What really sinks this uninspiring experience, however, is the skittish control, which never becomes as intuitive or fluid as it needs to be in order to sell the daredevil aspect. A nudge on the stick sends Rourke lurching forwards, making precision movements problematic. Scenery snags are depressingly common, and there's a weird judder when you leap, as the game seems to hurriedly adjust your location to match up with the landing animation on whatever ledge you're aiming for. Those clichéd AI companions are a hindrance more than a help, too, blundering into your line of sight during shootouts or simply charging ahead like angry wasps and getting incapacitated for their trouble. It's no secret that the game began life as an amateur Unreal mod, but whatever attempts have been made to bring it up to professional standard haven't had the desired effect.
Even the much-vaunted vertical levels do little to compensate for the flakiness. True, each level does have multiple routes, but that's just because as long as you keep moving in the right direction you really can't go wrong. Progress feels inevitable rather than something to be earned through ingenuity or hard work. Few are the moments where you'll need to actually plot a path through the game but, since there's no map and no objective indicators, when you do get turned around by the procession of identical buildings and rocks, the odds of getting back on course are slim.
It's an ugly game in appearance as well, with boxy character models, horrific frame-rate and a generally unfinished air to proceedings. Apart from a reasonably impressive draw distance, necessary to show off those artificially elongated chasms, there's not much in the way of passable eye candy. Characters pop in and out of existence or glitch through solid objects as they try to navigate the crude geometries of the gameworld. The camera is awkwardly passive, pointing lazily in whatever direction you last looked until you wrestle it back into line yourself. Needless to say, as you leap this way and that you're often left struggling to see where you're going. In a game based around a need for nimble navigation, it's yet another example of the many ways Damnation fails to deliver on even the most basic fundamentals of modern gaming.
Crackdown, Prince of Persia and Mirror's Edge all delivered on the vertical gaming premise far more successfully than Damnation ever manages, and all are vastly more polished and enjoyable to boot. The best Damnation can offer to alleviate its woes is a spread of multiplayer modes and a drop-in co-op option. Both are welcome inclusions, but are still rendered pointless by the grim game engine. Who wants to share such a clumsy experience with a friend? It's not even as if Damnation benefits from co-operative play. With levels that confuse sheer size for shrewd design and enemies that will happily stand six feet away from you without attacking, there's no real need for team play. You're just running around the same giant, hollow playground at the same time.
The game does feature numerous vehicle sections, in which you race chunky motorbikes and trikes over ramps and along sheer walls, and this does at least allow one player to steer while the other shoots. Since you're always moving too fast for any enemies to prove a problem, there's absolutely no reason to do this, but at least the thought is there.
Even after looking for a glimmer of quality, hoping that there'd be some redeeming feature to balance out this avalanche of weary criticism, Damnation offers little to which to cling. At best, it's a functional third-person platformer that sometimes acts like a shooter. At worst, it's an astonishing collection of poor design decisions, half-hearted implementation and mindless narrative clutter that will only lead to buyer's remorse in all who decide to give it a try.
3 / 10