You’ll need more than aspirin
Painkiller Hell and Damnation is essentially a reboot of the excellent Painkiller. More than just enabling higher resolutions, maps have been added, new modes have been created and entirely new monster designs and high-definition textures have been used to bring the game up to date. TIt was originally out in October 2012, but since then there’s been four DLC packs with the latest coming out last week. We were lucky enough to get a review copy to try out and we’ve been having fun with it for the last few days. Since I’m assuming lots of people won’t be familiar with the base game this review will be based on everything released so far.
For those who aren’t familiar with Painkiller, it’s an FPS in the same vein as the older Doom and Quake games or the whole Serious Sam series. It’s all about huge hordes of enemies, impossible odds and ridiculous weapons with which you can dismember and disembowel the undead and their comrades. It’s a world full of gothic architecture and heavy metal, and as you pick off cultists and skeletons one by one with the satisfying ‘thunk’ of your stake-gun it’s hard not to feel awesome.
Each of the weapons are inventive and fun to use, with the most boring being a machine gun with a flamethrower strapped to it. When that’s the worst the game has to offer, you know you’re in for something special, usually it’d be the highlight of an armoury’s lineup. The titular Painkiller spins blades in the faces of your enemies or can launch a tether with a beam that can be used to sweep through a group, there’s a rocket launcher/minigun combo, a shotgun that can freeze enemies, a buzzsaw launcher and more. The newest DLC adds mines that are huge and almost a novelty, but cause huge damage and make it easy to sprint past the enemy, sticking one to their face and make a quick getaway before they explode into a pool of bloody chunks behind you. It’s not really for the squeamish.
Speed is everything in the game, with the irritating bunny-hopping behaviour turned into a bona-fide feature. If you start hopping while running you can build up some serious momentum Tribes-style and in multiplayer matches you can fly around the arenas at incredible speeds. It’s hard to get used to, particularly in deathmatches but once you slip into the zone everything else seems so pedestrian. I strongly advise against slipping from this straight into a round of Battlefield, you’ll think your controller’s broken.
Multiplayer matches follow the usual options, with team deathmatch and free-for-all being the most played by far. They’re quick and brutal, rewarding good aiming and leading targets, with a frantic pace reminiscent of the original Unreal Tournament or Quake 3. Single shots with a stake-gun will mean death so the key is to keep moving and prey on anyone who dares to stand still.
A survival mode has also been added, where oddly you seem to get infinite lives and the objective is less about surviving and more about mowing down as many enemies as you can before the other players do. It’s easy to get caught in the crossfire or pick up a few teamkills, but the game doesn’t seem to mind or punish you for it, so each survival map eventually turns into a bloodbath with rockets and stakes flying all over. The monster design really shines in this, with the simple cultists, skeletons and knights giving way to all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors and nods to other genres of the gothic. Some of the insane-asylum enemies are particularly horrifying and the developers haven’t shied away from using bloodthirsty child-demons to give you nightmares.
While the multiplayer modes are fun and offer something distinct from the average FPS games around nowadays, sadly there’s hardly anyone playing. While trying to review it I’ve never seen more than four people online at any given time. That’s four people – total. Often there’s simply no-one else about so unless you’ve got some friends to play with you’ll be completely out of luck. Luckily there’s a four-pack on the Steam store but it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re hoping to find a well-established community. I get the feeling it’s somewhat of a vicious cycle, with people going on to play, then to leave because there’s no-one else on. Once this happens to a game it’s difficult to get it going again without a dedicated playerbase starting matches at all hours.
Single-player contains some neat ideas, with giant enemies and the aforementioned hordes of monsters bearing down on you, but it quickly gets repetitive despite being so short. You’ll be able to fly through the campaign in four hours or so, maybe less if you’re really fast and don’t bother with any of the secrets. While people often have a nostalgia for this kind of retro shooter, it’s hard to deny that as a single-player experience it feels pretty hollow.
Graphically, the game looks basic but fantastic with a simple engine lacking a lot of frills but making up for it with high framerates keeping steady despite the anarchy on screen.While we’ve been spoilt lately with Crysis 3 and trailers of next-gen loveliness, there’s definitely a place for action and speed taking priority, you don’t need to see the reflections of individual blades of grass in a pool of water when you’ve got a bowling-ball sized mine stuck to the side of your head. The art design is really strong and has survived the transition into HD with a palpable sense of places. The ‘Mines’ map in particularly feels claustrophobic and there’s some cathedrals and graveyards than you can shake a blade-covered stick at.
Overall Painkiller is heaps of fun, but sadly lacks other players. IF you can get a group of 4-8 people together online to blast through survival or set up some deathmatches, it’s an amazing throwback to the speed and ferocity of how FPS games used to be. If you’re playing by yourself it can be lonely and frustrating, with a disappointing single-player component. New DLC is being added all the time with fairly light pricetags, so it seems as though the developer is committed to keeping this one going, and I’m glad because the genre needs to keep this tradition of fun over realism alive.