Painkiller Hell & Damnation Review
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On 11/28/2012 at 05:09 PM by Julian Titus
You'd think after the 100th skeleton runs towards his death that they'd change up their strategy...
PC FPS fans that enjoy more of a shooting gallery than an engrossing campaign.
Painkiller is aggressive. Hordes of demonic forces stream forth from every conceivable point of entry, threatening to overwhelm with sheer numbers. Death metal pumps through the speakers, fueling the adrenaline-soaked battles. I cycle through my selection of wicked-looking weapons, choosing the right tool for the task at hand—blowing big holes into my enemies. I have to move around the battlefield quickly, lest I get pushed into a corner and annihilated. Painkiller is all about turning the dial to 11, and it does so with glee. I was bored by level 2.
There just isn’t much to the design of this game. It’s clear from the outset that developer Nordic Games is tapping into people’s nostalgia for high-intensity FPS action along the lines of Doom or Quake. In truth, it’s an HD remake of sorts, but even the original Painkiller isn’t that old at the ripe old age of 8. Levels are simply arenas for epic battle after epic battle: clear out all the enemies and proceed to the checkpoint for a quick save and heal, only to start the whole thing over again. While I initially derived some enjoyment from mowing down large numbers of hostiles, the game doesn’t leave much room for the action to ramp up. When every battle is massive, the net result is a large yawn when that rocking music starts back up.
I’d be a little more forgiving if the enemies demonstrated interesting tactics or required varied strategies to overcome, but that’s just not the case here. The brain(un)dead AI seems to have one goal: bum rush the player and try to overrun him or her with larger numbers. This results in lots of running backwards while shooting, or circle strafing while shooting, or running forward while, yep, shooting. Of course, if you can get your back against a wall you can just sit back and blast through most of the enemies easily. This shooting gallery feeling made me wish that the game was even more arcadey; seeing the points rack up and getting multipliers for big damage may have kept me interested for a bit longer.
Where Painkiller shines is in its boss and mid-boss battles. While the normal enemies tend to be human sized and slightly larger, these boss monsters fill the screen, giving an epic sense of scale I haven’t seen since God of War. Fighting these gargantuan creatures can be a real challenge as they’re oftentimes accompanied by smaller foes. Managing the battlefield while avoiding powerful attacks from the boss takes some deft maneuvering and quick reflexes.
Unfortunately, avoiding those power attacks is easier said than done. I found it very difficult to tell when I was taking damage, or from which direction it was coming from. Sure, there are visual cues in the HUD that FPS players have come to expect, and the main character grunts when he’s getting hit, but for some reason this feedback didn’t register in the way I feel it should have. Also, the larger boss enemies seem to be able to strike from all over the battlefield, making dodging a dicey proposition. The first major boss had a whirlwind attack that would lift me up into the air and drop me facing the opposite direction, only to get hit by it again. These types of frustrating scenarios were the real difficulty level for me, as opposed to the large numbers of enemies the game loved throwing my way.
Painkiller lacks real charm or personality. It seems to want to get by on its hectic battles and large boss encounters without adding anything else interesting to the mix. It was fun messing with some unique weapons, and it was refreshing to not have to worry about reloading constantly or sitting behind cover waiting for my health to recharge. But in a post-Halo and -BioShock world I expect more from a first person shooter. I can see plenty of people enjoying this game a lot, but it’s just not my type of shooter. Not anymore.