real freedom about how you want to take on hostile troops. There is no mini-map to work with so it really is all about scouting and using your noggin’ a little. My gameplay style is all about stealth, so I would whip out my sniper rifle or steam-powered rail gun (yes this weapon is as awesome as it sounds), get on top of the nearest building and begin taking heads off of shoulders. My co-op partner had other ideas and would head straight into a wall of enemy troops. It did make for a fun race to see who would get to the other side first. Like the tortoise and the hare, slow ‘n steady wins the race and conserves ammo the best.
There was a very serious issue in the co-op aspect of the game that me and my co-op partner both had when it came to running around to achieve our objectives. The camera. Now this works relatively well in single-player as you have a whole screen to work with, but when in split-screen you find the camera not behaving as nicely as it should. It actually makes you feel rather claustrophobic at points and I really had trouble with my camera wanting to focus in on the back of my head more times than I could count.
I am, however, extremely grateful for the co-op option for one reason and one reason only – The fact that Blue Omega’s team must have been seriously sleep deprived when they constructed the AI in Damnation. I have literally screamed at my team mates to fall the hell back because they are in direct line of fire of a turret. Literally standing stock still in a wave of bullets. Not even with a weapon out! Alas, my screams tend to go unheard (mainly because the technology has yet to be invented for this) and I spend a lot of my time resurrecting retarded AI, which is why the seer power I mentioned earlier is pretty damn useful. But to summarise, you are surrounded by idiots, fighting against idiots and praying for salvation or a bullet to your head.
Now if sitting ducks weren’t bad enough then you are really going to dislike team mates who decide to disappear randomly. Now I hate sounding like a broken record, but the AI really is one of Damnation’s biggest, if not the biggest, let downs. As I spoke about previously, there is no mini-map for this game and it’s maze of environments. I can only guess that they tried to help you out a little by having the friendly AI run ahead so you can follow them. It’s a shame that this fails so horribly. As you run around exploring, your team mates follow you. When you hit certain parts of a map, your buddies then decide to run ahead of you as you are busy in combat or trying to work out where you need to go next. It’s quite annoying as one of them tends to shout out “I got your back, you go up ahead!” quite a bit, but then proceeds to sod off somewhere without you.
Unfortunately it is only the gameplay factors of Damnation that you can really compare to the Gears of War. The graphics really do not match up at all and it is a very serious let down for this game as a lot of people do like their eye candy. Yes, the maps are huge, but everything just feels very flat and empty, despite the completely packed settings. Damnation just lacks the jaw-dropping scenery that even a war-torn world of Gears could easily provide in it’s sleep.
To seal Damnation‘s fate of a failure on the graphics level is Yakecan’s insane cleavage and underboob-inducing top/shirt/whateverthefuckthatis. As a woman I can’t help but wonder what kind of imaginary human did they base her character on. I get the feeling some porn was involved in the character development, but you don’t have to be a genius to work that out.
At least her goggles are pretty funky.
If the graphics were bad, than the audio is even worse. The voice acting is so stale it’s actually quite amusing. There are no emotions coming from these characters whatsoever and it really made the general storyline just feel so flat. Here is a guy who is looking for his loved one and he really sounds like he couldn’t give a flying hoot about her whereabouts. I do honestly wonder where game developers hire their voice actors from because even I could do a much better job than these folk.
The only redeeming factor about Damnation’s audio is the heavy metal tunes they use during cut-scenes. I’m a fan of that genre so I can’t help but wiggle my toes at a wailing guitar. This is all about personal opinion though and there are probably people who cringe at the thought of this. I don’t blame you, it’s the same song repeatedly.
Overall Score & Replayability
Damnation is a game that is trying so hard to be something else, but failing miserably in the process. I really don’t like the idea that I just played a very badly constructed Gears knock-off, but I can’t help but feel that way. There are few things I do enjoy about this game and it is definitely playable if you ignore the shitty AI. The environments are fun to explore and the unique steampunk setting does have some interest to it. However, the storyline lacks any real oomph, you wont be saddened by the death of any character (unlike the Carmine duo, sob!) and you certainly wont be blown away by the graphics.
This will be a game you play through once, possibly play through again with a friend for co-op achievements, sit on multiplayer for about an hour or so and then promptly trade in or throw to the back of a closet.