Originally released in 2004, People Can Fly – of Bulletstorm fame – cut their teeth on Painkiller and its associated expansions. Launching in a different era, Painkiller resonated with the PC gaming first-person shooter (FPS) crowd by delivering them a familiar experience with a modern, mature dressing. Painkiller was a balls-out shooting experience: pull the trigger then ask questions. Eight years later the genre has changed considerably, but the Serious Sam’s and Duke Nukem’s that inspired Painkiller are also making comebacks.
Maybe it was Serious Sam’s successful rebirth as a digital franchise and the eventual – and welcome – release of Duke Nukem Forever that gave Nordic Games the courage to invest in a rebirth of the franchise, with Painkiller: Hell & Damnation now available on PC (reengineered for modern hardware by The Farm51) and also coming to consoles early next year, but as this is a remake it might seem rather odd that the franchise is going up against the same names it was compared to first time around. Much has happened in the FPS genre over the past eight years, but for the no-nonsense bloodthirsty action experience it’s been little more than a steady decline.
It this briefest of summaries of the past ten years in FPS didn’t present an argument for a videogame that will divide audiences straight down the middle there is little that could possibly cast such a picture. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is as enjoyable as it is derivative; as ignorable as it is compelling. Everything you will see here you’ll have seen before, and you’ll probably have seen it done better too, but there’s no denying that the plight of Daniel Garner as he fights against hell’s minions in order to see his wife one last time is simply enthralling.
The campaign is a straight forward blastathon. While the story exposition, visual design and technical clout had clearly progressed in leaps and bounds, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is an example of how the core gameplay experience remained largely untouched since the title that broke FPS into the mainstream gaming consciousness, DOOM. Most closely comparable to Serious Sam, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation sees players enter an area and be faced with dozens of enemies vying for their blood. Swift movement and a decisive aim is what is needed to take care of the hordes, and upon clearly the area the player will be able to progress to another area. A small amount of pathfinding is also required but this doesn’t compare to that of Duke Nukem 3D in anyway, it is simply a case of looking for a new route rather than having to create one or solving a puzzle.
The multiplayer gameplay modes allows for both co-operative play of the main campaign and competitive gameplay on specifically designed arenas. The typical gameplay modes – deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag – are accompanied by a survival mode. Essentially a less customisable version of the modern Horde mode, players are thrown into an arena and tasked with killing a certain amount of enemies. Upon having done so, the player who died the least will claim victory. It’s a simple design, but a welcome addition to the package nonetheless.
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is as striking visually as it was back in 2004. The pseudo-gothic design is a refreshing change of pace to the many modern settings that litter the FPS videogames of today and was clearly the inspiration for many elements of Grasshopper Manufacture’s fantastic horror adventure, Shadows of the Damned, most notably in that of the aesthetic quality of the weaponry. The soundtrack is also very well presented, with suitably clichéd metal and bass-heavy sound effects to hammer-home that all important ‘boom’ as the shotgun kicks back.
Available on it’s original host format right now and coming to consoles early next year, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is being presented in such a fashion that it deserves to find an audience on all three formats. It’s unlikely to rock too many boats – indeed, much of the potential FPS audience will find it too derivative to take seriously – but for those gamers who still welcome a few mindless hours of twitch-based gameplay, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation will most certainly fill a hole. Just as the past dictates, Painkiller remains inferior to the franchises that inspired it, but nonetheless it offers an enjoyable and uncomplicated few hours of escapism every time you play it.