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Review: Damnation

Tom Endo | 30 Jun 2009 13:00
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Damnation doesn't deserve to be a called a game. It's a rough draft that, like the essay you wrote in fourth grade, should remain frozen in time, a reminder of how far you've come. Fourth grade essays should not be, as is the case with Damnation, a starting point for something complex, aimed at an audience more discerning than those of your 10 year old classmates. I have to believe that at some point everyone involved with the project realized the inevitability of this game's mediocrity. It clearly aimed to be more than the underwhelming sum of its parts. Players will notice the enormous environments, the different styles of gameplay and the interesting choice of a Steam Punk Western setting. But, ambition and clearly limited resources aside, this game never had a prayer. Its ideas, even if they were properly executed, are five years old and have since been eclipsed by more modern gameplay innovations.

As an experience, Damnation is something of a blast to the awkward past. I'll quickly mention that the game's premise is that the civil war never ended, which resulted in a Steam Punk future where everyone wears cowboy hats. It's a third person shooter before cover systems were invented, a platformer that borrows only the basic innovations of Prince of Persia: SOT and a game saturated with bloom lighting. Damnation's brittle skeleton shows itself immediately in the first act, when one of your squad mates tells you to take cover and you run forward expecting to stick nicely to one of the walls that seems designed for the purpose. But the mechanic doesn't exist, and the game ends up playing like an awkward FPS: combat involving nothing more than a combination of running and strafing.

The platforming feels strange as well. Although mechanics, like hanging from ledges and wall jumping, are familiar, the enormous set pieces and carefully placed environmental cues that define a great 3D platformer like Prince of Persia: SOT are conspicuously absent. It's interesting how aimless and even empty the gameplay feels without these elements that are taken for granted in better games.

The "last gen" experience this game offers is brought full circle by the game's graphics. While the Steam Punk Western setting has some originality, comparisons to the failed Will Smith star vehicle Wild Wild West notwithstanding, the game is so thoroughly inconsistent in its visuals that players will hardly notice. Textures, not something I'd normally harp on, range from the stretched and blurred, which might be more at home on an N64, to the horribly pixelated. The character models are serviceable, and could even live up to the moniker Gears clone, but they end up fading into the bland backgrounds, washed out by the pervasive bloom lighting that saturates the entire game in an unfortunate corona.

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