Painkiller was very much a cult classic in a time where PC FPSs were the genre to play. Diluted now by wave after wave of similarly mundane titles, Painkiller can either stick out like a sore thumb, or be the breath of fresh air fans of the oldschool have been waiting for.
Think of everything you’ve come to hate in FPSs nowadays. Clichéd stories about ham-fisted ‘bros’ annihilating every foreign person they find in their crosshairs. Monotonous gameplay where you are limited to two measly weapons and a handful of grenades, regenerative health, and dialogue that grates on you more than nails down a chalkboard. Thankfully Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is (yet another) remake of the original classic, and unlike Duke Nukem’s disappointing leap into the current gen, the folks at The Farm 51 know what their audience want, and that is pretty much the opposite of the aforementioned list.
The story, in which you play as Daniel Garner, a man fighting his way out of hell, does nothing more than to provide a stage for the action, which is non-stop and bloody. Levels are varied and diverse as are the weapons, which includes the ‘Painkiller’ from the original, that is basically a badass-saw that slices through pretty much anything. Also featured is the ‘Stake Gun’ and the ‘Soul Catcher’ which sucks up the souls of pretty much any enemy. You can finally put into practice all that slamming the number keys World of Warcraft has you doing now you are finally able to carry more guns than you have hands.
Opponent variety is also substantial, however due to their design, you know how strong they’re going to be just by looking at them, their weapon and, most important of all, how big they are. Weapons, levels and monsters are what Painkiller does well, and what it needs to do well, considering gameplay is literally nothing more than destroying monsters, in a level, with some weapons. No linear progressing within each mission, you are literally just plonked into a world, and have to annihilate enemies, arena style. Farm 51 obviously realised the potential here for multiplayer, as the entire campaign is now available to play through with a friend in co-op. The game also includes various PvP modes, although these are not the games forte.
Despite all that the game as to offer however, there is a massive elephant in the room, and it’s an elephant thats about to break loose and bring Painkillers metaphorical big top crashing down: While playing Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, I was bored. Really, really bored. I can’t put my finger on whether or not it was the game itself, or just the gameplay. Painkiller does feel a bit outdated, but other than that its a perfectly decent game. But while playing through, I felt like I needed something more than level after level of seemingly endless waves of random monsters listlessly tacked together. When I ask “what’s the point” and someone says “that is the point”, I feel like pointing out Half-Life 2 came out less than a year after the original Painkiller, and so violence “just ‘cause” isn’t really an acceptable premise anymore for me.
The outdated feeling comes from a number of things. The graphics are nice, but when framing the pre-rendered cutscenes, which are gorgeous, you begin to notice that they aren’t as crisp as they could be. Also enemy AI feels old as hell, acting more like Goombas in Mario than intelligent opponents. Even your opponents in the original Goldeneye had more of a sense of life-preservation. Sure, its essentially a horde game, so all they have to do is run at you, but the way in which they do it just feels buggy; running into walls and generally acting like zombies that got kept back a year. This results in the difficulty coming from sheer enemy numbers rather than any intelligent form of design, as masses of skeletons, demons and who knows what else try to gouge your eyes out in the hopes of killing you even though you’re already dead..?
Another problem I had with the game, and with most FPS games of this style, is that I can’t see a ruddy thing behind me. Strafing is great for the crazed head on assaults but Painkiller, as sharp as the controls are, allows you to easily become overwhelmed by enemies considering the levels are an open, non-linear series of murder chambers, and spawn points litter the map. Playing co-op helps this to a degree, if you’re going it alone expect to die lots, especially on the harder difficulties. Boss battles are similarly anti-climactic. They feel like some sort of hybrid of Shadow of the Colossus, and Bulletstorm. Obviously quick-time events don’t exist in this part of the gaming universe, but neither does platforming. Shooting the massive behemoth in the face until it falls over is the name of the game. Just make sure to do it before you run out of health, armor and/or ammo, as all three quickly become scarce in these section.
What made Painkiller so popular all those years ago was simplicity. Games like Postal and Duke Nukem had mixed reviews throughout the series because they constantly tampered with the formula, adding regenerative health and a two weapon inventory. I shouldn’t need to remind people that Duke Nukem Forever & Postal 3 made it on our list of worst PC games of 2011. With Painkiller, meddling with the formula would defeat the point of the game, which is there is no point. Much like Marmite, communism and Twilight; you either love every aspect or hate it to its very core. I like a little bit more from my games. Implied backstories in Portal 2, epic crossovers in GTA IV and truly touching moments like those found in Fable II. Painkiller is a game that you’d embarrassed to show someone who argues that “video games are a waste of time” or “video games are too violent”.
Even games like Postal and Mortal Kombat over-exaggerate violence to present in a tongue-in-cheek manor. In GTA 3, you could shoot peoples heads off and watch their blood gush out like a fountain, but at least there was a massive sandbox world you could point out and say “look how impressive it is someone built that”.
Painkiller feels like a game you let a hyperactive child blow off some steam on for a few hours if its too cold to leave the house. Murder for the sake of murder. As varied as the levels are, there is no level of coherency to them. One minute you’re in a graveyard, the next in an opera house in hell. Versatility and graphics can only go so far before you start to question what the hell you’re actually doing, push away the keyboard and pick up a book before your brain turns into the same mush that know litters the floors as once proud monsters now decorate rooms with their entrails.
Is It Worth Your Money?
At roughly 5-6 hours, Painkiller isn’t a particularly long game either but at $19.99, you get what you pay for. It achieves what it sets out to with great aplomb. If you’re into sawing, staking, blowing, and otherwise maiming the faces of the local residents of Hell, then this is a game for you. However, if your favorite games are Ico, Portal, Half-Life or indeed if you’re used to the formulaic gameplay of Call of Duty and Battlefield games, then this is a title I’d avoid at all costs.
- Time Played – 6 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse
- DRM – Steamworks
- System Specs – GTX 460, 2.4GHz Core2 Quad, 4GB RAM
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam