The Western hasn't been a go to genre for video game developers. There's been the odd notable exception - Red Dead Revolver and GUN spring to mind - but we're certainly not talking about an area of gaming that has its own section down at your local video game store. There's plenty of room then for a developer to make its mark, but why should gamers be interested in Blue Omega's Damnation, a third-person action title for Xbox 360, PS3 and Games For Windows?
Damnation is set in an alternate American history in which a 40 year conflict has waged between the Nationalist and the Coalition forces, draining the country of its resources. Prescott Standard Industries, led by industrialist magnate W.D. Prescott, have unleashed a new army and moved around the country destroying the remnants of the remaining militia and crushing the civilian population in a quest to establish a new order.
Players take control of Captain Hamilton Rourke, a member of the guerilla resistance force known as the Peacekeepers. As a veteran of the Great War, Rourke has his own personal agenda against the PSI and embarks on an epic journey to reveal the sinister truth behind the corporation and save the country from damnation. It's epic sounding stuff, but these days even puzzle games boast stories that wouldn't be out of place on the New York Times Best Sellers list. What really matters is the gameplay and it's here that Blue Omega is trying something a little different.
Damnation will feature vertical gameplay and all the new tactics that come with it. Players have the freedom to go anywhere by any means in the huge streaming wasteland environment. Publisher Codemasters says it would take a player three hours in real-time to travel from one end to the other and the same again to climb from the bottom to top. The total freedom means players will have a host of tactical plays open to them no matter what the situation - take the more direct approach across ground level with all guns blazing, or slowly approach from up above and catch the enemy off guard.
In order to move about the environment quickly players will have a huge range of daredevil moves at their disposal, such as leaping between ledges, swinging on ropes and chains, traversing vertical surfaces and many more. Think the tactical approached gameplay of the Splinter Cell series mixed with the flowing acrobatics of Assassin's Creed and you're close to understanding the action in Damnation.
In addition to a range of acrobatic moves and weaponry, players also have the ability to see through walls using a power Blue Omega is calling Spirit Vision. This sees the view switch to something akin to heat-vision with all in-world characters highlighted in red, even when they would normally be out of sight. This becomes particularly useful because of Damnation's huge environment - the enemy could be hiding anywhere.
During a demo at Games Convention Leipzig last month it wasn't the game's story-driven campaign - which will feature two-player co-op locally, online and over LAN - which Blue Omega was focused on though, instead they were keen to highlight how well the vertical gameplay translates to multiplayer action. All the multiplayer favourites are present and correct, including Capture the Flag, King of the Hill and Deathmatch, only they feel very different to what you've probably experienced in other action titles. In King of the Hill you're not just playing to dominate a marked area on the map, but are actually camped out at the top of a huge structure with the opposing team having the challenge of first climbing to the summit before attempting to dislodge the current occupants. Everything points to a fast-paced tactical multiplayer offering that really will present players with something different - not just a fancy new name for a game mode we've seen a dozen times before.
Damnation has a solid foundation for a gripping campaign, a unique twist on classic multiplayer and from our time with the game at Leipzig it's looking the part too. It's been created using Epic's Unreal Engine 3 and features the trademark UE3 greys, browns and other such dreary tones. In its alpha stage, it does currently lack the polish of triple A blockbusters of recent memory but this is made up for by the huge scale of the visuals on display. Even better is that Blue Omega's streaming technology means you won't see a load screen. We're hopeful the final few months of optimisation will add a layer of polish.
With a cooperative campaign that promises to offer 12-15 hours of gameplay and what appears to be a unique set of multiplayer modes - by virtue of the game's vertical gameplay - Codemasters and Blue Omega look to be on to a winner with Damnation. It won't be without competition though; a winter 2008 release date will see it going up against the likes of Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2 to name just two. Now that's some god damn competition.