July 05, 2013
Fans of Painkiller will probably have already made their mind up about this game long ago. After all this is merely a souped up remake of a title that has been kicking around since 2004, with spiced up graphics and familiar levels given a bit of a remix. So fans of twitch-based gunplay and endless enemy hordes to dismember will instantly feel at home, for the rest of us though this feels too much like a journey back into the past and one that doesn’t particularly feel like it has aged like a fine wine.
Now I’ve no doubt that a few hardcore shooter fans will be in mid table flip already, ready to decry any slurs against one of their own, but there are very good reasons why the first-person shooter has evolved beyond mere point and blast philosophy. Back in the day, games like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem reigned supreme, with levels full of foes, hidden rooms and minor key grabbing to make your way to the exit. Bosses were giant bullet sponges and all was well. Of course such games never had anything in the way of narrative, and all too often became exercises in memorising enemy spawns and health locations (especially on the higher difficulties). Such games were notoriously brutal for the unskilled and had the unending problem of how to keep players interested after the first hour or so, as by this point you were liable to have seen and blown into gibbets every enemy you were likely to encounter.
The problem is that Painkiller suffers through every one of these foibles, and has the misfortune of being dropped in an era when top notch shooters are hardly in short supply. It doesn’t help when the action on offer never truly feels entertaining enough for you to overlook the many shortfalls. Take the story, which has never been a matter of major import for games of this ilk (just ask Serious Sam), which sees our hero, Daniel Garner, weary from countless battles and betrayals and still stuck in purgatory. Approached by Death for one last job in order to see his wife again, the entire plot revolves around Daniel killing everything in hell. Yes, the actual story is just to kill anything in sight. I would say they weren’t even trying when they came up with this, but that would be an affront to true slackers everywhere. Sure the story may not be important when you are tasked with blowing things into chunks, but at least some effort could have gone into modernising that aspect of the title.
Still none of that matters if the game can deliver balls to the wall action and, to some extent, it does. Taking in a kind of Directors Cut of levels from the previous games you can expect plenty of foes to fall before your bizarre weaponry, and the Unreal Engine allows you to fling them about with disdain, blast off limbs and generally create as much havoc as possible. Sticking foes to the walls with stakes, sawing off limbs, freezing them and then blasting them into shards – the bouquet of death is certainly varied. The levels themselves offer a range of settings and enemies too, plus the satisfaction of laying into screen filling bosses remains as strong as ever. The controls never feel quite as responsive on a controller as they might on a PC, and enemy hit boxes often feel strangely fluid in terms of damage taken, but you still never feel like you’re anything less than a split second away from being the perfect killing machine.
Sadly the good points end there, as the age old problem of such mindless blasters comes to the fore. Mainly being the tiredness of the combat and the sheer idiocy of your foes. Enemies take the shortest route directly towards you each time and EVERY time. There is no clever AI on show here, merely a procession of foes that will swarm you until either you or they lie twitching on the ground. It leads you back to the age old circle strafing techniques of yesteryear and the frankly ludicrous bunny hop method of mobility, that sees you flying around the claustrophobic arenas like a pogo stick champion on acid. Matters aren’t helped when enemies can pop into existence literally anywhere, so the number of frustrating deaths that occur as you try to bait a manageable horde into your killzone is pretty large. Enemies also have a habit of getting stuck on scenery, or each other, and some levels devolve into trudging around to find the few lost souls that some kind of pathfinding programme seems to have neglected. Hardly the stuff of FPS legend.
A lot of your time will also be spent blasting apart the surrounding landscape in a bid to find extra health, ammo or gold. Mainly because you seem to take a ton of damage from even the smallest foes. You’ll also be trying to find secret stashes to make the trips back to each checkpoint less of a regular occurrence and performing certain tasks within each level can see you rewarded with Tarot cards to help smooth your progress. The Tarot cards add a nice strategic element to the game, as you can assign the ones you unlock before tackling each level and then utilise them when you get in a jam. In fact they are pretty much a necessity for the harder difficulties as the brutal nature of the game can often result in you being overwhelmed if you aren’t especially careful.
The main issue seems to be that, after such a long wait for a console version, the fun is over before it ever truly begins. You can literally blitz through the game in five hours or so without truly breaking a sweat and there is little here to warrant a repeat performance. Sure you can tackle the harder difficulties, the highest of which is annoyingly locked away meaning achievement hunters can expect to slog through the game two or three times at least, but the game is simply not enough fun to justify it. The visual update to the original don’t seem quite as pronounced on the 360 either, which is unsurprising considering the console has nearly been around as long as the original title, so players are left with a rather dated looking experience that is easily trumped by the (cheaper) PC version.
I suppose you can always hop into some multiplayer action instead, either by playing the very same single campaign in co-op, which is worth it just for the yucks of your partner being in a towel for seemingly no reason, or by trying out the pretty bland versus offerings. As you would expect you can hop into Deathmatch games and try and rack up a murderous rampage against your peers or try out some Capture the Flag action, which pretty much always devolves into a regular deathmatch game as no one stays alive long enough to move the flag anywhere. It’s decent but forgettable stuff and nothing here really matches a host of superior games that you probably already have on your shelf.
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is a dated and faded experience that will only truly appeal to hardcore fans of the classic shooter genre, and even then you’d be hard pressed to care about this version if you have a PC capable of running the superior equivalent. The dull AI, monotonous combat, non-existent story and cramped levels are relics of past games that have since been updated for very specific and very valid reasons. There may still be some room for an out and out shooter, but Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is one title that is certainly feeling its age and never sticks around long enough to persuade you otherwise.
A rock style score that seems to match Hell with metal but soon becomes pretty tiresome.
Considering the HD upgrade this game is not exactly a looker and enemies, with the exception of some of the bosses, are fairly drab. The backdrops and locales fare better, but even then textures never seem to be as good as they should be.
Gather enemies into a group, shoot them all, repeat. Then go find the ones that got stuck on a wall somewhere.
A far too short collection of old game material with very little effort made to modernise the story or action. Even dedicated fans get short changed by merely getting a bunch of slightly altered levels that have already been available for years.
Unlock every tarot card, blow apart enemies in different ways and, oh yeah, complete the game multiple times because we LOVE IT when we have to do that.
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is a relic of old school gaming that is just not as much fun as it was when it first emerged back in the day. Corralling dumb enemies into clusters in order to blow them into little pieces soon gets old, and the frustrating health mechanics and annoying reliance on perfect enemy spawn memorisation mean you spend too much time repeating sections until you get them just right. The short nature of the game, and the flimsy co-op and multiplayer offerings, mean that even as a budget title, Painkiller H&D never feels like value for money.