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Painkiller Review

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The end of this month marks the first anniversary of bearwithadeathlist.co.uk and it seems like we will get a Hell of a birthday present with the release of Painkiller: Hell And Damnation. In honor of the upcoming release of this hopefully awesome first person shooter we now give a retrospective review of the original Painkiller.

Released in 2004 Painkiller is pretty much a classic game by now. At the time of its release most first person shooters were trying hard to give the player an intellectual challenge with enemy AI that exploited cover, tried to flank the player, and in general employed tactics. Not Painkiller. This game was a throwback to the good old days of Doom when the only thing the AI knew how to do was make a beeline for the player. In these old fashioned shooters the challenge came from the overwhelming amount of enemies, allowing the player to feel like Rambo, which was a lot of fun. This style of first person shooters became deprecated with the rise of the Half-Life games, and only Serious Sam kept the old style alive. Then came Painkiller and reminded us all how much fun brainless shooters really are.

Painkiller entertains even before the game starts

Make no mistake about it, Painkiller is a brainless shooter, about as brainless as it can get. However, that's exactly why it's so much fun! Strictly speaking the game does require the player to think, e.g. about things like whether to use the shotgun or the chaingun. However, the enemy AI is ridiculously stupid, which means outsmarting their so-called tactics is achieved by making sure you have enough ammunition. It is a fast-paced action-packed gameplay that allows one to completely turn off one's brain and just relax, complete with an excellent and perfectly fitting soundtrack which makes the run-and-gun gameplay that much more enjoyable. And that is why Painkiller is such a gem. Because we do in fact need games like this, games where the player doesn't need to think and can have some mindless fun. While it's true that games with complex AI that offer a tactical challenge such as Half-Life are tremendous fun, the fact is there are times when a player wants to chill out without having to think much, and that's when a game like Painkiller is good to have on your hard drive, e.g. for stress relief. It is our personal favorite first person shooter for good reason.

Other than its old-school gameplay, the biggest appeal of Painkiller is the absurd level of variety. While enemy types are relatively limited, enemy skins are extremely varied meaning you run into something new to shoot on almost every level. The levels themselves are all unique ranging from a graveyard through a train station to the streets of what appears to be Venice, among many other things. This variety guarantees that the player never gets bored with the game as there is always something new to see. The weapons also have quite a variety ranging from the iconic stakegun (basically a crossbow that fires a large wooden stake instead of an arrow) to the electrodriver (a shuriken gun that can also fry the opposition with lightning). Each gun has two firing modes which makes them extremely versatile. After the first couple of levels the player will have quite a few options to eradicate the enemies which further increases variety, as well as provides good replay value.

Painkiller Gameplay

As explained above, Painkiller is an old-school shooter, but it also brings a couple of new things to the table. The aforementioned combination weapons are relatively novel, and we also get the Black Tarot power-up system which makes the game much more interesting and challenging. During the game it is possible to complete challenges, each of which earns the player a Black Tarot card. In between levels the player can place up to five of these into slots which give bonuses like increased health or damage. Some of these cards are quite challenging to acquire, especially the Divine Intervention card, but doing so is extremely satisfying. Speaking of challenges, each level comes with a set of secret areas in the style of Doom, so exploration is encouraged.

The story of the game also follows the old-school traditions in that it's simple and cheesy, but at the same time it's quite touching and it simply feels good to see the true ending which can only be seen if the game is completed on Trauma, the hardest difficulty level. You play as Daniel Garner, a poor soul stuck in Purgatory after dying in a car accident with his wife. The Angels task him with killing four demon generals and promise to let him reunite with his wife in Heaven if he succeeds. Along the way you can collect the souls of demons that you kill, and after gathering 66 you briefly turn into an invulnerable demon and can kill anything in one shot. This is another fun gameplay element, and it is also tied to the story in that on Trauma difficulty there are no souls to collect and this is has an effect on how the story unfolds (see note on the true ending above).

That's pretty much all there is to say about Painkiller. It is a fun old-school shooter designed to let people turn off their brain and have some mindless fun. As one would expect the game spawned several expansions starting with Battle Out Of Hell, which is the only expansion made by People Can Fly, the developer of the original Painkiller. While Battle Out Of Hell is just as awesome as the original, sadly the other entries in the series did not manage to live up to the legacy of Painkiller. Which is quite a shame as the game never got a proper sequel, yet we would very much like to see it happen.

That is why we are hopeful that the remake, Painkiller: Hell And Damnation will bring back the glory of the original Painkiller. Yes there's a chance that it will suck, but available gameplay footage suggests that it's going to be a pretty decent remake of the original. We are certainly looking forward to it and plan on reviewing it after release. Until then, if any of you would like to play the original Painkiller, do check out the Black edition (comprising the base game and Battle Out Of Hell) which is available e.g. on GOG.com at a bargain price.

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