Game: Painkiller Hell & Damnation
Developer: The Farm 51
Publisher: Nordic Games
Available on: Windows PC (currently), Xbox 360 (early 2013), PlayStation 3 (early 2013)
Reviewed on: Windows PC
There’s something calming about sitting down and playing a classic First Person Shooter at times. Sure, a lot of the time most people would prefer to play a game with a little bit more of a story, but there’s a lot to be said about a game where you’re just pointed in a direction and told to kill everything that happens to wander in your general direction. That’s exactly what the original Painkiller was back in 2004, a game where the player took control of Daniel Garner and was told to collect the souls of demons. Just like killing Nazi’s in Wolfenstein, you didn’t need much more story than that. It’s now 2012, eight years later and Nordic Games and The Farm 51 are releasing a brand new remake of the original Painkiller and its first expansion, Battle out of Hell, with promises that they’ve changed nothing except moving the game from People Can Fly’s own PainEngine to the much more visually pleasing Unreal Engine 3. Could the game have done with a little bit of an update, or is the graphical upgrade, keeping everything as original as possible, good enough?
STORY: Painkiller: Hell & Damnation prides itself on being a classic, old-school First Person Shooter, and as such there isn’t a lot of emphasis placed on the story within the game. You’ll be given a vague overview of why Daniel is doing what he’s doing at the start of the game but it’s nothing particularly deep. Basically, Daniel wasn’t a very nice man during his time on the mortal coil, and he accidentally killed himself and his wife in a car crash. Due to the actions within his life, he gets sent to hell while his wife is sent elsewhere, and in order to see her again he must collect the souls of demons for Death.
It’s a very loose story and the only reason it’s there at all is to give the player a reason to be mindlessly killing the hordes of enemies that will be coming their way. In that sense, the story serves its purpose but if anyone is going to be buying Painkiller: Hell & Damnation for a deep and meaningful story then they’re going to be sadly mistaken. In fact, apart from the intro cinematic and a couple of other moments, the story never even makes itself known, the game is more of a series of arcade-style shooter rooms and corridors.
GRAPHICS: When the first Painkiller came out back in 2004 it was one of the best looking games that was currently available. It was the first game I remember playing that made good use of the Havok physics engine, which made impaling enemies with the stake gun all the more enjoyable. Things haven’t changed this time around and the guys at The Farm 51 have made good use of the Unreal Engine 3. Pumping the graphics up to their top settings (which most modern PCs should be able to handle) will make the whole experience look rather impressive.
It’s not up at the top of the class with the big dogs, but that appears to be a choice rather than it being something that the developers aren’t capable of. The character models tend to repeat a little bit too often, but that’s the way that old-school games worked, they’d have a couple of character models, and they’d repeat over and over again, increasing in number in order to make the game more difficult, then you’d get something a little different as an end boss. This is exactly how Painkiller: Hell & Damnation works and while it’s something that’s a little bit grating to gamers that have played modern incarnations of the First Person Shooter genre, it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t intentional on the part of the developer.
SOUND: The sound design in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation isn’t one of the most inspired things you’ll ever hear. There’s heavy repetition throughout the entire game and the silent protagonist of Daniel Garner gets a little bit annoying at times. You’ll often find yourself wishing that he’d say something – anything – to break up the monotony of the gameplay; even if it’s just a cheesy Duke Nukem-esque one-liner. The characters that do talk, however, are often rather humorous in what they do say. For example, when Daniel meets Death at the start of the game, Death will use the line “Only two things in this world are certain, and you’re looking at one of them”, to which Daniel, who only talks during cut-scenes, will respond “Yeah, and you’re not the tax-man”. This type of dialogue is usually reserved for straight-to-DVD B-movies, but given the tone of the game, and the developer and publisher’s want to create an “old-school” FPS, it fits with the style and actually goes down quite well.
The weapons themselves sound rather good, they’re all weapons with a paranormal slant to them so there’s nothing in the real world to compare them to in order to say that they sound accurate, but they’re satisfying to use. The ‘thunk’ of impaling an enemy using the stake gun never gets old.
GAMEPLAY: As a pure remake of the 2004 original Painkiller, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation plays exactly as most people will remember. In fact, if it wasn’t for the massively improved graphics in the latest iteration, there’s a good chance you’d think you were playing exactly the same game. That’s not a bad thing though, Nordic Games and The Farm 51 have made is abundantly clear that they’re not trying to modernised the original Painkiller game, they’re not changing the game in any way, just bringing it to a new generation of gamers via updated graphics and heavy use of the Unreal Engine 3.
In fact, the developers are keeping the game so close to the original’s old-school arcade feel that they’ve even issued a list of “anti-features”, features that people would expect to see in a newly released game that won’t ever be seen in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, features such as “NO Kill-streak bonuses, airstrikes, or suicide bombings, NO auto-heal, NO AK-47, NO M16 or other weapons like that; just a healthy dose of .666 calibre weapons!, NO upgraded weapons with scopes, attached rocket launchers and extended ammo clip”. If that’s not sticking close to a style that you’re going for, while raising a middle finger to modern shooters, I don’t know what is.
The gameplay in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is very repetitive, just as it was in the original game. You’ll be dumped into an area at that start of each level with a very limited amount of weapons, and you’re tasked with making it to the end of each level through wave after wave of relentless enemies, doing so in the quickest time possible. When you reach the end of the level (which you’ll notice as a golden portal, but is spotted even easier by the fact that they’re usually immediately after a boss battle) you’ll be given a page of statistics detailing how long you took to get to the end of the level, how many times you died, how many enemies you killed, etc. It’s these statistics that will keep lovers of classic shooters coming back for more as they try and beat their own times, scores and statistics.
The weapons that you’ll be using to mete your vengeance all feel very appropriate, from the weapon that basically fires circular saw blades, through to the spinning slicer that looks like the “Will it blend” bloke invented a crazy death-dealing weapon, all the way to the gun which fires stakes the size of tree trunks, impaling the enemy and sticking them to the wall (if they’re close enough to a wall to be attached to it). Most players will decide on their favourite weapon during their time with the game and stick with it until they run out of ammo or decide on a new favourite. However, the fact remains that if the stake gun isn’t your favourite, then you’re just plain wrong.
If the single player component of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation isn’t whetting your death-dealing appetite on any particular day, then you can also grab a friend and play through all areas of the game co-operatively either over the internet or over a local network (remember the days when LAN multiplayer was the only option?). Twice the crazy, twice the weapons and twice the fun. If you just want to kill other players in a classic deathmatch style, then you can do that as well. Painkiller’s multiplayer offering is back, with a lick of new paint, and looking better than ever. There’s really nothing to dislike about the way the The Farm 51 have modernised this classic shooter. It’s not the greatest game on the planet but neither was the original and it’s a testament to the developers that they haven’t touched the gameplay in any way, this is as faithful of a remake that many people will have ever seen.
LONGEVITY: The entire game has a very arcade game feel to it, and as such you’ll find yourself replaying levels over and over again in order to beat your own score or to complete it in a faster time. There are leaderboards built into the game too, in case you want to pit yourself against people around that world. Add to that the fact that you can play the entire game in co-op over the internet or over LAN, along with a multiplayer that plays very classically in a simple deathmatch style, and you’re left with a game that (if you enjoy the game’s style) you’re going to spend a good deal of time with. You’re not going to play the game through again because you think the story is exemplary but if you’re interested in beating scores or times, you might not be able to put it down.
VERDICT: When Painkiller first came out in 2004, we were still playing the old-school style of FPS, Doom 3 and Quake 4 for example. In the eight years since we’ve moved on to games that have a little bit more substance, story and (in general) production values. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place in the world for Painkiller’s remake, it just means that the target audience has gotten a little smaller. If you’re the type of gamer that grew up on games like this then you’re going to love Painkiller: Hell & Damnation for maintaining the old-school gameplay while adding up-to-date graphical aspects and cinematics. If you’re expecting Halo, Call of Duty or any of the more modern type of shooter then you’re going to find it lacking. That being said, Painkiller has a stake gun, not many other games can say that, and it deserves to be played for that reason alone.