Damnation may begin as a fun, if generic, shooter, but it soon deteriorates into a boring, derivative trip through hell.
The player takes the rule of Hamilton Rourke, a sort of freedom fighter, as he battles an army of enhanced solider led by a megalomaniac industrialist bent on conquering the entire US of A. although it's a familiar story, the fact that it is set during the American Civil War and, as mentioned before, the industrial/steampunk settings add a much needed twist. It is a shame though that this is the only good surprise the game has to offer. Right from the bat it becomes very obvious how the rest of the story will unfold, and the stereotypical characters don't do much to soften the blow. Every plot twist can be seen a mile away and every line and scenario devised by the writers are so painfully cliché, it is best to just give up on the story and try and focus on the gameplay.
Unfortunately, shortly after giving up on the story, most gamers will probably give up on pretty much everything else. Gameplay mainly consist of combat and platforming, both are severely lacking in innovation or originality. Not only that, but they manage to fail even in the most basic guidelines almost all modern-day shooter follow. Let's start with platforming, which is by far the gameplay's strong point (and it doesn't say much about the combat). Rourke can run, sprint, dive through windows and jump off walls, and while there is nothing groundbreaking, the platforming can be fun, at first. But, as so many other things in the game, it soon becomes another obstacle standing between the player and a good time. Most of the time it is really difficult to navigate the impossible levels, and trying to find the correct wall to jump off of, or the right ledge to shimmy across can be a real pain. The lack of any in-game indication for ledges Rourke can interact with doesn't make things any easier, since most of them are way above him and usually off-camera.
Which raises another point; Damnation is a very linear game, with huge open environments. The combination of large areas to explore, and only one correct path through them creates the navigational problems mentioned earlier. It can take forever to track down the exact linear way to traverse a small group of buildings, just to encounter the same problems 10 minutes later; making it through a level can seem like an eternity, even if it only took half an hour (and plenty of swan dives).
So once all the platforming is done, or sometimes in between climbing a wall to grappling your way across a ruined bridge, Damnation remembers it actually wants to be a shooter, and spawns a multitude of enemies out of the stonework, where just a second ago was a safe, empty path. If the platforming becomes stale after an hour, the gun-play get down right rotten immediately after the first bullet is fired. Plain and simple, the combat is repetitive, annoying and extremely boring; enemies pose little to no threat, as they tend to stand motionless in the open or next to a conveniently located explosive barrel. Their guns (and Rourke's) are highly inaccurate and to top it all off, they all look pretty much the same so there is hardly any variation as the game progresses. There are a couple saving graces, in the shape of the two sniper rifles available in the game; they are by far the most useful weapons in the game, enabling Rourke to clean out infested areas with ease and finesse, especially while using his unique ability to spot enemies through walls or other cover (neat little touch, but overall useless).
But not all is bad. There is one type of game segment that is actually fun every time (well, maybe not every time) you play through it, and that's the driving. There is about one driving sequence in every level, and while not particularly challenging, it is a nice break from the monotony of jumping and shooting. Rourke gets to ride two types of steam-powered motorbikes (both drive exactly the same) that can not only go in eye-watering speeds but can also clear amazingly long jumps (thanks to a Nitro boost), drive on walls and even upside down (steam engines are way cooler than our pathetic internal combustion ones). Most of these sequences end up pretty abruptly, and the sudden shift back into the slow paced platforming or combat is enough to make the most motion sick gamer wish for a change to ride the bike straight over the final boss and unto the next game on their wish list.
Damnation's graphics are maybe not the worst out there, but they are definitely below today's standards. The main characters' faces never seem to show any emotion while in dialog or even the slightest bit on facial animation. They don't look so bad as much as they are just uninspired. The same can be said about the enemies, since most designs tend to repeat themselves (with slight variation of colour) and there isn't much for originality (apart from one boss who is, in my opinion, the best looking character in the entire game); most of the time it just feels like you are killing the same 5 people over and over again. Environments on the other hand are impressive, at least when viewed from a bird's eye. They are quite varied, and can sometimes border on breathtaking. Up close, however, it's a whole different story; all textures look like wallpaper (bad, 80's wallpaper) with severe clipping issues, not to mention the horrible draw distance that makes the landscape in the background look like the surface of the moon instead of a vast, untamed wilderness. Damnation tries to feature the huge open spaces of the battle-torn American South, but fails where it counts the most: the presentation.
The game does pick up a bit in the sound department. While all of the characters spew out corny, stereotypical dialog, they do it with the appropriate gusto; the voice actors may not be grade-A material, but they get the job done. However, whenever Damnation takes a step forward, it always falls back on its rear, and the sound design offers no solace; the sound effects in the game are underwhelming to say the least, and at times down right terrible. Gunfire and explosions all sound very weak, even the bigger weapons, and there is nothing satisfying in sniping out an enemy with something that sounds like a metal spoon hitting a cooking pot. The bikes sound a bit better, but they are still so muffled it sounds like a kid is making motor noises with his mouth. As with the rest of Damnation, it seems like all of the recordings and effects have been rushed and were never given enough time to work out all the kinks (or just find a decent sound engineer).
To cut a long story short, Damnation isn't worth your time. It may start out decent, but quickly deteriorates into a repetitive chore with nothing to keep the player going. The faint ray of fun brought out by the driving sequences and one original boss design cannot match the amount of disappointment and frustration that is Damnation's gameplay. Ugly presentation, both in audio and visual terms, and plot twists that offend the player intelligent damn this game straight into the bargain bin or even worse, the garbage bin.