There are times when a game’s influences are buried well beneath its own style and fresh ideas leaving only the internet’s finest forum detectives to stroke their cyber-chins and ponder what rival discs were spinning away in the dev’s debug kits during development. There are other times when you wish you’d taken Law instead of Media Studies at university because the plagiarism is as clear as day as you’re almost blinded by the shining dollar signs in front of your eyes. Have a quick squint at the screenshots and you can see what we’re talking about. Well, if you’ve paid any sort of attention to gaming in the past year. We mean, honestly. Could it really be any more obvious?

You see, Damnation sort of hopes you haven’t played Gears of War. Or even Prince of Persia. Or any post-apocalyptic shooter in the past few years. It’s a pretty unrealistic hope, but one Damnation is crossing its fingers for, because the game is a massive patchwork of all those other previously mentioned titles. So we’ll quickly break it down for you. Damnation has had a rummage through Gears of War’s cupboard and nicked some ideas such as the weapons system (similar item switching and only being able to hold three guns). The Prince of Persia influence is obvious in the platforming as you inch around broken buildings and crumbling floors to make your way through each huge level. The overuse of greens and browns to paint the world... well, take your pick. Damnation errs toward steampunk – a visual style that hasn’t been mined particularly hard by games over the years, but you still get a feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

Pinching ideas isn’t bad, of course, and Damnation has enough borrowed DNA from tried-and-tested games to ensure that this isn’t the case. It pitches itself as a vertical shooter and sure enough, most levels see you climbing your way slowly and surely upward as you blast enemies to bits.

Almost inevitably for a gaming cocktail with so many different ingredients swimming around its murky grey pool, Damnation feels a little lopsided. Leaping around the rooftops and buildings is entertaining, as levels engage your brain as well as your fingers. You can shimmy up poles, wall jump, dangle from ledges and kick yourself up to higher platforms. When mixed together with Damnation’s ridiculous draw distance, there’s a dizzying sense of vertigo powering the platforming. Peering over a ledge, we wanted to pull back immediately such is the sensation of height.

Surprisingly enough, it’s the combat that needs work to catch up, which inspires ill feelings of a different kind altogether. Its Gears of War aesthetic is obvious, but it hasn’t learnt any lessons from what made the GOW weapons so satisfying. Here they feel too lightweight and erratic. Even with Damnation’s schizophrenic gameplay, there’s a lot that’s right – the clever level design and sweeping vistas compound the feeling of vertigo that will keep you on your reinforced steel toes. If Blue Omega can bring thecombat up to the level of the platforming sections, then this is one game that could still surprise us all.

Jan 15, 2009