The latest incarnation of Painkiller attempts to avoid the possibility of being weaker than the original game by being the original game, plus its first expansion, all spruced up and ready to party like it’s 2004. A sprucier 2004. But is it a competent copy or something else? I’ve gathered a saucerful of souls and a headful of thoughts. Here they are.
I don’t remember every level in Painkiller but I do remember making my way across a snowy bridge, with ninja-demons shuriken-sniping from on high. Visibility was poor and I kept falling off. The ninja-demons might have been soldier-demons or angry guns with teeth and guts, but the bridge was definitely there and it’s the first part of the original game that I noticed had been excised from Hell and Damnation. Maybe something earlier was missing. Hopefully I can be forgiven for not recalling the order of the levels, or even the exact content of them, because there’s little logic to the progression or appearance of anything in these hell-realms.
Even the content of individual chapters rarely forms any sort of coherent world, but that’s not the problem – that’s already understood – what is problematic is that Hell and Damnation doesn’t have as much content as Painkiller: Black Edition and costs a great deal more. There’s two player co-op and a survival mode but the selection of maps is like a greatest hits collection rather than a complete anthology. Actually, given that Hell’s deranged history of war and other highlights are missing, it’s more like a compilation of B sides.
Unless you really want a shinier, co-op enabled sampling of Painkiller, I can’t think of a good reason to buy this instead of the Black Edition. With that said, here’s how it compared to my mangled memories.
Painkiller - Hell and Damnation's best and most important qualities are as follows:
1) The rocket launcher appears to have a minigun attached to it. Closer inspection reveals this is not the case – the rocket launcher just happens to also be a minigun.
2) Encouragingly, the shotgun works exactly as I like shotguns to work in an FPS. It’s essentially a melee weapon, for blowing demons into bits at point blank range. You could replace the graphic with a parcel containing a boxing glove on a spring and it wouldn’t be a bit out of place. Run up to enemies, BOP, SMASH, reet in the grid.
That’s encouraging stuff. There’s a plot as well and it's about as interesting as a cardboard box collectors’ convention in Dudley. The goal is to kill some demons and collect their souls. There’s also something about a car crash and a princess in another purgatory, but the direction provided at the beginning of the game is essentially to ‘kill all these things’. Even though you already have a weapon when the first level starts, the first thing you do is pick up another one, which is defiantly spinning around about a foot off the ground.
The ‘things’ that you kill vary from level to level, although whether they look like clowns, possessed schoolchildren or angry butchers they’ll act in one of two ways - running at you and hitting you, or running at you and shooting you. Sometimes the shooty ones can’t run at you because they’ve accidentally domiciled themselves on top of a pillar, so they just shoot you from there instead. Working out how to deal with these distant foes is the most complicated mental process that you will undergo when playing Painkiller.
There are lots of weapons to kill things with as well. The game doesn’t explain what they do, you find out by pointing them at something and killing it. How did it die? Electrocution? A stake through the face that pinned it to a wall? By exploding perhaps? There are alternate fire modes as well, some of which can be combined with the primary mode. Did that furious skeleton explode while electrocuting every other enemy in the vicinity? Interesting. Make a note of that. Although it might, for some, spoil the purity of the storyline (shoot things) I wish the new developers on board for this rejig had taken something from People Can Fly's later Bulletstorm, rewarding use of combos and variation.
Whether you’re in an opera house, a monastery cellar or a train station there will be ammo for all of your guns piled up all over the place. Need a weaponised battery as big as a man? It’ll be just behind the vending machine on your left. This is because the plot is about killing things, the main characters are guns and ammunition is their motivation.
There’s a compass at the top of the screen that (occasionally) points toward the next checkpoint, which can be handy since the only reason to go in one room instead of another is because it’s where the next group of monsters will spawn. Remember, even if you’re walking through a place that very much resembles a fairground, it isn’t a fairground at all – it’s a series of small arenas and someone has painted a fairground on the walls.
When enemies have ceased to appear in an area, a red, glowy symbol appears somewhere in the level. Step on it and another arena will open and more enemies will spawn. This is good, because the only way to progress through the plot is to kill those enemies. Weirdly, the longest breaks in killing-based plot advancement occurred when an X-COM scenario occasionally unfolded – one or two enemies spawned out of sight and I’d have to hunt every nook and cranny to find them before I could advance. Silly monsters.
Twice I saw skeletons soaring through the sky courtesy of jump pads, and then thought about Rise of the Triad and laughed heartily the next time I blew a demon into blood clots. Ah, memories.
For the first half hour, I basked in the unholy glow of Hell and Damnation’s infernal boom-splattery, but much as I’d like to say it’s a skill-based antidote to the corridors of modern warfare, that’s not really the case. While I’ve mostly enjoyed the sheer daftness of it, the ten or so hours of playtime are too one-note. Yes, it’s called Painkiller: Hell and Damnation and I wasn’t expecting more than two or three notes, but the ludicrous weaponry, hordes of enemies and almost constant action did become a case of going through the motions (clicking the left mouse button again and again and again) without engagement.
There are plenty of enemy types but they don’t force a change in approach. They don't even gently suggest one. Walk forward, BANG BANG BANG, turn around, BANG BANG BANG. That's it, really. There's not even a lot of variation in how fast monsters move and they mostly look like the sort of creations you’d find if you scrupulously followed Todd McFarlane around and gathered up all the beermats he scribbled on after a heavy night on the sauce.
Apart from the fairground, which has a tedious and predictably placed on-rails section, the levels don’t offer much variety either. An opera house is the same as a coliseum, and one set of stairs is much like another, whether it’s in an industrial hellhole or a ruined cathedral. There’s nothing as inventive as the level design in Blood or Doom, and nothing on the scale of Serious Sam’s best moments.
Speaking of scale – the bosses are a bit rubbish. They’re enormous but, like their smaller counterparts, they don’t do very much. Rather than just aiming and shooting as they run at you, the best way to deal with them is to stay as close as possible, preferably between their legs, shooting at their exposed nether regions. Hell is staring up a Necrogiant’s loincloth and I have seen far more monster-crotch than I expected to over the last couple of days.
There are secrets, most often not very far off the beaten track, and there are collectibles, including tarot cards which provide extra powers and buffs. These are unlocked by achieving certain goals during each level, such as smashing every object or killing every enemy. Enemies also drop their souls – butterfingers! – when they die. The glowing green goop takes a while to appear but once it does it can be collected for a small health boost. Gather 66 on a single level and you’ll transform into a monster as well, which makes the screen look like it’s had a future-soldier’s goggles attached to it. Click on an enemy and they burst into bits straight away. It’s possible to use the transformation tactically, avoiding that last soul until surrounded, but the guns are very good at killing anyway so there’s no real need for such dallying.
I don't think Hell and Damnation is as good as Painkiller, but all these gripes might suggest I don't think Painkiller is very good anyway. Not true! I like shooting lots of things with silly guns. Playing the whole game through in two five hour sittings does highlight just how repetitive it is though and my tastes have changed in the years since first playing the game. More than anything, I wish there was an occasional change of pace rather than an entire experience that almost perfectly fits the rapidly looping, guitar-punching battle music.
The graphical updates are fine, although some textures are incredibly blocky, particularly those giant boss-crotches I became so well acquainted with. Physics are absolutely ridiculous, with body parts flying off as if they’ve got rockets attached to them and pieces of meat getting stuck in walls and wobbling about frantically until they vanish. It’s a mess but that really is part of the charm. It is annoying though that FOV settings and some other options can only be changed in.ini files.
Given the price, which I mainly mention because Painkiller: Black Edition is almost exactly the same game but bigger, it’s very hard to see why anyone would buy this knowing that it’s a slimline version. There’s the co-op, which I haven’t tried. It’d make things slightly more interesting, I imagine, but I don’t know anyone who’d be willing to sit through the entire campaign. I kind of want to see how the monsters react to a second player, seeing as they just run straight at whatever they want to kill. Maybe they split in half?
There's even a problem with the screenshots here. Too much variety. These are more representative of the game: