Publisher: Nordic Games
Developer: The Farm 51
I always thought of Painkiller as a Serious Sam clone, which is ironic because Serious Sam prided itself of being a clone of (oh sorry, "heavily influenced by") the straightforward FPSs of yore… specifically Doom/Quake. Games where story mattered little and shooting a ton of crap as quickly as possible was of the utmost importance. No nuance, just shoot. Painkiller’s shtick was that it tried to infuse a basic storyline throughout – with cinematics and dialogue nonetheless – along with having you kill a bunch of shit double-quick.
See that, Full circle: Games with mindless violence evolved into action games with a bit of backstory before becoming the "full-blown" narrative shooters we enjoy today. These made way for games that were "homages" to the older, mindless action titles which in turn allowed for these "homage games" to add a little bit of plot to the "kill everything" violence. Snake eating its own tail… but I digress…
Seriously though, in Painkiller Hell & Damnation you play as Daniel Garner, a guy in purgatory on a quest to get back with his wife (who is also dead but in heaven). In this sequel, Death, as in the Reaper, tells Ol’ Danny boy that if he can collect a few thousand souls he can have Catherine back. Turns out because he kicked so much ass in the previous games, instead of going straight to hell without question like he was supposed to, Daniel’s existence is causing the underworld’s equilibrium to be thrown out of balance. He’s a proverbial thorn in the side of purgatory (Death’s domain), so Grimm wants him out of there.
What does that mean for you, the player? It means death-dealing time… And lots of it. There is no rhyme or reason for all the different enemies — they spawn on a whim, hit the ground running and right towards you no less. All you need to know is that all of these demons are deadly and evil, so it’s your job to put them down. And with such wonderful weapons to choose from – all with alternative firing modes – and a few different things to collect (souls, gold, tarot cards, etc.) you have a moderately deep well to draw from.
The biggest upgrade to the franchise is the use of Unreal Engine 3, which keeps the visuals looking good. At this point in time the engine is mature enough that even mid-level hardware can max it out at 1080p whilst keeping the frame rate high. (vsync to 60fps) A good thing too, because a big part of Painkiller’s appeal is having a dozens of demons filling the screen while you gib them to a bloody puree. And let’s not forget the Trollhunter-style bosses… giant behemoths that attempt to stomp you to dust. Needless to say, it’d be pretty weak if it such a fast-paced game turned into a slide show during those moments.
Now before you go thinking everything is peachy, there were a couple of glitches that had me shaking my head in disgust. Simple things, like the pre-rendered movies not playing at the proper aspect ratio (or full screen) at resolutions other than 720p proved bothersome, but the game’s inability to retain custom control schemes, from level to level even, was the worst. How does stuff like that get through QA? I ended up having to play with a 360 controller, something that a twitch shooter like this definitely does NOT benefit from. Sure, it plays fine, but Painkiller HD, like its predecessor(s), was/is designed for the mouse more than more traditional/contemporary FPSs.
From a design standpoint the only aspect that I can nitpick is the delay it takes for souls to appear after killing an enemy. Perhaps this was needed to allow time for skeletons of the recently fragged to be reincarnated, but it would have been much easier if you could just mow a boatload of baddies down and move on to the next kill box. I mean, c’mon Farm 51, there’s no point making it overly complicated; I’m here for the killening, so let the killening commence.
Oh that reminds me; Painkiller Hell & Damnation is only a few hours long. Off the top of my head, I think there are 4 chapters with about 5 levels in each (that could be wrong, but it’s not much more than that). That may sound decent, but the stages don’t last all that long. You literally walk into a "room", the exit gets blocked, a few dozen (or couple hundred) hellspawn… ahh… spawn… you kill them, collect what you can, and move on to the next "room." To be honest, I don’t know how it remains as engrossing as it does.
The saving grace is that the game has local and online co-op, which is awesome. The only thing better than killing a shit-ton of evil undead, is killing said undead with a buddy. Playing with a friend doesn’t really change the dynamic of the game all that much, it’s just better than going alone. Problem is, you can only play levels you already unlocked and there are no saves. If co-op isn’t your thing, there’s also regular old deathmatch, team deathmatch, survival (horde), and capture the flag.
Bear in mind that before playing any self-proclaimed throwback game, I’d recommend booting up the classics they’re based on instead. That said, I understand that the classics don’t offer high definition 1080p+ graphics running at 60fps+, so I can’t exactly condemn a rehash like Painkiller H&D since, technically, it fills a void (albeit a limited void). The problem I have is with the logic to produce a quasi-remake of a game that itself was essentially a remake. Not only is there little to nothing new here, but I’d also argue that not enough time has passed between Painkiller iterations to make this one seem as fun in that nostalgic sort of way.
So while I think Painkiller Hell & Damnation is adequate in presentation and gameplay, it’s really only suited for those that didn't play the previous releases. The silver lining is that it speaks highly about the endurance of the hold-down-the-fire-button-and-don’t-let-go FPSs that started the genre… And hey, it’s only $20.