June 24, 2009
Regardless of all the hate it seems to get, there is no denying that the original Gears of War was an inspirational game. It may not have provided us with many completely original features but it did everything very well indeed and had a superb cover mechanic to boot. It has obviously been the birthing point for many wannabe titles since then, of which Damnation is just the latest in a very long line. In that regard we can blame Gears of War for one thing – making companies think they can do a game that is just as good, only for poor fools (like myself) to have to suffer the agonising results. To say that this game is underwhelming is an understatement. Actually it is a bare faced lie. So now let me share with you my experience – in the valiant hope it will save you from the same horrific fate.
With the game coming from a first time 360 developer in Blue Omega, you would naturally expect to give them a bit of leeway in terms of design. The problem here is that the team have obviously sat down and designed a game that is too far beyond their scope at the moment. I am sure that every developer wants to be able to produce the most exciting game they possibly can but there is a difference between innovative and over-ambitious. This game has had so many ideas thrown at it in the hope that some of them would stick that it just means the entire package gets bogged down. If they had stuck to a third person shooter or maybe a Tomb Raider style platformer then maybe there would have been more chance of success, instead they chose to spread their bets with a number of platforming elements, some extremely dubious vehicle sections and a general feeling that the whole thing has become grossly overblown.
You play cowboy hat wearing Hamilton Rourke (it really is like the cliché machine was in overdrive) who is part of a rag-tag group of freedom fighters who are attempting to overthrow the evil Lord Prescott and his industrial machinations. The story could have actually been very good indeed as it draws upon some cool steam punk ideas, extends the Civil War to draw in futuristic overtones and generally provides all manner of half decent back story. The problems start to mount up when you realise you are actually tracking down a missing fiancé, and killing oodles of bad guys seems to be incidental to that goal. I think if I was choosing between battling an evil dictator and tracking down a missing floozy, then I know which would make more sense in a run and gun game like this (though the missing floozy bit has never done Mario any harm).
Considering the wide open nature of the levels, with some fairly decent open vistas, there is an extreme drop in quality once you get close up. The textures are muddy at best and even the characters are not up to scratch, whilst the frame-rate and animation stutters along. At times it is hard to believe that the 360 can produce such a shoddy looking game. Throw in some dubious explosions, enemies that sometimes disappear when they die and sometimes hang around in mid air, vehicles that seem able to drop into the landscape and some ropey cut-scenes and ... well, it is not very good. The dialogue is ripped straight from a thousand other places and the voice work is so bored and unconvincing that you wonder why they even bothered. Text across the bottom of the screen would have carried much more emotion and gravitas.
As you progress you will always have a comrade by your side, be it an AI backup or a fully co-op partner via the glorious medium of multiplayer. Either way though, your pal seems fairly superfluous to the action as the AI partner is generally as unhelpful as possible, including not moving or shooting to randomly appearing next to you in the middle of the road. Things are a little better with a co-op buddy but then it means that two of you have to grapple with the unwieldy aiming and shooting mechanics. Never have I played a game where simply firing a gun is a mission in itself; aiming is appallingly finicky and your shots seem to have as much stopping power as flinging mashed potato at a rhino (unless it is a rhino with potato allergies). With even normal enemies taking ten plus shots to kill it seems as if our heroes would be better with a bow and arrow. You could always try and fall back on the trusty melee attack but that is, pardon the pun, hit and miss, as making contact seems to be based more on prayer than actual physics. However, do not despair just yet, as fifty percent of the time your enemies will not even react when you shoot at them so your ineffectual attacks are bound to finish them off before they bother to attack you back. Oh dear, oh dear.
Thankfully the game is not all just about shooting, because if that was the case, I would have broken down in tears long ago. Interspersing the ‘action’ as it were, is some semi-decent platforming. Our sprightly hero can leap up walls, clamber across platforms and generally show off like an acrobat. The levels are quite lengthy and grand, providing you with plenty of chances to show off your spring heeled abilities and it is these sections that let the game show off its best side. Admittedly there is nothing you will not have seen in a slew of other games, but it all works fairly well and you never feel cheated when you fail to make a particular leap. In fact, if the game had played more to this side of the action it would have been better off. The other break in play comes from some god awful vehicle sections, where you ride around on some kind of insane super bike that handles like a brick. The fact that the wheels randomly disappear into the floor, your engine ceases making sound and your turning circle is that of a blue whale pretty much tells you all you need to know.
If you are feeling up to it after the horror of the single player you can then head online. Not that you will find much opposition as the place is already a ghost town. Bad game mechanics are hardly likely to attract a massive following and that is no different here, though with the generic nature of the online options it is not much of a surprise that people steer clear. The large levels become more of a handicap then ever when you only have a few people running around in them and it is hard to see things picking up anytime soon. Most games sell their multiplayer off the back of a solid single player and that was never going to happen in this case.
The achievement list may be one of the best things about the game as it provides a nice spread of single player, co-op and online tasks all of which are more than attainable with a bit of effort rather than out and out grinding. The main issue is the fact that there is literally no one playing the game online so you will have to find a group of people in order to get them done. Mercifully the difficulty achievements are stackable too and you can unlock "Insane" difficulty from the off with a simple code. Thank the lord for small mercies as one play through of this game will be more than enough for anyone. I suppose the biggest complaint would be the lack of originality to be honest (weapon kills, collectables, flag captures, etc) but that pretty much fits in with the theme of the whole game so I cannot claim to be surprised.
This is not really a case of “what were they thinking?” as it is plainly obvious what the overall intent was, sadly the game in no way lives up to the lofty goals that it was obviously straining for, partially due to sloppy design and partly due to a real lack of nuance. Trying to blend a few genres into one game can work when it is done right but there is so much wrong here that it is impossible to see exactly who would get even the slightest bit of entertainment from playing the game. The online mode is poor too and already dead mere days after the game launched. You would be advised to avoid this game entirely as the few good points are clearly drowned out by the more prevalent failures.
It is like listening to robots. Bored robots. Bored robots that are severely depressed. I know actors tend to phone it in when it comes to games but this is really the bottom of the barrel.
The game is pretty damn ugly and really could have been running on the original Xbox or PS2. And that's not to mention a number of graphical glitches, poor textures and dubious AI issues. It may well aspire to being Gears of War but it sure does not look as good.
The shooting aspect of the game is twitchy and poorly implemented but at least some of the jumping sections are mindless fun. Not enough fun to stop me from wanting to throw down my controller in disgust mind you.
They were aiming for Gears of War meets Tomb Raider and it has just fallen flat on both fronts. Insipid shooting and average platforming do not make a good game. Couple that with the bland story, poor voice work and dead online and the game is DOA.
A decent list but hardly one that is brimming with originality. Still, credit must be given for stackable difficulties and a balanced and attainable list overall.
It is not just a clever title, as Damnation seems more than willing to live up to its name. The game is glitchy, ugly and just not enough fun at all. Even in co-op you will struggle to glean much enjoyment and I had fun playing Fuzion Frenzy 2 with other people. This is a rental at the absolute best and even then you had better have played pretty much everything else beforehand.