Hands-on: Damnation

icon_previewWelcome ladies, gentlemen and trolls to another edition of the IVG Preview. Today, we’re going to show you something that’s a refreshing concept, great to look at, but unfortunately not too good to play. So much so, that I could just end my preview here because all you lazy people would do is scroll to the final verdict and conclusion anyway. However our brave leader HundredSpoofScam would have my head surgically removed from the rest of my body leading to my Damnation, which is ironically, the name of the game on preview today. Goodness, gracious me, what were the odds?

Set in an alternate universe, where the American Civil War left both warring sides decimated, it’s left to a small group of rebels to fight off Prescott Standard Industries (PSI), led by a wealthy industrialist, who wants to conquer the land in one fell swoop. You don the role of Hamilton Rourke, a veteran of the war and now a member of the resistance. You’re accompanied by a few seemingly interesting characters all with their own motivations to get involved in taking the fight to the PSI. Without spoiling much of the story, suffice to say it appears to be mildly entertaining if a tad cookie-cutter. Then again, the preview build given to us only contains one chapter, so it’s difficult to tell.

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Wikipedia describes Damnation to be a steampunk shooter, but this is one of the few circumstances, where the world’s greatest free source of information (second to your gossipy best friend) is just partly correct. Damnation is a steampunk third-person shooter with platforming elements similar to Tomb Raider or Uncharted Drake’s Fortune (this preview, 30% more accurate than Wikipedia. Believe). For the uninitiated, steampunk refers fiction set in an era where steam is widely used in place of electricity.

While it might seem mundane as a concept, steampunk actually allows for a lot more liberties to be taken in terms of art-style and design. The artists at Blue Omega must’ve had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for the look and feel of Damnation and it shows; bikes with ginormous boosters, massive robots with huge steam engines and nail gun-esque weapons that puff out steam created smoke with every shot. It seems fairly different from your run-of-the-mill shooter.

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If that weren’t enough, the game world is quite technically sound and pretty ambitions in terms of scale. What you realise a few minutes into the game is the vast expanses of space to wreak havoc in and around. The preview build has some interesting vistas, be it mines laden with zombiefied miners, rocky hills that make walking around take an eternity, and townships that reek of the old world wild west charm. Yes, this is just one single chapter and the scope of things to do and see is quite impressive. But it’s not all just a walk in the steampunk park.

Given the theme, it would be nice to see something more interesting than the standard pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle roster of weapons. Barring the rail spike gun, which is a cross between Painkiller’s stake gun and Quake’s nail gun, there’s little much to talk about. Gunning down an enemy or twenty doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should either.

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Gameplay-wise, Damnation takes pleasure in pitting you against a huge number of enemies spread across an even larger area. This actually works out due to the inclusion of spirit vision. At a tap of a button, you’re able to see the number of enemies you’re up against, even if they’re hiding behind walls. It’s a nice touch that skews the difficulty level in favour of the player.

As mentioned earlier, the game does contain platforming elements. These include wall runs and jumps. In principle, this should give the game a sense of smooth and easy flow, but this isn’t the case. Not only were the controls unresponsive, but downright irritating. I had to massacre the space bar (to jump) more often that I’d have liked to. Compared to other games with platforming elements, this seemed clunky and borderline broken. Luckily, this doesn’t translate into mediocre vehicle controls. Certain scenarios would require the use of huge steam powered bikes to travel huge distances and jump colossal gorges. Thankfully, the controls for these sequences are competent, if not completely perfect.

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In addition to this, the graphics seemed a tad too muted even in the most panoramic of instances. Given the interesting backdrop and steampunk theme, it would’ve been nice to see something more than the usual shades of yellow and brown. Even though it does fit in well with the wild west setting, one can’t help but feel that Blue Omega is playing it a tad too safe.

That aside, the game makes great use of the Unreal 3 engine with some sweet lighting and particle effects, especially in the mine sections with slivers of light cracking through, lighting up small specks of dust. A really nice touch, and not surprising considering that the game started off as an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod. For the technically-inclined in the crowd, it ran fairly well on a Core2Duo 3.0 Ghz machine with 4 GB RAM and an 8800GT video card with a mix of high and medium settings at 1440 x 900.

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All in all, Damnation seems to be a game that has a refreshing concept. It’s easy on the eyes, but lacking in it’s core areas, namely shooting and platforming, which is a bit saddening considering that a little love and attention would make this decent title a fairly solid one.

Writer’s prediction
Our steam powered crystal ball hissed and whizzed as it told us that in spite of the fresh ideas, this will be a nondescript title. Save your pennies people.

Title: Damnation
Developer/Publisher: Blue Omega/Codemasters
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Rating: 18+
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: May 22, 2009 (Source: VGReleases)

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