Most first person shooter games these days focus on ultra-realistic firefights, real weapons and fancy graphics that bring any rig to their knees. Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to sneak around, searching for the next objective while avoiding enemy guards? Painkiller brings you just that, along with hours of brainless shooting. And that's not a bad thing.
The story focuses on the player's character, Daniel Garner, who is stuck between Heaven and Hell. The only thing on Daniel's mind is seeing his wife, Catherine, again. Luckily the Big Man himself, the Reaper, is willing to make a deal with him; Daniel has to bring 7000 souls to the Reaper in order to see his wife again. Without hesitation, Daniel sets off to capture the required souls. Talk about real love. The story unfolds in the few cutscenes that the game has. Don't expect any grand emotions or epic scenes here; most cutscenes involve the Reaper rushing Daniel to capture the souls. The story is short but filled with action; it reminded me of the glory days of FPS games with hordes of enemies rushing towards you. Too bad the ending sucked big time; you're left with a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering 'That's it?'. They could have just smacked the text 'To be continued' on there and be done with it.
The gameplay mechanics are simple and intuitive; no need to remember dozens of different buttons or worry about running out of time or other fancy crap modern games have. It's just you, WASD and your trusty shotgun. The only real challenge Painkiller gives has to do with your mouse; can it withstand the thousands keypresses this game requires? And more importantly, can you press the left mouse button fast enough to thwart the forces of Hell? I'm not even joking; Painkiller throws literally hundreds of enemies at once at you. And if that's not enough the game features huge boss fights. And by huge I mean gigantic. The bosses are enormous (scyscraper enormous) and feature the closest thing Painkiller has to offer in terms of thinking; there's usually a trick into defeating the bosses so brainless shooting gets you nowhere.
Talking about brainless shooting, Painkiller has a very limited amount of different weapons but the ones that are present are gruesome; you have a weapon that shoots saw blades for example. Every weapon has a secondary fire also; the rocket launcher can be used as a minigun, the shotgun can be used to freeze enemies and so on. The starting weapon, Soulcatcher, can be used to (surprise, surprise) catch souls and once you've catched enough souls with it, it can be used to transform your enemies into allies that fight along side you. Neat little thing but not really worth it, especially in the easiest difficulty settings. Another thing that emphasizes the fact that this game is meant to be played with zero brain activity is the reloading of weapons; there is no reloading.
The enemies you'll encounter are as gruesome as the weapons used to dispose of them; you have zombies, skeleton knights, butchers with man-sized cleavers, even the little girl from FEAR is present. If that's not enough to disturb your peaceful slumber during the nights, the way the enemies die will. Flying limbs, zombies nailed to the wall with the stake gun and gallons of spilled blood ensure the game has a lasting effect on your psyche. Most enemies rely on close combat and overwhelming the player with sheer number but later on you'll encounter undead creatures that use similar weapons as you; shotguns, machine guns, etc. When you kill an enemy, it leaves behind its soul. Collecting the soul fast enough grants you a small health boost. Collect 666 souls in a single level and your character transforms into a demon; the screen turns white and black, highlighting the enemies in red. Collecting more souls lengthens the time you spend as a demon.
As with the legendary shooters from the early 90's, Painkiller has weapon, ammo, armor and health pickups as well as secret areas. There are also collectible artifacts hidden throughout the levels and gold coins that can be found by destroying various objects. These coins can be used to purchase Tarot cards that are unlocked by completing certain objectives in a level. These objectives vary from killing all the enemies to defeating a boss under a set time. Each Tarot card gives you a special ability; one might double the damage you deal and the other might slow down the time for example. I have to admit it, I didn't purchase a single Tarot card. Then again, I played on the easiest difficulty level.
The game is divided into 4 chapters, each with 3 levels. Each level is very linear and takes around 10-40 minutes to complete. The levels vary from a cemetery to a run-down train station and they all have one thing in common; they're all very dim and look like they've been stolen from the nightmares of a 13-year old boy. One level even featured a few Indiana Jones -style traps. As with all modern games, Painkiller doesn't have a manual save. Luckily the checkpoints are many and not very far from each other. There's even a compass that shows the direction to the next checkpoint so you don't have to worry about getting lost in the levels. It took me around 9 hours to complete the game (along with the bonus levels) and I checked each nook and cranny for hidden stuff. If you just race to the finish, I'm sure you'll complete the game in under 5 hours. This of course depends on your ability to dispose of all the enemies since most levels follow the same pattern; enter a room, door closes behind you, room fills with undead creatures, get rid of all the enemies, next checkpoint activates. And so on. And so on. This becomes very tedious after the first hour but when played in short spans, it's a welcome breeze to modern shooters.
The whole campaign can be played cooperatively with a friend which is always fun. Other multiplayer game modes are familiar with anyone who has ever played an FPS game online; you have deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. I'm sure everyone knows these modes so I won't waste precious GD server space by introducing them. There's also a survival mode which pits the players against endless hordes of undead creatures. The game ends when all the players are dead. If you have enough friends, this game mode is the most fun and rewarding. The game has 5 different multiplayer maps along with their HD versions. There's also 5 special survival maps which can only be used in the corresponding game mode. Unlike other games in the 21st century, Painkiller has full LAN support.
The sounds deserve a medal; the sound of the shotgun must be directly from Quake and the first time I heard it, I got shivers. The other weapons sound great also and the game is filled with Duke'ish one-liners. In fact the sound actor of the main character is Jon St. John. If you have no idea who I'm talking about then shame on you. Jon St. John is none other then the guy who gave his voice to the original Duke Nukem. He gives balls to any game he voice-acts and Painkiller is no expection. Since they've managed to get such a huge name involved in the game, the other voice-actors feel like amateurs. The background music is barely noticeable but once the enemies start pouring in, it changes into heavy rock'n'roll which suits the game like women on Duke.
The graphics are very basic and lack the polish most modern games have. I even had to check if the game really uses the Unreal Engine. The textures lack details and the overall tone of the graphics is a bit too dim and dark. In any other game this would be a bad thing but this game the darker graphics fit perfectly. This of course means that the game runs even on a weaker rig; a 2 GHz dual core with 2 GB RAM and a 8600/HD 2600 class GPU is enough. And the game even supports Windows XP. Needless to say, my rig ran the game perfectly smooth with constant 60 FPS on maximum settings (which are plentiful to suit every gamers needs).
If you had the sensation of deja vu while reading this; don't be alarmed. The game is a remake of the original Painkiller with HD graphics (hence the title 'Hell & Damnation'). As such, it's hard to recommend this game to anyone who has played the original. For other players who are fed up with modern games with fancy-pansy graphics and ultra-realistic action, Painkiller is a highly recommended adrenaline rush. Yes it's a bit short and offers little replay value (other then beating your previous times and finding all the hidden artifacts) but the feeling of being a kid, playing Duke Nukem for the first time is really something. Not to mention the cheap price tag Painkiller has.