Death, taxes, and expansion packs. Of the three sure things in life, Dreamcatcher’s Battle Out of Hell expansion pack for last year’s relatively surprising Painkiller provides you with two of them. It’s rather regrettable that it really only does “Death” right, though. As one of my favorite PC games, Painkiller graced gamers’ monitors along with just a handful of sleeper hits, and the Battle Out of Hell expansion seeks to give us more of a great thing. To a lot of disappointment, that also proves to be its chief weakness, ultimately bringing depth to the phrase “too much of a good thing.”
Without ruining how the main game ends, Battle Out of Hell seamlessly advances the story, pitting Daniel Garner against Alastor’s hell-army. Since our main man is already dead (still), and hanging out in Purgatory, which offers Motel 6-like access to both Heaven and Hell, he’s pretty much a dead ringer to procure the responsibility of eliminating this new threat. With the help of his just-as-dead, very busty friend Eve (and yes, silicon obviously lives on, even after death), and a new weapon or two, Daniel sets out to terminate the demonic plans.
While it seems Daniel could have just taken a swift jaunt to Heaven and asked to borrow a few more weapons, and some extra afterlife powers as well (you just know they have both in spades up there), Hell doesn’t wait on any immortal. Jumping directly into the initial level of this expansion, you realize precisely why this game surprised in the first place. The first level romp through an evil take on an orphanage is just dazzling. Much like every level in Painkiller, this one just oozes with back-story potential. Though it doesn’t quite deliver a narrative, it does bestow a fun-filled, hair-raising sense of what it’d be like should an orphanage go wrong. Kids are creepy, no lie, and dead ones are three-fold.
Level number two of the expansion yet again delivers exceptionally, and reminds me a lot of the archetypal Something Wicked This Way Comes. A haunted, historied amusement park is what any first-class horror game needs, and Painkiller sets the standard of levels of this ilk. Any nightmares you’ve ever had relating to amusement parks come to life in Painkiller‘s admirable physics and graphics engine, and that is what makes Painkiller so great. Most of the levels feel like big budget, fully crafted movie sets. That’s why it bothers me that the sense of awe drastically declines after level two, as if the expansion had really only been built and thought out with those first two levels in mind. The rest seem to serve more as filler, with little respect to the imaginative design of the levels before it. Maybe it’s because by this point, I’d run out of ideas of how to shoot something, or blow something up. Too much of a good thing. Perhaps what I needed was more puzzle elements? Unfortunately, the developers also saw to this wish and proved me wrong.
Some of the puzzles that the later levels offer take no more imagination or calculation than pulling the trigger on your gun. If the developer’s objective was to infect a little more thinking and strategy into Painkiller‘s mindless action, then it was a failed effort. They end up serving no other purpose than to frustrate, especially some of the jumping ones. A Real-Time-Strategy this game is not, and while bursting demons opens two new weapons of maniacal destruction, you won’t appreciate a thinking puzzle being thrown your way, especially when it’s not even a challenging one. It’s rather like that last line of letters on an optometrist’s chart. Nobody can read them – they’re just there to make you think someone can. It’s just a waste of frag-time.
Speaking of the new weapons, the most impressive is the SMG/Flamethrower. Encasing demon spawn into a billowing pillar of fire from your muzzle is hearty fun, and the sub-machine gun takes practically any foe down quickly and loudly. A Boltgun/Heater is the second new weapon added to Daniel’s bag-o’-death. Think of it as a pumped up stakegun that fires up to five flesh-puncturing rods at once. The alternate fire mode is like a mini ten-round grenade launcher. It’s a gun best used for clearing out tight spaces loaded with creatures. It would have been nice to have another new weapon or so, but in reality, any more would have been overkill, as you’re provided with enough weapons to get the job done twice if it were necessary.
The expansion continues to add some of the most unique, yet disturbing enemy characters ever seen. You’d expect to be in a demented amusement park and spot a psycho clown hurling explosives or evil murdering puppets that put Chucky to shame. But killer popcorn? People Can Fly definitely uses some deranged imaginations in populating some of the levels. Therefore, I was a little upset that as I fought through to the later levels of Battle Out of Hell, some of the unique, disturbing enemies simply became zombies, tanks, and dead humans. Loose a little gas on this one, Devs?
Engrossing sound effects abound in this expansion, whether hearing the ghosts of children playing at the orphanage, or the ambient sounds of war in Leningrad. Surround sound is superbly implemented, and can induce chills up the spine. Weapon effects are presented well enough, leaving you with no question of their awesome power.
My only beef with the graphics is that sometimes events happen so fast, that you hardly have time to appreciate them. Many of the enemies whip by you in a blur, so the illustrious detail applied is all but wasted. Still, it does exist, and the developers are to be commended for bringing such different level settings to life so well.
While the multiplayer isn’t going to win any awards, and it can sometimes be tough to find a Painkiller multiplayer game in existence, Battle Out of Hell has expanded upon it. Two new multiplayer modes are added with Capture the Flag and Last Man Standing, but because of the sheer popularity and distribution of these modes in other games, it’s easy enough to write off these extras. They should have been included in the main game’s modes, possibly allowing more time to focus on some truly unique multiplayer aspects with this expansion. It’s still better to have them now than not at all, though.
Painkiller was on the edge of being a class A title, and Battle Out of Hell had the potential to push it over that line, but it falls just short of doing so. The ten extra levels and two new weapons do seem to just barely justify the expansion’s price tag in the end. Hopefully, a Painkiller sequel will subside with the “killer pains” induced by out-of-place puzzles and filler material levels. Battle Out of Hell will, however, go down as a decent expansion to a great game that has much promise for the future.