Damnation is a shooting / climbing game given a steampunk twist that is set around the time of an American civil war, where oddly, both sides lost and a military industrial company, PSI, have risen to power instead (they’re the baddies).

That’s all I know about the storyline. I watched all the cutscenes, listened to all the in-game dialogue and frankly it was just baffling. I felt like I had been thrown into the game the way a mother bird boots her little ones out of the nest and hopes that they fly. It felt like watching a film based on a comic book that you’ve never heard of.

You play a character called Rourke, who has some sort of history. I think he was a soldier. Trust me, I was paying attention but I didn’t really get who he was. Or who his colleagues were either. There’s a posh-sounding Professor and a woman called Yakecan who has one of the skimpiest outfits and the most gravity-defying boobs ever seen in a video game.

So let’s forget about the storyline – and move on to the game. I’ll cut to the chase and say that, overall, this is not a good game.

The controls are clunky and awkward, with the “wall jump” causing me endless frustration. There is a Trophy for completing one hundred of them, which makes me think that even the developers realised what a chore they are. The engine is a bit underpowered and glitchy, with screen tearing and slow down at times. The voice acting is terrible, the story is bizarre and weak and it has the worst checkpoints I have ever had the misfortune to (not) encounter in a game.

Now, I’ve never designed a game but some things are obvious. If you have a level where you encounter a village, fight your way all the way through it and then have to use a rocket powered motorbike to jump a gap to progress, wouldn’t it make sense to have a checkpoint before the (quite easy to muff up) jump? Not in Damnation. I spent the whole game in fear of dying because I would have to probably play about twenty minutes worth of it again if I was to get killed.

And you will get killed – a lot. I played it on Casual and was repeatedly shot to death by shotgun wielding mofos while my character went through his seemingly endless reload cycle, during which time you cannot run or cancel the reload. Then you go back to the last checkpoint, which was probably immediately before a long cutscene or a tedious long walk to the next bit.

I have an admission to make – I didn’t finish this game. I got to the final boss and the reason I gave up (apart from having no real desire to see the end of the story) was primarily because the checkpoint before the end boss is before a 45 second long lift ride down to the final battle. And this boss can kill you in seconds.

But, for all the bad, once you get into the game’s mindset, it can be very interesting in a Tomb Raider-y kind of way: loads of incredibly vertical levels teeming with climbing puzzles and offering some incredible moments of vertigo at great height. The level designs are challenging and offer verticality pretty much unseen in any game I’ve played before. The fact that you are fairly limited in your climbing moves only served to make the climbing element more like a puzzle game and less like inFamous, where you can scale pretty much anything.

However, even the interesting climbing puzzle aspect of the game causes some frustration, as it gives you not one single solitary hint when you are stuck. If you can’t find the way, you stand there while the game ignores you. You’ve always got another character with you (because you can play co-op) but they won’t offer you a single hint. Irritatingly, sometimes they’ll be up on the ledge you want to be on and you can’t figure out how the hell they got there.

In fact, I found that the levels in general got better and more interesting as the game went on, which is fairly unusual in any title, as making a big impression at the start is usually deemed the way to go. I have to say, as I progressed towards the end the slowdown and fiddly controls were less of a concern, I genuinely found the game growing on me and I started to harbour some good feelings for it.

All of which were dashed when I got to the final boss and could not believe where that checkpoint was. Shame.







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