Damnation

Vertically challenging.

"Damnation" is what people used to say in the '30s when they meant "f***". These days though it's a third-person shooter that's somewhere in amongst the crossfire between Gears of War and Prince of Persia, occasionally winking at Quake 3.

The big idea is that you have an enormous three-hour level the size of a continent where you can see your goal but have to work out how to get to it, dispatching hordes of baddies as you go. Zip wires stretch across canyons for you to slide down, buildings can be scaled and leapt between, and motorbikes can ride on walls. This is, we're told again and again, "the shooter gone vertical".

To understand it a bit better you need to meet developer Blue Omega. Damnation is its first game and started life as a mod that won the Make Something Unreal Tournament competition back in 2004, and has been rebuilt a few times in the hope of refining the concept. Blue Omega is also using a film-style development model, because those are what it used to make. This means a small team of about 16 people who act as heads of various departments outsourcing the rest of the work. Resulting in lots of conference calls, but also a cost-effective, sustainable, and surprisingly efficient working environment. They hope.

Damnation veers away from Gears of War by setting itself in an alternate world where the American civil war raged for 20 years before both sides wore themselves out. And from the ashes emerged Prescott Standard Industries and its deranged vision of saving everyone by killing any who disagreed. We'll call them the baddies. You, rather obviously, are the goodies: Captain Hamilton Rourke and the Peacekeeper movement that wants to stop all this, although you also want to find your missing fiance.

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Rourke wears gloves and doesn't worry about rope-burn any more.

It's a bit like the Wild West, except with lots of steam-powered contraptions, plus sub-plots, flashbacks, Native Americans, and plot twists involving drugs in water supplies. "We took something people may have an idea of to help ground it in reality," lead game designer Jason Minkoff explains when we point out that no one cares about the American civil war in these parts. "It's easier than just coming up with something completely outlandish when no one has something they can latch onto."

But fast and furious combat is what it's really about, albeit without the stop-start cover-system used in Gears of War. It's "not appropriate for this type of game", says Minkoff, whereas keeping on the move very much is. Combat controls are familiar though: triggers whip the guns out and shoot them, sticks aim and zoom, and bumpers highlight climb points and modify running jumps into dives. Thankfully you can hit baddies with the butt of your guns as well, which we always like the best. The sort of arsenal you assign to your three slots are also familiar but with a bit of a twist: a triple-barrelled shotgun, for example, or a take on the crossbow from Half-Life 2 that pins people to walls. There's a railgun that goes through baddies standing in a line, plenty of sniper variations, pistols, and big explodey shooters that go from small to very, very big. We're told to expect around ten or so in total.

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