In this gaming era of depth emblazoned role-play shooting full of statistical upgrading, story branching and online perk systems, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time shooting was a far simpler affair. The same time when Wolfenstein 3D and Doom was popularising a growing genre and the term ‘run and gun’ was not only a fondly perceived play-style, but a necessity to actually play the genre, period. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation invites you back to that time, but is it more than a mere trip down memory lane? Read on to find out.
Game: Painkiller: Hell & Damnation
Developer: The Farm 51
Publisher: Nordic Games
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Hell & Damnation is basically a tweaked remix of the original Painkiller. The theme itself hasn’t really changed, however. You’re dead car crash victim come demon killing machine, Daniel Garner. With the reward of being reunited with his wife in Heaven, Death sets him the task of accumulating 7,000 souls throughout the hell-like nether world he’s been trapped in that’s full of nasties with swords and deathly skeleton creatures.
Story isn’t particularly forthcoming but fans of the series will be intrigued by the few minor developments throughout, including some revelations and references to older titles. The portrayal of characters is, as you’d expect, neither here nor there and when it does become relevant it’s so over-the-top you won’t be that bothered either way. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation makes no apologies for what it is, an action title – and that’s certainly where the game’s strengths lie.
Presentation has been bolstered through the use of Unreal Engine 3 and it looks all the better for it throughout a gory bloodfest of a game that sees nearly as many torn limbs coming at you as there are hordes of enemies. The HD spruce up will be instantly noticeable if you’d played through older games but those who haven’t shouldn’t expect too much of the way in AAA polish visually. In fact, despite some well presented locals rehashed from its predecessors there’s a ton of bugs and design flaws including enemies getting stuck on walls and random scenery glitching.
The glitching isn’t a frustration, if anything it makes life easier. On more than one occasion 3-4 of the demons pursuing me were caught on objects making it look like they were taking a time out to shoot the breeze or talk shop. ‘Awesome, free kills!’ will be the initial reaction but inevitably it detracts from the intensity based action experience the game is relying on so heavily. The nostalgia is there, however. Like some of those FPS pioneers, the goal is simply getting from one section to another whilst countless beasties and demon-spawn come at you in droves. Checkpoints break up the patterned waves of enemies and each new location acts as a different chapter with boss fights in tow.
There’s no doubt there’s still fun to found in Painkiller’s retrospective gameplay. Blasting away frivolously is intense and keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat ready for the next attempted mauling from enemies. Challenge comes mainly from yourself as you strive to improve your FPS discipline; twitchy trigger fingers and mastery of the twin stick sensitivity for example, which on a positive note are both sharp and particularly responsive in Hell & Damnation. The feeling of playing is the same gleeful, slightly psychotic disposition you’d develop whilst blasting away on Point Blank back in the 90’s – it’s a lot of fun in practice but just doesn’t quite cut it as an overall package like those old titles did.
This disappointment evolves as the game wears thin due to un-originality, perhaps. Although, it’s more likely thanks to the quirky bugs or even the fleeting quickness of the main campaign. 4-5 hours and you’d have comfortably dusted it off, even with collectable ‘secrets’ scattered throughout hidden areas. Thankfully, there’s some extra additions to help longevity. A small tarot card system that sets you challenges to achieve in order to unlock perks also help replay value somewhat – even if it does slightly go against the grain. Standard deathmatch type multiplayer modes are also on offer that’ll give you a quick fix without being too innovative, plus the chance to play the campaign cooperatively – a fantastic addition if you can find a partner in crime, that improves the experience ten fold.
Despite the apparent direction Painkiller: Hell & Damnation opts for, it sadly negates its strengths a little too often – the gameplay is fun, but over far too quickly; presentation is gruesomely pleasing, but often technically flawed; enemies are challenging and come in numbers, but lack any decent intelligence. From a franchise perspective, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is a step up but for shooters of this type it falls a little by the wayside. Retrospective shooter lovers with a taste for gore as it was once presented will undoubtedly find solace here for a brief time however, and for that minority it’s probably just enough to warrant a look.