Video game nostalgia is cruel.
As we become accustomed to higher speeds, higher fidelity, and more complicated story telling, playing games that we loved in our youth can leave you with that feeling… "I can't believe that I used to play this for hours". The grand-daddy first-person shooter games definitely fall into this category.
Painkiller was a throwback game when it originally launched in 2004, nothing more than a quick explanation, a pile of guns, hordes of near-endless baddies, and enough gore and guts to set a church group on the warpath to try to get this game banned.
You play as Daniel Garner, a man trapped in Purgatory and desperate to return to his wife Catherine in Heaven. He is given a deal to continue to Heaven if he helps defeat Lucifer's generals. Seeing no alternative he agrees and heads off on a bloody rampage.
The weapons are a diverse lot, a seemingly endless shotgun, a stake-thrower, a saw-blade gun… and what I would politely describe as the lovechild between a weed-whacker and a cutlery store. All of these weapons help you even the odds against the seemingly endless mass of enemies that you will come up against. The enemy hordes gib spectacularly – so those who suffer from hemophobia will probably want to skip this one.
Physics seems to take the day off also – enemies go flying upon getting shot. Nothing helps reinforce the feeling of being a bad-ass like sending your opposition's corpse for a ride.
As far as FPSs go, Painkiller keeps it simple – enter area, kill everything moving, collect ammo, coins, and souls then more on to next area. The maps tend to keep you in arenas – some small, some quite large but you've got to clear it out before you can move on to the next.
This leads me to my biggest pet peeve in the game, the enemy AI. All opponents follow you like a moth trails a flame and are quick to get themselves caught on walls or any stationary object between you and them. So once you've defeated the bulk of the enemies, you get to back-track the way they came to find those few stragglers that couldn't figure out how to use a doorway or are walking against pillars more resilient than their continued force against them. For a game that strives to maintain a near break-neck pace of action and combat, having to spend time to find that one expendable pawn so you can move on is downright painful. The boss fights are unusual to say the least, they are massive in scale at times, but still fall all the same to your onslaught.
Visually and aurally, Painkiller looks awesome on a modern Unreal engine – much more appealing that a graphic rescaling of the original that some revamps have had in the last few years. Besides the larger than life undead opponents, the massive screen filling bosses look amazing in this re-release.
All in all, Painkiller is a blast to play in short doses but quickly devolves into a ho-hum slaughter-fest. Worth trying out if you're in the mood for some Duke Nukem 3D combat without the 15 year old graphics.
- A visually and aurally updated classic FPS
- Mostly a nostalgia kick
Score: 6.5 / 10