Hands On – Painkiller: Hell & Damnation

Painkiller is a game that’s never really been away since it first appeared in 2004. While never actually receiving a formal sequel, there have been four more games since, each from a different developer, and each described as a standalone expansion. Which makes it all the more strange that Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is still not a sequel, but rather a remake. I’ve had my hands on five of the levels.

The original game and its first expansion were of course made by People Can Fly – they who went on to perfect the art in the far more sophisticated (and that’s surely the first time anyone’s used that word in association with it) Bulletstorm. Following on from them were Mindware Studios, Homegrown Games, and Eggtooth Team, each making an expandalone for publishers DreamCatcher, two of them originally fan-made mods made official. A fifth expansion appeared this year already, from Studio Med-Art, this time published by Nordic Games (who bought Dreamcatcher). They are also the publishers behind Hell & Damnation, now in the hands of a sixth studio, The Farm 51. However, it’s important to note that this Polish indie features former members of the original Painkiller team from People Can Fly. Confused? Good.

It’s being remade in the Unreal 3 engine (the original was their own proprietary PAIN Engine), with improvements made where they believe they’re needed, and plans to include the levels from the first game, and PCF’s expansion pack.

And as I loaded the preview version I thought, do I really want more Painkiller? And as I started playing in that familiar graveyard level, instantly being attacked by hordes of skellingtons I thought, do I really want more Painkiller? And as I finished the level having killed nearly 300 enemies I thought, do I really want more Painkiller? And loaded the next level.

I think that’s the secret of Painkiller. No, we don’t need it. It’s never going to advance a medium, change the way we view gaming, nor probably make many games of the year list. But you try putting it down. Which means, yes, it absolutely manages to maintain an absolutely true-to-the-original feel, despite the move to Epic’s engine.

One of the first things I tend to do when setting up the controls for an FPS is increase the mouse sensitivity – the default is never twitchy enough for me. Within about thirty seconds I’d pulled Painkiller H&D’s back down again. This is, as the series has always been, a twitch-fest onslaught of frantic action, where there’s no attempt at simulating human movement, no notion of mouse drag, no physics imposed upon you as a player. Push the mouse far enough and you’ll spin on the ground like a top. It’s about being attacked by wave after wave of enemies, gathering their souls, and then doing that some more. A lot. And from my early impressions, it does it exactly as it always did, but prettier.

Not exceptionally prettier, I should add. I don’t know whether there has been deliberate effort involved to try to make the Unreal Engine look more like the original Painkiller, but it’s safe to say you won’t be wowed out of your chair. Brown on brown is rarely an engaging colour-palette, and here there are certainly some very poor textures. It’s early code, of course, so that could all change before it’s out. But in levels such as the large opera house, you can tell the issue is a lack of finesse more than anything. There’s no doubting it looks crude. But then, it’s Painkiller, and it always has.

Crude’s a compliment as well as a criticism here. That sense of brain-free violence is all present and correct, enemies exploding into bloody blobs as you unthinkingly mow them down. The weapons are as meaty and over-generous, from flung spinning blades to shotguns, nail guns to mad spinny knives. The only disappointment is the new version of the stake-firing gun, which feels far less powerful now, and far too slow to reload in compensation. It’d be nice to see that get a bit beefed up. (Beefed? Stake? Geddit?)

Enemies do exactly what they should – they run toward you. The animations are all decent, and there’s some lovely models in there. And it’s great that despite the frenzy, each is cartoonishly distinct such that you can adopt micro-tactics for taking them out most efficiently. Aiming for the feet on those dudes with the big shields is always great, as is trapping a whole gang of hooded bastards with arcing electricity, and then slaughtering the lot of them. And the levels, as ever, are just the right size – linked by checkpoints earned by clearing each wave of enemies – but not over-staying their welcome in a game so clearly focused on those with the attention spans of a

Do I really want more Painkiller? Or in this case, want Painkiller again? If you stopped me in the street and asked me, I’d likely say no. But sit me down in front of it and I’ll keep on playing and playing. I just don’t know that I want it. I think that’s the challenge in front of Nordic – convincing 2012 that it still wants Painkiller, because I reckon if they can get people to sit in front of it, they’ll find an audience.

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is due to appear on the 31st October this year, and you can pre-order it on Steam now.


  1. nothingfaced says:

    I want some more Painkiller. Im an old spunker now and dont have no where near enough time to play games and something that I can dip in and out of is just what I need.

    • Carter says:

      …Old Spunker?

      • ColOfNature says:

        Apocryphal sequel to Old Yeller. Most prints were destroyed by Walt himself, but legend has it two survived. One is purportedly kept under lock and key in the Library of Congress. The location of the other is not recorded.

    • wodin says:

      Old Spunker..h,, you an aussie or a yank. As in UK that sounds …hmm…

    • zebramatt says:

      A quick google search confirms it!

  2. DeFrank says:

    This game had me at there-is-no-reload-button-just-shoot-until-you’re-out.

  3. Lydia says:

    Painkiller was absolutely brilliant in it’s own way and I can’t think of another game that’s gotten lousier sequels/expansions. This one seems no different. For how long do they intend to twist the fucking knife ?

    • Vorphalack says:

      ”it does it exactly as it always did, but prettier.”

      How is this lousy? It’s more or less just a graphical overhaul project.

      • DeFrank says:

        I agree. It’s also only 20 bucks.

      • Wedge says:

        I just don’t see how it’s necessary. (the original) Painkiller looks far from bad these days, it’s not like it was from pre-shader era tech. I doubt this has the budget to make a notable difference, nor that it would matter given the pace of the game.

        • Tatourmi says:

          I’d suggest you watch the video of this game on TotalBiscuit’s channel, it is genuinely looking impressive in my opinion and they do add a little bit to the levels here and there to keep things fresh, without modifying much of the core game though.

    • Chizu says:

      the expansions after the first ones were lousy, bad level design, and far too many enemy waves in an area before you could move on, making some of the levels ridiculoulsy long just because the enemy waves go on and on and on and on, all in the same one room, before it lets you move into another.

      This, being the original game remade, should save it from those two main issues I ever had with the expansions, seeing as the original games levels were all pretty great, and the waves didn’t overstay their welcome before you moved on.

      So I may actually buy this one, though likely when its on inevitable sale rather than brandnew.

  4. x1501 says:

    I heard the game will have campaign co-op now? If so, I might be interested in replaying it with a friend. The original game wasn’t bad, as far as I can remember.

  5. MistyMike says:

    ‘(…)not over-staying their welcome in a game so clearly focused on those with the attention spans of a’


    • Sadraukar says:

      Attention spans of a what?! A WHAT?! We’re dying to know here!

    • The Random One says:

      Was that sentence incomplete? I stopped reading halfway through.

    • brulleks says:

      The RPS witty comment machine must have run out of doughnuts again.

  6. Ultra Superior says:

    I have finished the first game on Hell difficulty and I’ve collected all of the secrets. One thing that never comes up in any review: when you do that, you get a different ending.

    I went to heaven (made of actual clouds) and there was my GF from the opening car accident. I dropped my shotgun, hugged her and drowned in a very bright light.

    It felt adequate.

  7. pilouuuu says:

    Funnily enough I always considered this the game Doom 3 should have been. Just action with minimum non-sensical plot included. They kept thing simple and that’s the secret of Painkiller and that’s why it’s a truly fun FPS.

  8. affront says:

    At least it’ll be somewhat cheap at 20 bucks – not that that will make me buy it.
    I don’t understand why anyone needs a remake, as for me Painkiller has always been a game for FPS nerds with a refined enough appreciation of the genre as to notice its great movement and “feeling” of the gunplay as opposed to any story or visual quality – which was shitty and somewhere above decent but below really good, respectively.
    Given all that a remake won’t interest most of the fans of the original, as the movement will probably be only worse in UE3.

  9. PatrickSwayze says:

    That Stake gun is probably one of the best weapons in FPS history.

    • Vorphalack says:

      Serious Sam has a cannon that would like to disagree with you.

      • LTK says:

        The cannon is great, but it’s too crude. I like playing darts more than bowling, so the stakegun wins out. Also because the stakes pin stuff to walls and catch fire.

        • max pain says:

          Also, you can launch a grenade in the air and hit it with a stake and get a nice mortar.

      • Tatourmi says:

        I quite like the gravity gun myself. And the flak cannon from the unreal tournament series, good in every single game too, probably reaching its climax in 2003/2004 and 3.

        Bioshock 2 had some of the most impressive weapons work I have ever seen too. I think any weapon from Bioshock 2, and some from Bioshock 1, win over the stake gun or the cannon in the “Amazing to shoot things until they die with” category. The rocket bolts for the harpoon launcher, with which you can send stuff flying into mines? That feels amazing.

        EDIT: Bulletstorm did some amazing things with its weapons too. I think people remember too fondly the old pew pew guns and do not concentrate enough on the modern ones.

  10. povu says:

    I hope it’s as well optimized as the original. For me that game ran at extremely high framerates with no noticeable slowdowns in areas with lots of enemies and explosions. Slaughtering tons of enemies that smoothly is part of what made Painkiller enjoyable to me.

    • Wedge says:

      Yeah, I ran that game pretty well maxed out on some AMD 3000+ chip with a 6600GT back in the day and it was lovely.

  11. InternetBatman says:

    The author is exactly right on the secret of Painkiller. It’s never great, but it’s always entertaining. I always struggle when trying to compare it to other games, because I don’t want to place it too high, but it was never bad.

  12. ArtyFishal says:

    Having played the beta, the guns and movement are very good. The problem is that this is completely unnecessary if you own the original Painkiller. I love Painkiller, but 20 dollars for slightly updated visuals and less levels isn’t enough. If somehow this manages to create a Painkiller multiplayer community, then maybe I’ll get it, but right now it’s not significant enough of an update to make purchasing at this price appealing.

  13. empyrion says:

    I actually MUCH preferred Painkiller over Bulletstorm. I still don’t really understand why Bulletstorm was so well received. Sure, it has some innovating gameplay mechanics (skillshots), but to me, it really was a run-of-the-mill experience otherwise. Especially the environments were way too restrictive to me, and the controls felt too much like any other game of the time (ye olde default Unreal Engine feel). As a console game, it might have been amazing, but as a PC game, I found it to be somewhat mediocre.

    • Vandelay says:

      Although I enjoyed Bulletstorm a fair amount, to say it perfected the formula that Painkiller invented is an odd statement. It is made even more strange when John says that the love for Painkiller comes from the movement. Bulletstorm didn’t even have a jump button!

      In this age of ‘follow the marker and shoot at men behind chest high walls from your chest high wall in a world of brown’ shooters, Bulletstorm was a fun, colourful experience, but it had nothing on the FPSs of 10 years ago (or Serious Sam 3.)

  14. malkav11 says:

    I -would- like more Painkiller. What I don’t need is Painkiller again. I already own it, and I’m not hearing anything that makes an extra price tag tempting.

  15. felisc says:

    well in the register “remakes we didn’t really asked for” i’d rather pick this up over doom 3 bfg. pretty cheap, and it looks good. also possible coop, so yay.

  16. Eddy9000 says:

    do you know what, I love RPS, I really do. I came onto the site because of PC Gamer, a magazine that normalised my hobby as intelligent, worthwhile and creative. I’ve been following the team since before the cult of Kieron got old (which was around 2001) and loved seeing the political and critical thinking flourish in a new independent environment. But my one sticking point has always been that Painkiller never got the acclaim it deserved. Until now (at least a little). Thank you for writing a positive piece around Painkiller. This is a game that came out several years after Deus Ex told us we should creep around and talk to things instead of shooting them, in the midst of Half Life 2’s set pieces and cinematics and made bunny hopping, circle strafing and ludicrous weapons (a Krull style spinning metal star you could fire?) fun again. I don’t give two shits about the remake because I still think Painkiller looks great, a game set in hell where lava and rocks play second fiddle to Nazi German train stations and Medieval witchcraft trials. Totally agree with the person who said it was better than bulletstorm which introduced something other than survival and progression un-necessarily, I think in the annuls of history Painkiller will go down as one of the most underrated games ever made.

  17. alsoran says:

    Black Edition just about sums up Painkiller for me and I keep coming back to it. Does this new version add anything to the original, it really does not sound like it. Do I want more painkiller? yes and I indulge myself often. Would I buy this, probarbly not, I have the definitive version it seems. It is odd that that the game does not seem to lend itself to any kind of story or plot development, only rehashes.

  18. DestructibleEnvironments says:

    Am I the only one that finds these kinds of game very boring? I bought Painkiller twice (Once before I started using steam, boxed), and I played Serious Sam a bunch of times. They never seem to hold my attention for long. I get halfway through the games and I just feel like there is nothing worth seeing at the end.

    Maybe It’s just not my kind of genre.


    • wodin says:

      I agree to a point. Some are as boring as they sound…and hey this sort of game sounds boring. Abit like ARPG sound boring aswell…yet I devoured TL2.

      So I suppose playing them is better than the concept sounds, however I have played alot of shooters that bored me quickly.

  19. bill says:

    I think Painkiller has been retroactively over-hyped and over-rated. Mainly down to that Yahtzee guy.

    It has some very lvoely artistic and varied environments.
    It has a couple of good guns (though i was very sad to discover that the fabled “gun that shoots shurikens and lightning!!!” was actually pretty dull and useless.)
    It has all out old-school FPS action (which i like).

    But it has terrible pacing and no interesting enemies. Plus it’s often quite broken. (the last level must be one of the most beautiful 100% broken game levels ever).

    It’s good fun. But it’s not as great as the sum of it’s parts.

    (serious sam pacing + serious sam enemies + serious sam level designers + painkiller weapons + painkiller artists + painkiller settings woudl be awesome though).

    • Herzog says:

      I dont think its retroactively overhyped. If Painkiller had a working netcode, so that multiplayer could really develop it would be remembered as a real follow up to Quake and UT. Many people were craving for a new fast fps at the time. Sadly it could only deliver in singleplayer, which was quiet ok but of course nothing too special.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Agreed on all accounts, especially the pacing bit. That ruined the experience for me.