Painkiller, Hell & Damnation: A Review
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Painkiller has made quite a name for itself in cult gaming, particular in the circles where names such as Blood, HeXen and Serious Sam are regulars on their followers' lips. And if you were to ask me why I haven't played such a magnificent game that combines the above and forges them in the fires of Hell, I couldn't give you an answer. I really have no excuse as to why I've not played Painkiller, originally a franchise for the PC, because I've played all of the Unreal games and enjoyed them to no end, not to mention I'm one of Doom's biggest fans. But I've finally found a chance to sit back and relax with Hell and Damnation, recently released for the PS3 and XBOX 360. And, to make up for all the times I've neglected getting this game, I bought it in special edition. This baby's gonna stay on my shelves longer than any of my steelbook edition games.
JoWood Entertainment developed this game, in addition to the rest of the series, and are famous for the Gothic franchise, the Spellforce games and my personal favourite in adventure games, Sam and Max. However they were mostly controlled by publishers Nordic Games, who received flak in Germany because the game was, and I quote, "too evil". But that's the point! No game has been as evil as this, save for Blood where you eat your friend's heart and kill your former cultist friends, but still! Still, they published it on the 28th June 2013 (for PS3 and X360) and the chosen engine is a close friend of mine, the Unreal Engine 3. So immediately huge amounts of blood, ragdoll physics and bad explosion effects come to mind, meaning Painkiller can't fail.
The game's story sees you playing as Daniel Garner who has had a run in with Hell and damnation on previous counts. He was once promised his wife's return to the living by the Light provided he destroys the forces of Hell, but this was a lie and now he doesn't know what to believe in. Ridden with depression and anger (not very well expressed either), Garner doesn't really know what to do, but someone who knows him very well has a plan. Enter Death, who is by far one of the best depictions of him since Bela More, Bela Morte who gives Daniel a shady deal: collect seven "legion" souls (if cent is 100, legion is 1000) and he gets to see his wife again. Death is only making this proposition because the universe is in disarray because Garner should be dead ("a thousand times over"), but isn't, and this amount of souls should make up for it. Almost immediately he takes up arms and the fight against the forces of evil begins. And coincidentally, so does this review!
One Shot at Glory
The gameplay may be a tad old but it works even to this day, especially when very few games mimic its style. Painkiller is not like the modern shooter where cover is essential and ammo reserves are low, for this game is like your playground, only filled with the undead and demonic beings and kickass goods. The environments are nice and large, adding to the atmosphere and further comparisons to Blood, a game that arguably started as the inspiration for Painkiller. So rather than taking cover you'll spend a lot of time back peddling and leaping from side to side, something I've missed in the shooter genre. Your main objective is to get to the end of each level after clearing a room filled with waves of bloodthirsty cultists, monsters and small bag ladies clawing at your jeans. You'll also have to collect Souls, a resource that heals you for a small portion of health upon collection, as well as help in your transformation. While it's not essential to collect 7,000 souls (nor is it possible as far as I can tell), they contribute to earning Tarot Cards, which provide perks throughout each level such as time slowing, increasing your damage dealt with certain weapons and protecting you from damage by a certain amount.
Let's first talk about the guns, the one thing that's everybody's mind when they saw Painkiller's release. Yes, the guns are over the top but mostly have the same effects. The fact of the matter is that they're mostly rifle-like weapons, such as stake launchers (which stick people to surfaces), generic shotguns and machine guns. In fact, you're likely to stick with one weapon simply because it's enough, and you'll only swap because you're out of ammo or need a different secondary fire option. As I say though, the weapons are very well designed, but badly implemented. My favourite weapon has to be either the first one you get, that shotgun, or the Painkiller (the melee weapon that also has ranged capabilities). Still, if this game is at all related to Unreal, it can be expected.
I said earlier something about a transformation, and this is really cool. What happens is that when you obtain 66 souls, you become a demon for a limited time. This allows you to enter an upgraded FPS mode, where the whole world becomes grey and white, and your enemies are highlighted red. With a quick tap of the R2 trigger, you're blasting these slowed down enemies in a single shot, and you're invincible while you're at it! So this should be an incentive to collect those souls!
"If Alicia Clause and the Doom Marine had a child, and Caleb baptised it, you'd get Painkiller: Seed of Awesome!"
The monsters you'll face can vary, and you'll have to plough through waves of axe-wielding cultists, undead swordsmen, skeletal knights and a huge variety of demons pulled right out of a Warhammer catalogue. However they all have something in common, besides wishing you dead: the AI is terrible. And it's not just "ooh, I've seen it once therefore I'll exaggerate" terrible, it's there for you to see in any version of this game, and any video of gameplay. My point is that this is unavoidable, undeniable and unacceptable - this shouldn't be fixed in a patch, but way before its release. I don't know how many beta testers there were but surely one of them noticed. Or did that fragment of player testing get lost in the vast amount of feedback for this game? I know I'm dragging on about it, but bad AI only worsens the experience, and even Ultima 9: Ascension had more intelligence than this. Enemies often find themselves walking into walls and continue to do so whilst chasing you; they'll do U-turns trying to get to you when there's no need; they'll attack thin air and don't get me started on how many times they'll spawn in front of you spontaneously. The worst of them all are the bosses who show no signs of intelligence at all, and find themselves stuck on pillars or where they stand. When revealing weak points they might take a while before going back to their normal selves and the same can happen the other way round. So if you're looking for bosses that require thought, don't bother with this lot.
Apart from this there's not much to talk about. Painkiller's gameplay is severely limited but at least you're not paying the full retail price of £60, but rather a nifty £24.99 which is pretty good for a game of this length and content. Oh yeah, that's something I need to cover: the length. This game is incredibly short, lasting around 5 hours clocked for those who want to rush, 7 for those who want to take things easy and explore. It's quite hard to drag out the total time you've played because enemies find you, rather than you find them, and when the door locks behind you it means there's going to be an inevitable fight. If you're looking for a challenging experience it's there, and adds so many more hours to the game but no extra levels or bosses. Such a game relies on its replay value and multiplayer, and it certainly has both. But surely a few more levels could've been thrown in - unless you're online with friends and a good community, chances are Painkiller won't remain on your video game shelf for very long. In fact this game is much better as a rent, and this is coming from a buyer's perspective. Another thing is that the multiplayer is all "been there, done that", adding nothing new apart from an arcade survival mode (today known as "Zombie mode") and co-op, which doesn't add much because it's so much fun in singleplayer. And because Painkiller's multiplayer doesn't hold a light to many other games of this genre, I can see queue times increasing much further, simply because there's far more games doing the MP far better. The most notable modes are Deathmatch (lone wolf and team), King of the Hill and Capture the Flag, so this isn't the best title to go for until the prices drop methinks. Still, it's worth a try if you do play this game, but don't expect too much from it.
The visuals in this game have been remastered, making your bloody conquest against the legions of Hell all the more breathtaking, and I think the weapons get the most credit in terms of graphics. They're well animated and beautifully designed, but not as big and bulky as I'd expected though that can be a good thing. The character models are also brilliant, making the enemies both 'cartoonish' and believable, so they get high marks from me. The environments are amazing, though perhaps extending them a bit more would give me far greater impressions and perhaps less linear would make JoWood aces in my books. The cinematic cutscenes are few but the exchanges with Death haven't been touched upon like the rest of the game, so you can still expect Daniel Garner to look like the constantly smiling, glued-fingered Max Payne on PS2. It's not that bad, but you get my point.
Nordic Games' marketing teams also had a habit advertising this game's soundtrack as 'good', but it's far from decent, let alone good. Tracks only fade in while in combat and play on a constant loop. As soon as you become conscious of it, you'll forever remain conscious of it. Outside of combat and it's quiet save for a bit of ambience, which you won't be so aware of. The voices are limited so expect to hear the same screams and roars over and over, but this doesn't bother me so much because they're quite funny. Then again, some sounds have to make up for the overall OST.
All Guns Blazing
The Special Edition of this game doesn't have all that much, but for the same price as the standard edition there's no reason not to get it. Unless you can't fit it on your shelf, because this sweet thing takes up the space of two games. Hell and Damnation comes with the following:
- A soundtrack CD
- A 'Making of' DVD
- Postcards from Hell (more like "Post-papers", they're so flimsy)
- An in-game Tarot Card and Multiplayer Skin
- Art book
Out of all these, the art book is the only one that interests me, especially after hearing the soundtrack which is a new song each level on a 6-second loop. Oh, and the box. Sorry, I love boxes. These are all fine and dandy but not much too special, however they will be worth a bit to certain people, especially the multiplayer skins and the tarot card. Both versions of Painkiller contain the expansion of the previous games, Battle out of Hell, though I've yet to play it.
When it comes to price you can't get any better than this, because most games will charge you £60 for this amount of stuff as a pre-order or store exclusive bonus. But this edition is available anywhere at anytime so I'd recommend you try get you hands on this version instead of the standard!
Allow me to give you the 'TL;DR' of this game: If Alicia Clause and the Doom Marine had a child, and Caleb baptised it, you'd get Painkiller: Seed of Awesome! It's a terrific game with lots of reason to replay it and some of the finest gore effects I've seen for this generation of consoles, as well as difficulties that are just right for anyone new to this kind of gameplay, the genre and the series! Its length is incredibly short and as I said before, it couldn't hurt the developers to add more to this title. If I'm being totally honest, it deserves more because I can't get enough. Even halfway through I was gorging, fantasizing about all the possibilities this game could bring. But let's see later on down the line - perhaps the sequel will bring more.
There will be a sequel.... right?
I'm giving Painkiller a SEVEN OUT OF NINE as well as the "CHAINSAW HERO" Accolade for its blood, bones and body bits being thrown everywhere like it's a gory hand-carwash! The reason why it doesn't get an eight or nine is because of the AI, and how dull they can make the experience. They're not very accurate with ranged weapons, constantly run into things and even when in range often refuse to strike. There's also the soundtrack which needs so much more work being done to it before I call it passable, but other than that this game will rock your socks off? Recommended? Most certainly, but be sure to give it a rental. If you're Hell bent on buying it, get the Special Edition, because there's no harm in doing so! Until the next time, thanks for reading and have a pleasant day!
Gutwrenching gunplay and marauding melee makes for one of the finest shooter experiences of the decade, let alone the year! It's the kind of gameplay I've missed, though the story could've been told far better than 3 cutscenes throughout the game. Oh, and nice large subtitles - for this it's the best game for deaf gamers.
13 levels including 4 boss battles is not very good, but for the price and replay value this game deserves a five rather than a two.
Fluent, responsive control, but with no option to change the trigger layout (R2 to shoot, I prefer R1, and weapon change to triangle rather than R1) this gets a bump down.
Great revamp, though some models could do with another coat o' paint, and some of the environments need another looking at, but nothing worth griping about.
For the most part the soundtrack was little more than a single track per level on a five second loop. This is disgraceful.
It's likely I'll return to this game, but I can't see myself going over the multiplayer all that much.