The storyline in Damnation is complex with lots of characters and plenty of cutscenes. America is in the grip of a dictator. A rich industrialist by the name of William Dean Prescott runs PSI (Prescott Standard Industries) and employs an army of robots and soldiers hopped up on green serum. Technology has developed based on steam rather than electricity. You play as Rourke, a veteran soldier who has now joined a guerrilla resistance movement called the Peacemakers. You don’t really need to know any of this because each mission is a simple linear challenge where you have to shoot and climb your way through an environment without getting killed.
The game is third-person with standard WASD controls. You use the space bar to pull off various jumping actions and grab hold of chains, ropes and edges. Once you have a hold of something you hit space again to pull yourself up or you can hold left Shift and hit space to jump off backwards. This system allows you to jump through windows and scale walls quite quickly when you get used to it. Unfortunately, even when mastered, it never feels fluid enough. Considering the major selling point of the game is the vertical climbs this should feel a bit more engaging but I found it felt like a dated Tomb Raider. The death slides are nice and the puzzle side of figuring out your route as you go is quite fun but there really isn’t much depth to it.
The steampunk weapons come in a wide variety of flavours but they are essentially variants on familiar shooter game guns. There are various pistols, shotguns, machine guns, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle and you can throw trip mines. The limited ammunition encourages you to change guns frequently and you can only carry three at any one time. Aiming and shooting is simple and this feels like a fairly standard third-person shooter.
There are also some vehicle sections in Damnation and you can jump on steam powered motorbikes to race through maps with enemies firing away at your dust cloud. The vehicles handle fine and these sections are fairly short and basic with little challenge to them.
Another power at your disposal is the ability to see enemies through walls. You can hold the Z key and see the outline of the enemies ahead. Once you attack they tend to move and so this was of limited use but it does give an idea of numbers. You are accompanied on your missions by various companions but they aren’t much help, to be honest. You can revive them when they get shot down, which will happen a lot. It was also a bit disconcerting to find them struggle to navigate through the map and they sometimes respawn right next to you.