steampunk fans get it ... others, look elsewhere

User Rating: 8 | Damnation PC
Early xbox reviews with highly questionable taste buried this game possibly beyond recovery. Sure, Blue Omega (developer) simply can't afford huge advertising campaigns that not necessarily influence editorial policies of these online gaming mags, but ... lets say make their reviewers search a bit harder for positives. Having said that, Blue Omega has not exactly helped itself by building up somewhat unrealistic hype and expectations by setting up this game as: "evolving the shooter genre with its unique and exhilarating combination of fluid action and combat" or "intelligent enemies will give chase and engage players in frantic gun fights and attacks that can come from any direction" or "the high action will be supported with an epic and in-depth story which, while focusing on the exploits of the hero character Rourke, is truly an ensemble piece. Players will meet and become involved in intricate story plots that reveal much more than the obvious". Of course, none of these developers/publishers' statements are even close to the reality of this game ... the game is good, but nothing you haven't seen before and in many cases has already been done better for that matter. However, there are some other things that are really nice.

So, what is exactly Damnation as a game? It's a strange game in a sense that it really failed in some important aspects that you'll be surprised that you want to play it more. More frequently you may encounter the games which components are perfect, but for some reason the whole looks worse than the sum of its parts. Damnation is just opposite -- once you play it, especially beyond the 2nd level the game for no obvious reason it becomes somewhat addictive and you want to see what's next. While the negative (mostly technical) components of the game never improve, the experience does.

Three Big Weaknesses:
- SHOOTER -- Damnation is simply not a shooter game. Shooting is present, but it's not the main focus. Calling it a shooter game would be the same as calling it a driving game because there are many sections that include driving. Shooting is there only to clear the way for your next platforming actions. Weapons themselves look OK, even good, but it goes down from there via unimpressive shooting sounds, and then to terrible efficasy and even worse accuracy. It clearly seems that shooting wasn't the developer's focus -- in the end you'll notice that you are much more likely to die because of falls than from being shot (on some rare occasions you may die from gunfire when rushed by 3 or 4 enemies and even that is more because of really bad effectiveness of most weapons)
- ENEMY AI -- one of the worst in the last few years and maybe longer. Often, enemies will face the wrong direction, not reacting to being shot, or will simply keep running into an object infront of them. Combined with really awfull ragdoll physics this really looks bad.
- NO MANUAL OR QUICK SAVE -- if you want me to explore the "vast" maps or take some experimental daring jumps, then let me save my progress so I can return to the point where I wasn't lost or dead. It must be said that there are some logical built-in checkpoints, but the absence of manual/quick saves discourages exploration and experimentation. I must also say, that the driving, while somewhat clumsy is also very forgiving and seem the developer expected lots of deaths here so there are some immediate checkpoints built around driving trajectory.

So What's Good About This Game:
- STEAMPUNK -- maybe I am among a few that really like the feeling and atmospherics of the game as set in an alternate US history. Obviously, this alternate society suffers from never ending wars, nice but ineffective weapons, and by looking at the characters there seem to be a lack of bras on the market. On the other side it's a historic "path not taken" wonder.
- SCENARY -- really nice south-western scenaries with detailed towns and surroundings. Graphics quality could be better (tho some details are really superb), but still you get a pretty good picture.
- PLATFORMING -- while controls are somewhat clunky compared with some recent games, they are OK and maybe even enhance the uncertainty and promote adrenaline rush before making some critical jumps. It seems the game starts almost in a training mode and slowly builds your skills for later. By the start of level 3 you are in a full swing. Levels from 3-6, especially 5 and 6 are full of some awesome platforming. Driving is not as exciting but it kinda gets you with the speed of those bikes.
- ENVIRONMENTAL PUZZLES -- from the start you have to figure out how to get from the point A to point B. Later, there are some rather large scale puzzles that involve discovering the path and figuring out what the game wants you to do (Waterworks). Nicely done.

In short:
- graphics/vid: 7-8/10 (maybe some of the worst results you can get out of Unreal 3, tho there are many really nice moments where graphics shine)
- story: 6.5-7/10
- sounds: 7/10 (rather bad voice acting)
- weapons/shooting: 6/10
- platforming: 8.5-9/10
- mechanics: 8 (it's actually pretty good, but no dedicated cover system is a big thing; otherwise, the game is using the *classic* non-strafe (A and D keys) third person perspective - strafing enabled in the aim mode)
- AI: 5-6/10 (really bad)
- steampunk environment: 9/10
- length: very good; the developer claims up to 3 hours per level and that may be true since you can spend lots of time figuring out where to go and how to get there the first time you run game. So that would be around maybe 15-18 hours. However, if you pretty much know the maps (say, the second run) and not do much exploring, in that case I clocked myself to a few minutes under 6 hours including cutscenes.

In conclusion, Damnation is a steampunk platformer with some underdeveloped elements of a shooter. This will play nicely if you have strong affinity towards the steampunk culture and vertical play/platforming. If not, then just skip it -- you won't like it. It's one of those games that you either love or hate ... not much of a middle ground. If you are still not sure, wait until the price drops (currently $40) or check if any demo becomes available. Obviously, I like this game, so I'll score it to my positive experience with it. But otherwise, I think an objective score would probably be in the range of 6-7.5/10 depending on the user preferences. Overall score: 8.1/10.