Painkiller: Hell & Damnation: review

  • Format: PC
  • Unleashed: Out now
  • Publisher: Nordic Games
  • Developer: The Farm 51
  • Players: 1 – 2 (co-op), 1 – 8 (competitive)
  • Site:

Painkiller isn’t a particularly clever game. In fact, we’d say it’s so un-clever it makes Call of Duty look like chess. But that was the idea all along right? A balls-to-the-wall action shooter that doesn’t care about set pieces, immersive dialogue or complicated things like coherent level progression. You just get a gun and a procession of targets, a throwback to the shooters we all love and remember. But does this rose-tinted time machine achieve the desired effect?

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is like a greatest hits album that doesn’t include your favourite song. It’s taken bits from the original Painkiller and its expansion, Battle Out of Hell, but left out a lot of the memorable sections that made them great. Don’t get us wrong, it still includes some great levels that could potentially offer interesting gameplay situations, just not necessarily the bits you’d expect. We should also point out that the words ‘interesting gameplay’ won’t be popping up again in this review.

The Grim Reaper and his band of merry triplets

The game follows a time tested and very simple formula: get gun, see enemy, pull trigger, repeat 7,000 times. The first three enemies you see punched through the air by a close shotgun blast are awesome, and are likely to spread a worrying expression of grim joy across your face. But when enemies four and five are similarly dispatched within three seconds, things start to get a bit samey. And that’s just it; this game is incredibly samey at every turn.

Breaking up this mind-numbing sameness slightly is the blasty buffet of awesome weapons. You won’t find M16s and AK47s here, but instead an arsenal of fun and quirky boomsticks. The shotgun wrecks at close range but can freeze from afar, the Soulcatcher launches ricocheting circular blades and the Stake Gun nails people with sharpened tree trunks. This is just a small sample of the insanity on offer. Painkiller certainly gets marks for gun variety.

Unfortunately it loses a lot more with the shocking AI. Every level is packed with enemies that don’t show a shred of navigational intelligence, just a single hive-mind desire to sprint directly at you. Some will swipe and some will shoot, but all of them are as predictable as screen scrolling Space Invaders of old. They will all eventually end up standing on your toes unless they’re one of the few enemies that are perched high above you in sniper-like positions, obviously tethered against their will by their own special chain of code. We found some rooms could be cleared by sitting in the corners, constantly whirling the lawnmower-like claw bladed shredder.

Halloween used to be all about the fun

Room clearance is the big thing on the menu, hell; it’s the only thing on the menu. Each level is cut into a series of boxed arenas that gradually fill with enemies. Once all enemies are dead a door will open somewhere with a checkpoint that leads to the next killing arena. People often throw around the phrase ‘old school’ like it’s a good thing, but this constant enemy blotting routine is so old school it’s barely discovered ink wells and quills. Sections often end with you hunting down a rogue enemy that got stuck on some scenery and so didn’t throw themselves at your shotgun. This gets really annoying and completely shatters the manic flow this game totes as a leading feature.

Talking of enemies getting stuck, it’s a habit shared with the big boss monsters too. They’re impressive, towering beasties that should be terrifying to confront, but are somewhat laughable when they hitch up on a post for you to merrily blast away at. It’s not like they offer anything different to a regular enemy other than an ultra-buffed health bar and a significant scale up. They still seem just as eager to get as close as possible using the shortest, straightest route they can.

If you feel like spicing things up a touch you can invite a mate along for the online co-op multiplayer. Going through the campaign with a friend is more fun, but mainly in the sense that there’s someone else there to sneer at the game’s plethora of frustrating bugs. After a while it just becomes the same point and click shooty affair, only you get to learn whether the monsters prefer to charge at you or your mate the most.

Valve aren’t the only company who put snazzy hats in their games

Competitive multiplayer modes are also in there, although the servers are incredibly underpopulated at the moment. You’ll probably find a game after a minute or so, but it’s likely to be against very few people. It feels like a classic Quake-style arena shooter with a new paintjob. In theory this should be good, but in practice it turns out to be awful. The few die-hards you do find online are the bunny hopping twitch pr0s. If you’re not like-minded, you’re probably not going to have a good time. It feels like every novice that tries is driven from the game. Sure, there’s space to stay around and master it, but with so few people around we can’t really say it would be worthwhile.

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation falls into the trap that many HD remakes often do. It just feels old. Underneath the impressive new sheen are the same creaking pillars that the game had in 2004, just they appear even creakier. Reviewing it as a 2012 game almost seems unfair. Physics effects that were ground breaking back then don’t even measure as tremors in today’s game marketplace. Other than the luscious visual polish lavished on the game, the only difference we can really make out between this and the complete Painkiller: Black Edition is an embarrassing lack of content. If you’re looking at this for the single player alone we take no delight in telling you that you’d be lucky to get six hours out of it. And if you want it for the barren multiplayer scene, well, best of luck.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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