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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Damned.


Damned.



Settle down, children, I'm going to tell you a story. Are you all sitting comfortably?

Then let's begin.

Damned is a multiplayer survival horror game, in which one player is assigned the role of the monster, a superpowered fiend whose task it is to spook and kill the other players, and everyone else is assigned the role of hapless flesh dummy flailing their way around trying to find keys and escape. Young and bright-eyed, I bought the game for its wholly reasonable price in order to play it with friends.

I was not very good at Damned, I quickly discovered, or at least I wasn't very good at being a frightened meat doll waiting to die, as that wait was usually short and punctuated by intermittently cowering in a corner - and now we all know precisely how good I'll be if my town ever turns into Silent Hill.

What a charming tree.

Then came the fateful mission wherein I was due to play the monster. I was assigned the Lurker monster, a monster which spent most of its time as an invisible, incorporeal ghost. As a ghost, the Lurker cannot see players, but it can materialise into physical form for short periods of time, at which point I still couldn't see the players, because it was too dark. In fact, when materialised, I could see nothing, so every time I materialised I just shambled about waving my arms, hoping that I would entirely by accident catch a survivor.

I never did. A friend, reporting to me what was going on amongst the players, told me how in awe they were. "He's so confident," they were saying, "he'll materialise near you, but he won't attack, just spook you." She did not have the heart to tell them that what was actually going on was that I would love to have attacked them, but I had no idea they were there.

Whether it was that the game was too dark, as is very often the case with survival horror games whose developers mistake 'pitch black' for 'scary', or whether my brightness settings were too low, I do not know to this day - from that point on, I turned my brightness settings up to maximum, and obviously never had that problem again. 

The game's own promo images would seem to suggest that my brightness settings
were as intended, however.

There is much to be said for Damned's concept, which is a great idea that thrives in the indie market, but would probably never get made as a triple-A title. The idea of a multiplayer game in which one part plays the villain and the rest play the heroes isn't unique to Damned, but it's certainly one of the earlier games to utilise it, and in a very popular genre to boot. Survival horror is, in many ways, a natural choice for the idea: Horror media has long been built on the idea of a lone killer picking off a group of survivors, whittling them down until one left, and that's an idea which doesn't entirely work in a video game if your lone killer is controlled by an AI. Artificial intelligences are stupid, after all, and rarely do they manage to behave in a way that evokes a sense of malice. Those time when horror games do manage to create the impression that your foe is wily, malicious, and implacable, it is often the result of a script - which is to say that it's the human programmer creating those impressions, not the AI itself.

So Damned is a natural evolution of horror media, and even if it's in many ways unpolished, it should be praised for that. So too should it be praised for the fact that, darkness aside (which clearly wasn't a problem for everyone. My various quarries, for example, could all very much see me), it's mechanically a pretty strong game. The graphics are solid - not excellent, but good enough for purpose - the gameplay is as smooth as it needs to be, the soundtrack is sufficiently sinister. It excels in no particular area, but it also doesn't have any glaring problems.

What a lovely key.

The game is also fairly well-balanced. Your survivor characters all have pretty basic abilities - they can sneak, run, et cetera - while your monsters are much more specialised. The Phantom, for example, cannot see survivors, but it can detect loud noises from anywhere on the map, and noises made close to it will reveal the survivor making said noise to them for a moment. Mary, meanwhile, moves very slowly, but by looking at survivors she slowly becomes frenzied, culminating in her suddenly moving very quickly. The Lurker, as mentioned earlier, cannot see players or be seen, but can set traps, and can materialise briefly to surprise and murderise players.

Those are the only three monsters, although I'm informed that more are planned, which will improve on the game considerably - a more decent spread of monsters can only make the game scarier, as the game provides more unknowns to contend against. Familiarity, after all, is the death knell of fear.

All in all, Damned is an imperfect but fun game with an interesting premise behind it, and worth checking out if you have the money for it.


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