Painkiller: Hell and Damnation, a new First Person Shooter (FPS), releasing on Oct. 31on PC is promising to bring back old school FPS gaming back to the masses. Developed by Polish studio The Farm 51, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is a reimagining/remake of the original Painkiller by another Polish studio, People Can Fly, better known for its work on games like Bulletstorm. That game has since become a cult favorite, earning praise for its tight, skill and reflex-based gaming, truly bad-ass monsters and some real crazy weapons. It even prompted talk about a film adaptation that fortunately shows no sign of being directed by Uwe Boll. I got my hands on a review edition of Painkiller: Hell and Damnation and was not disappointed. Fortunately this was the ‘full’ version complete with all the gore rather than the more censor friendly version that will be released on the Xbox360 and PS3 in Jan 2013. I’m not saying I’m into gore but when I shoot a demon with a double barrel shotgun I expect a little blood squirting and some limbs flailing.
The developers have decided to stick close to the visual style of the original and while old school gameplay is one thing, old school graphics are another. I like high polygon counts. Fortunately, this game delivers and while the stages are just remakes of the originals, anyone will be able to appreciate the fresh coat of paint given by the use of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. Old favorites such as the Cathedral and Cemetery look so much better than they did in the original and it’s a sign of reverence towards source material that The Farm 51 has made it look better while still preserving the visual essence of what made Painkiller so much fun. The cut scenes look great and the character models for the unique characters show some definite effort. Daniel in particular looks very detailed, down to the individual elements on his biker jacket. The bosses look incredible, towering miles above you and looking truly fearsome. The word epic is used a lot but that was definitely my first reaction when I saw the hulking behemoth I was facing. Overall, I was very impressed with the look of the game; I only wish lighting had been better.
The original Painkiller was lauded for its tight, frenzied and reflex-based gameplay. If anything, this remake ups the ante a bit; monsters move a lot faster forcing you to always be on your toes and relying on quick reflexes to stay one step ahead of the horde. The core gameplay is tried and tested old school FPS fare; no shield, recharging health or anything of the sort. The bunny-hop kind of jump is still your best friend along with quick aiming and situational awareness. Hordes of monsters charge straight at you and you have to make use of one of the many crazy guns at your disposal to deal with the threat. Sadly, only one new gun has been added but returning favorites like the Stake Gun are as fun to use as ever. The new gun, a soul-zapping, blade spewing monstrosity is probably the best gun in the game and quickly became my weapon of choice. The problem is that after a while, the lack of variety gets to you. As fun as mowing down hordes of monsters can be, some variety would be nice. There is an interesting mechanic that makes use of tarot cards. These cards are earned after completing a specific objective during each mission and grant abilities such as Slow Time and the like. It adds nothing to the core gameplay but it’s a nice tool to keep handy.
The promotional material for this game proudly states that “The soundtrack is forged in the same furnace as the weapons: heavy metal”. How true that statement is because any time a baddie approaches, the ambient cookie cutter spooky music gets replaced with some rather mean heavy metal pieces. The music tends to loop but it’s still very nice and very apt. No one wants to kill Hellspawn while listening to Nyan Cat…I assume. The voice acting is lousy, straight up lousy. Death sounds funny, Daniel sounds like he has a sore throat and the women just sound like they are out shopping. However, if you take into account the one-dimensional personalities of these characters you can see the logic. The guns sound great though; the Stake Gun has a nice thwack and the shotgun sounds like a very manly shotgun.
The game includes a full multiplayer suite with both online competitive and cooperative options. The competitive multiplayer most definitely has its roots in the Quake school of thought with very fast, very twitchy gameplay with environmental hazards and portals thrown in for good measure. This might become the definitive game for those looking for old-school, lightning paced multiplayer. The cooperative campaign is a nice touch and will definitely extend the longevity of this game. Overall, this is a very impressive multiplayer suite for a game that costs 20 bucks.
Overall I quite liked Painkiller: Hell and Damnation. While it suffers from many of the faults that old school FPS’s have it also reminded us what made them so fun in the first place. This is not a game that will appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, but for those lamenting the recent lack of games like Quake and Unreal Tournament, The Farm 51 has you covered.