There's a popular adage that goes "The future is unwritten," but that doesn't necessarily mean the past is set in stone, either. Plenty of games have played fast and loose with history books to develop an alternate take on any number of bygone eras. One such game we recently had a chance to see is Damnation, a shooter that imagines what it would be like if the American Civil War extended well into the 20th century. You play as Hamilton Rourke, leader of a group of rebels fighting against a powerful industrialist named Prescott, a man who commands an army of mercenaries equipped with technology well ahead of its time.
We had the opportunity to see a demo of Damnation's introductory level, which eases you into the gameplay mechanics with a few tutorials. The first thing that becomes apparent is that Damnation isn't a pure shooter. Like Tomb Raider and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, it combines gun combat with liberal amounts of platforming. Just as often as you mow down waves of enemies, you'll be shimmying along ledges and leaping over gaps. This level, which takes place in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, introduces Blue Omega's philosophy of putting you in a wide-open area with a simple, visible goal made complicated by treacherous terrain. In this case, you see a bridge looming in the distance that you need to get to, but with a slight problem: Between you and that bridge is a seemingly bottomless chasm. You need to work your way along the outlying cliffs and through the run-down buildings that stand in the path between you and the bridge.
Rourke begins by shooting down the chains holding up a drawbridge so he can clear the first gap. Once over, his group of non-player characters spies a zip line stretching across an even larger gap. Your team needs to jump and grab the line, one by one, then slide down to the next area. Greeting you when you land is a group of Prescott's forces, soldiers with glowing masks and powerful guns that display the game's steampunk aesthetic. With the gun combat, you manually aim from the third-person perspective, using a variety of fictional weaponry that feels very futuristic for the turn-of-the-century setting. Adding a slight twist to the combat is your ability to engage a spirit vision, which temporarily allows you to sense where far-off enemies are by rendering them in a glowing red hue while desaturating everything else within view.
The space between these shootouts is filled with exploration sequences. Rourke is quite the athletic adventurer, which is good, because he has all manner of towering buildings and natural obstacles ahead of him. Beyond the usual leaping over long gaps, you'll need to perform various acts of athletic prowess, such as holding onto ledges to perform a backward jump, flipping up walls by grabbing ledges above you as you face outward, and, occasionally, just plain diving through glass windows. In our session, we didn't pick up on anything terribly revolutionary about this platforming, but the animation was slick and the level design looked intriguing. At this point, the climbing and jumping portion is looking much more compelling than the shooting.
There will also be vehicles in the game, but unfortunately, we didn't get the chance to see any of them. Another intriguing feature that was mentioned is two-player co-op. Following Rourke around is his gang of NPC allies, but at any point in the game, you can have a friend assume control of one of these characters. On the down side, it doesn't sound like there will be much interaction between players in terms of platforming. So rather than having one player give another a boost to make it over a large wall, teamwork looks to be more of the communicating and giving directions variety.
Visually, Damnation is looking nice. There's a sort of Wild West steampunk look to the characters and weapons, as well as a great sense of scale given to you as you gaze over the chasm at the beginning of the level, with the Rocky Mountains towering in the distance. The voice acting seems a little stiff at this point, but that may or may not be a product of its early stage of development. Damnation is scheduled for release later this year on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. You can expect to see more coverage as information becomes available.