Painkiller: Hell and Damnation proves less is more, until it’s time for more, and then more is more
Painkiller: Hell and Damnation includes 14 levels, four of which are boss levels. You can play with another player in co-op either online or via LAN. 30 different types of bad guys will attack in large numbers and run at you, usually while screaming. You kill everything, move to the next area, and then kill everything again. This is pure action gaming; filtered through old metal records and classical first-person shooters. If you don’t like this sort of game, you’re shit out of luck. If you want to turn your brain off and destroy everything you see with everything from rocket launchers to spinning steel blades… well, welcome back.
The original Painkiller was released in 2004, and was the sort of game that is usually described as “dumb action.” The truth is that it takes a team that is very smart to create a game featuring repetitive action and situations that can keep someone playing for the long term. In lesser hands this would be a boring game, but the enemy models, sound and power and of the weapons, and the pure id-driven feeling of reducing every moving object on the screen to a bloody smear will keep your interest. If there is a single mechanic that isn’t tuned well, the whole thing falls apart. “Dumb action” requires a kind of purity of design that often trips up much more ambitious games.
Almost all the credit goes to the original team at People Can Fly, this updated version of Painkiller by Nordic Games merely offers updated graphics thanks to a change to Unreal Engine 3. The game doesn’t look as good as contemporary games that were built with modern hardware in mind, but it does look a damn sight better than the original.
You’ll notice a few annoying changes however, as your gun that shoots wooden stakes won’t pin characters to the wall in the same satisfying way as the original. It’s not a huge deal, but the stakes were a wonderful example of physics in the original game and gave that weapon much of its character. The stake gun is still enjoyable, but it lost a little something in the translation. The rest of the weapons, including the game’s distinctive spinning blades, are effective and varied.
I was only able to play two levels in the beta code supplied to me, but I’m already looking forward to fighting the game’s gigantic bosses and joining up with some friends for some fun, loud multiplayer. Painkiller is a wonderful mixture of conservative design paired with indulgent aesthetics, and the result is a game that’s as fun to look at and listen to as it is to play. When the game wants to wow you it doesn’t hold back on the number of enemies or size of the bosses, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the game’s big moments look in the new engine.
The graphical updates look good, the game mostly plays like you remember it doing, and the levels I’ve played remained fun. Sure, the enemies usually just run at you and try to overwhelm with their numbers, but there’s nothing wrong with that. “No kill-streak bonuses or airstrikes,” the game’s promotional materials promise. “No auto-healing.”
This is one of those games where the designers spent much time and thought making sure you don’t have to think too deeply while playing. The $20 price tag for the Steam version of the game (coming on October 31, console versions will be released later) is about $5 higher than we’re used to paying for this sort of remake, but our sense of value has been somewhat skewed in the past few years. This is worth the money, and it’s nice to see a personal favorite get another chance at making people happy.