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Steam-powered playground

Damnation's peaks and valleys
By MADDY MYERS  |  June 5, 2009
2.5 2.5 Stars

GLITCH CITY This one's fun to play, but not always for the right reasons.

Damnation | For Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows | Rated M for Mature | Developed By Blue Omega Entertainment | Published By Codemasters
Damnation is one of the first major shooters created in the steampunk genre. This means the story is set about a century and a half ago in an alternate timeline in which steam power becomes the reigning technology instead of electricity. Guns are powered with CO2 tanks, and so are the game's hulking motorcycles, which can traverse near-vertical cliff faces. Damnation's universe is entertaining, but the glitchy gameplay could've benefitted from a lot more clean-up.

You play as Captain Rourke, a bad-ass Indiana Jones type with a silly hat to match. If you play co-op, your partner will be Yakecan, a female Native American who doesn't know the definition of the word "shirt." Later she'll be driving the airship, and your partner will play as Zagato, a Mexican. (Interracial relations in Damnation are a lot . . . friendlier than they were in our timeline.) Instead of fighting in the Civil War, you're all fighting W.D. Prescott, a corporate mastermind who spends his free time building giant robots and trying to take over the country. His evil empire has released a "health" serum that turns the innocent populace into mindless killing machines, and that adds an unexpected Resident Evil–style twist.

Damnation is as much about climbing as it is about shooting, and the platforming mechanics are what the Mirror's Edge developers dreamed about. It doesn't take long to pick up the basics and wall-jump like a pro to ladders, poles, zip lines, and footholds on rooftops and clifftops. But though the controls may be intuitive, the maps themselves are faulty. You can walk through walls, walk up walls and pipes, land on your partner's head by accident, get stuck trying to walk over a dead body, or fall onto pieces of walls that don't exist and get trapped there. A game full of glitches is still fun to play, but not for the right reasons.

The weapons system has problems as well. The abundance of long-range enemies makes the sniper rifle the most valuable weapon in your arsenal, but sometimes you'll swear you got a headshot and the game will disagree. The machine gun, pistol, and shotgun are even more frustrating; you have to hit your enemy six to eight times before he falls, even if some of those hits are headshots. There's no cover system, but you'll meet a Native American man who will give you the magical ability to see your enemies through walls and to heal your teammates. The whole "magic shaman" stereotype is almost racist by now, but these gifts prove extremely helpful given the imprecise weapons. Perhaps that's why steam power didn't take off?

The on-line multi-player offers all the typical shooter modes: Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Deathmatch. Like the campaign mode, multi-player favors high-climbing snipers, but you can try your hand at running and gunning if you want a challenge. You can play on-line with up to eight players, and there's also split-screen co-op.

With all its glitches, Damnation may not sell enough copies to warrant a sequel, but a jungle gym this much fun deserves a second go-round with cleaner development. If you like platformers or you're a steampunk dork, you'll probably enjoy Damnation, but you'll have to overlook the unpolished gameplay.

Related: Review: Chrono Trigger DS, Review: Afro Samurai, Review: Street Fighter IV, More more >
  Topics: Videogames , Culture and Lifestyle, Games, Hobbies and Pastimes,  More more >
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