Combining a stunning single player mode and a masterful graphical presentation, Painkiller is a must have for any fan of the first person shooter genre, and is well worth the expense.
So many games work hard to achieve new and innovative gameplay, to try and give the consumer a reason to buy their game. Painkiller doesn’t need any kind of marvelous innovation to attract you to it. It’s a throwback to old school shooters, that gloriously takes advantage of today’s new graphic technologies. Painkiller, unlike most of today’s shooters is a fairly straight forward monster bash. While Painkiller does not offer an immense story, the gameplay, while simple, is worth the retail price. If you grew up in a tree trunk, and don’t know what I mean when I say “old school shooter” then I can summarize it by saying that you will kill a lot of things, with relative ease, but only if they don’t get you first.
The backdrop story of the game is that Satan is launching Hell’s forces against God, and its up to you to stop them from reaching Heaven. Painkiller will take you through five huge and creative levels, littered with hoards upon hoards of zombies and demons. The incredible atmosphere provided by an awe-inspiring PAIN engine complements the creative and complex level designs. Environments ranging from a zombies tomb to an ancient looking city floating in the water all have you believing you are actually there. The environments stay true to the overall dark theme, so there won’t be maiming zombies in bright happy sunshine, no sir. How the games theme is translated so well into the levels and graphics is far beyond any comparable game today.
As mentioned before, the gameplay of Painkiller is rudimentary but challenging at the same time. While there are no advanced tactics or effective strategies, you will most certainly be overwhelmed by the amount and placement of enemies throughout every level. All of the weapons carry immense amounts of ammo, for endless monster bashing. However one major downside is that weapons can become relatively boring. The stake launcher for example, while effective it can get a bit monotonous, and lull the player into the occasional bout of disinterest. And while each weapon has three fire modes, they second and third modes in some cases are nearly identical. The one weapon that is totally fun however is the standard blade and grapple, which either shreds a zombie to pieces like a blender, or impales them and rips their insides out. The situations you will use them on however, are appropriately varied and the range from short to long will require mastery of the controls to dispose of your enemies quickly, because they don’t give you much time to fire.
Overall the levels are one or a few large stages that are linked together. The player takes the levels step by step, clearing an area of all the zombies, which will activate another checkpoint. Hitting the checkpoints allows you to progress in the level, activating a new set of zombies in that area. Throughout the single-player levels you can collect gold pieces hidden in boxes and crates. These gold pieces allow you to buy “Soul Cards” which will grant the player special abilities such as health increases.
The multiplayer mode is good, but it does not offer the same modes we are used to as far as shooters go. Deathmatch comes with Painkiller in many forms, all with special features such as only taking damage when airborne, which involves launching your opponent in the air, and then hosing him down mid-flight. It’s good fun, but ultimately you will want more in the team play modes and will struggle to find them. It might seem hypocritical to praise a game for its old-school roots and then put it down for its generally old-school multiplayer, but I find that multiplayer is better served with complexity and strategy, rather than just the action and shooting that serves better in the singleplayer.
The graphics in Painkiller are simply awesome. Not only are they top-notch, but they are smooth too. Running this game with a Radeon 9600 and a 2Ghz AMD, you will not see a single flinch in the framerate, something hardly any of today’s games can boast. The particle effects for smoke and fire are excellent! Sky rendering, enemy rendering, all flawless. Using the Havok 2.0 physics engine, many of the objects in the world can be interacted with, and move on touch. The biggest result of the Havok physics is how you can peg up pretty much any zombie to the wall. When I first saw this I was amazed, you can hang your enemies anywhere you want. If you want some zombies stuck on your wall, no problem, just send a stake their way. Their limp bodies will flinch in agony as you laugh at their now lost souls. With the smoothness of the graphics, you can crank up the resolutions on the already crisp looking polygon models, for an absolutely incredible session of eye-candy, which can rival Far-Cry and Pandora Tomorrow in detail.
The audio in Painkiller is just about average. While all the sound they have nice and crisp, there are many points in the game where you hear absolutely nothing. In some ways I felt it worked towards a sense of fear and creepiness, but overall I felt that the silences lasted way too long. They could have added all kinds of things, the screaming of damned souls, moaning, or just about anything. There is also not much in the way of music at all, which is unfortunate, but one could argue it is also for the sake of atmosphere.
The bottom line is that Painkiller is an excellent homage to shooters from back in the day. Mounds of enemies are certain to challenge you, and having you wince at every turned corner. While Painkiller may not have the complex singleplayer gameplay that some other games feature, and the multiplayer isn’t as strong as it could be, it doesn’t need it, because what they have will knock your socks off in more ways than one.