I remember one of my first experiences with Painkiller was watching some early e-sports videos (or was it in person? It has been awhile since 2004′s original Painkiller after all) and observing how the pro players were literally jumping non-stop throughout their deathmatch game. I remember wondering why the hell anyone would play a game where everyone keeps bunny humping around non-stop. I also remember thinking it was cool and much, much prettier than Unreal Tournament 2003 – the de facto king of shooter graphics at the time.
So the re-make and re-release of Painkiller: Hell and Damnation comes with its own set of distinct baggage and expectations. Here’s a game that’s as classic an FPS as you can get in this day and age. Paper-thin plot? No reloading of guns necessary? Hell, non-realistic, entirely-made-up guns of awesome? A health system that not only doesn’t regenerate, but needs you to find extra armor to stay alive? Lots and lots of monsters? Overwrought acting? All checked.
Painkiller is in no way competing with the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Instead, it harks back to those old days where twitch shooting with perfect precision, running around levels as fast as you blazingly could with no regards for cover and circle-strafing was the height of glory and the norm. And damn, is it as fun now as it was then. The controls are tight and responsive, with punishment coming should you miss a shot against the overwhelming hordes of foes. Bunny-hopping, that odd staple I remembered from the original, is back as well. Believe it or not, jumping repeatedly gives you forward momentum, allowing you to outrun foes as you blaze away.
Those foes are amazingly detailed for the numbers generated and on-screen at the same time as you. You don’t really want to be seeing them up close though, unless you’re trying to generate airholes with the classic shotgun or suck their souls out with the new Soulcatcher gun. The rest of the game takes its cue with this idea of excess and turns the knobs up to eleven regularly. Cemeteries? Oh these aren’t just cemeteries. They’re full-on memorials with mausoleums, honorary statues, an imposing cathedral chapel and lightning and thunder in the background.
Head inside, and you’ll find gloomy corridors, interspaced amongst roomy, vaulting worship rooms and hallways bedecked with enough ostentatious frescoes and friezes to make the Pope blush. That is, if the demonic monks wielding twin two-headed axes and floating grim reapers weren’t enough. All this, with a rocking, blasting metal soundtrack going on in the background and bosses that loom twenty stories high above you.
Adding on to this are tarot cards, specific cards you can earn by completing optional objectives on each level. Some are pretty easy, such as simply beating the level within a set time frame, while others can test even the most patient of players. Each card can be activated during a level to offer some form of short-term perk, be it slowing down time or some other nifty feature. And you’ll need them, especially on higher difficulties.
Again, this is all pretty standard old-school FPS mechanics. Being able to juggle six different weapons (don’t ask where they’re kept), hunt for secret (!) areas for extra points and loot, all these are well made and bring the full spirit of old Painkiller kicking and screaming into the new generation. But it just isn’t enough.
Yes, the guns look and act fantastically. The new Soulsucker gun, for instance, can shoot a metal saw blade out or suck the souls from foes, turning some into your short-term allies when fully charged. The Red Dragon Shuriken mini-gun discharges ninja stars like crazy, and other classic Painkiller weapons such as the stakegun also make their triumphant return. The problem here is, Painkiller’s devs haven’t really realized how much we’ve advanced with our realistic shooters these days. While watching a demon monk do a complete 360 flip when you nail them in the head with the stakegun is fantastic and speaks volumes about the Unreal engine, the feel isn’t reflected in your own tactile senses while fighting.
What this creates is a weird dissonance where I’m blasting away with the shotgun, or trying to desperately melee foes to death with a tiny scythe gun, and yet I don’t get enough sense of feedback that I’m doing serious damage to foes. It’s a shame, as most of Painkiller’s core gameplay is made up of running around ring-around-the-posy style with a few dozen foes strung out chasing behind you, turning to quickly blast them and look for the tacit feedback that says my hit just landed and did some serious damage. Oh, no wait they’re still comin’. RUN!
Hell and Damnation is also incredibly short. It’s 14 levels in total, down from 24 in the original (And another 10 from the expansion, for a total of 14/34 levels) which makes it a little hard to justify the price tag. Multiplayer is non-existent, and frequently lags. Its additions, such as a four-player survival mode, are also ill-conceived.
If HD graphics and the new weapons are important to you, then sure, go ahead with it. If it ain’t, then you might wanna give this remake a miss.