Review: Damnation's steampunk shooter aims to be revolutionary but ends up nauseating

Contributed by
Jun 26, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT

Damnation had me at steampunk. It lost me when I actually played the game. Developed for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows, Damnation tells the tale of soldier-turned-resistance-fighter Hamilton Rourke fighting his way across an Old West shattered by technological revolution.

Prescott, a genius with an eye toward world domination, developed steam-based super technology during the Civil War, which extended the conflict by decades. It also destroyed the old Union and gave rise to a steam-powered "New America."

Codemasters wanted Damnation to be just as revolutionary, combining aerial acrobatics, shooting and "vertical gameplay" in a hybrid third-person platformer/shooter. It succeeds in none of these things, offering borderline competence in arenas conquered by Lara Croft long ago. While the game does offer impressive vistas in the form of sprawling, multi-tiered levels, the visuals fall apart on closer examination. The character models—both in-game and cinematic—are bulky and stiff, with the characters appearing doll-like in their stoicism even when delivering allegedly emotional lines.

The game is built around the idea of pushing ever upward, navigating your way through mines, cities and canyons to reach ever-greater heights. It's supposed to be a radical change, but there's nothing here that hasn't been done (and done better) before. It's a shame: Given the game's steampunk inspiration, I'd hoped for all manner of oddball inventions to assist in my climb through the game. Unfortunately, there are almost none of these; instead of cool steam-powered ascension guns we get ... ziplines.

The game's camera is terminally glitchy, jumping from perspective to perspective as you leap to a new ledge. It's occasionally nauseating and always frustrating. The AI is downright stupid; it tries to use cover and mimic your acrobatic ways, but it's far more likely to get confused. These leads to enemies who get stuck on the scenery, ignore your blatantly obvious approach, and generally act with all the intelligence of a broken toaster.

Frankly, you'd be better off unplugging and putting your $60 toward buying the Wild Wild West Complete DVD Collection, picking up a copy of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine or reliving the Weird West with Pinnacle Entertainment's classic Deadlands Reloaded RPG.

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