I’ve said it before but it still holds true that first Person Shooters seem to rule the gaming world at the moment with an iron grip. With scripts written by heavyweights such as David S Goyer, the writer behind The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel, and budgets bigger than the latest efforts from Michael Bay (and that’s a lot considering that bay loves his explosions and a good old-fashioned city leveling) but while the FPS world is a serious place with the genre tackling serious content, its roots have grown from something much more natural that taps into every gamer’s childish obsession with ugly and extraordinary enemies, massive guns and the chance to beat unbeatable odds.
Shooters from days gone by such as Wolfenstein, Doom, Serious Sam and Quake, offered amazing and unique experiences which were fast paced – full throttle all the way. These games held hours of endless joy without having to tackle gritty, Bafta Award winning concepts. This simplicity is something that the Painkiller series has strived to hold true, forget the graphic power held in computers today that rival what NASA used some years back and who cares about the plot really, sometimes I just want to blow stuff up and wreak some havoc on evil incarnate.
The story in Painkiller is simple, Daniel Garner a young man with everything to live for, was involved in a car accident which killed him and his young wife Catherine but while she ascended to heaven, Garner was held back in purgatory. An Angel known as Samael offers him a chance to see his wife, if he can kill four of Lucifer’s most trusted generals, and so begins a head-to-head with hell’s best and worst.
While Painkiller was a big hit on the PC, it’s only ever had one console release on the Xbox which unfortunately became one of those forgotten gems, hidden in the shadows left by big hitters such as Fable and Psychonauts. This year Nordic Games and The Farm 51, have brought Painkiller back to the masses with a remake/sequel in the shape of Painkiller Hell and Damnation. The game begins exactly where the original installment left off. Daniel Garner, our gravelly voiced protagonist with a taste for denim and black leather, was deceived by Samael into fighting the armies of Heaven and Hell only to gain nothing and end up further away from his beloved wife Catherine. Providence pokes its head out again in the shape of Death himself, offering a deal. Collect seven thousand souls and he will take Garner back to his wife.
Easy right? As they say in the writing biz “keep it simple stupid!”
Painkiller takes humongous ques from its ancestry, with each level playing like an arena of death, throwing hordes of unrelenting enemies at you, with no cover system to save you. Yes a doddle I’m sure you’ll be thinking but this is stripped back shooting at its most challenging, there aren’t any weapon upgrades or health packs you can store, shoot until you’ve laid waste to your enemies…or died trying to find that rare bit of armour floating around to save you, at least for a few more seconds.
Enemies are varied from the average skeleton soldiers swarming around you to Witches that hide themselves at the back of the fight, all the while causing your screen to fade in and out of blackness. As I said, we’re not going for realism here. Garner’s arsenal is another escape from the everyday, you’ll start out with the oh-so ridiculous soul-catcher, which looks like something Ghost Rider himself would be proud of – firing both saw blades and ripping the souls from enemies with a flash of green light. As you move on the guns range from classics such as a rather beefed up sawn-off shotgun, the simple but painful stake gun to the Electrodriver which looks like a mini Millenium Falcon ready to shock the masses.
This by far was my favourite thing about Painkiller, the massive list of over the top (and I’m sure physically impossible) weapons available, my personal number one being the grinder which acts like a fan of death that can also detach and fly around the room.
In a big nod to old school shooters, every weapon has a secondary fire, something that has been missing from FPS titles as of late (it is getting rather tiresome knowing that no matter what you play, grenade is “that” button) the shotgu’s secondary fire mode is a freeze shot, which will save your life when you need to slow up the hordes, ready for you to blast them into tiny pieces.
After battling waves of nasties, before you can make it through a portal to your next destination, you’ll have to tackle each a huge (and I do mean huge) boss which again, resembles everything from days gone past. While throwing everything I had at the gargantuan demon troll blocking my way, I still had to face off against another horde. The AI can sometimes be lacking and on a small number of occasions I found the odd skeleton or demon stuck walking into a wall, or in odd circles. Thankfully this didn’t plague my playtime as much as you would think.
During my travels, bathing in blood, I discovered Demon Mode. After you’ve collected enough souls, the screen begins to flash into what is essentially god mode (yep, another classic trope, but a good one right?). You’ll see no HUD, no weapons, just your enemies highlighted in bright red ready to be pulled into pieces when you hit the trigger.
Graphically, Painkiller is a bit lacking. While your surroundings can often leave you wanting to stop and admire the scenery, it’s never really a good idea as you’ll soon begin to notice the flaws, least of all because the enemy hordes around you wouldn’t afford you the time to do so anyway. This isn’t perhaps one of the best games to promote the Xbox 360’s power. The game’s soundtrack also leaves a lot to be desired, sticking with a tiresome routine of dead silence when navigating the map alone before switching to some 90s heavy metal once the fights begin. I understand and laud the team’s desire to take influence from the shooters of old, but a little bit more atmosphere could easily be delivered without forgetting their roots.
While these problems don’t detract from the fun you’ll have, considering this is a remake, it’s sad they weren’t addressed. The biggest issue I found despite the previous miss-steps is actually what the game leaves out in terms of content. This “remake” feels like a mash-up of a planned sequel and a remake, meaning that the many expansion packs enjoyed by PC owners have been left out due to their placement within the story’s time line.
Regardless of its faults, if you’re after an old school blood bath experience then Painkiller is the the game for you. Whether you’re new to the series or a stalwart of the franchise there’s no way you can’t love the fast and furious shoot ‘em up you’ll be thrown into.
Who wouldn’t want a shooter that displays its roots with glee, and prides itself on pure carnage with mind bending instruments of death instead of realistic weapons and enemies?