Painkiller is a first person shooter developed by People Can Fly and produced by Dreamcatcher Interactive. Originally released in 2004, the Black Edition includes the Battle Out of Hell expansion as well as mapping and editing tools. Made during a time when shooters were moving away from the mechanics of series like Doom and Quake, Painkiller utilizes fast paced gameplay to set itself apart from its peers.
The player takes the role of Daniel Garner as he attempts to escape purgatory and join his wife in heaven. How do you do that you may ask? It’s simple really. You just have to grab your guns and shoot the faces off of any demons that get in your way. But simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, and if you let up for even a second you’ll find yourself overwhelmed.
The story of Painkiller is a fairly simple one. Daniel Garner and his wife Catherine end up dying in a car crash. Catherine manages to go to heaven, but Daniel ends up stuck in purgatory for reasons he doesn’t know. After spending years fighting against demons who’ve made their way there in order to survive, Daniel is met by the angel Samael, who offers him a deal. If he can assassinate the four generals of hell, Daniel will be allowed to join Catherine in heaven.
The story is nothing special, and is there for context as to what you’re doing than anything else. The few cut scenes that are in the game are drawn out longer than they should, while the voice acting is very average. Writing and plot are clearly secondary with Painkiller, and it show, especially near the end.
The meat of Painkiller lies in its gameplay. Levels will consist of two goals, kill enemies and move on. What makes Painkiller fun is the ways it lets you go about killing enemies, as well as the variety it provides. The game is made up of 24 levels split between 5 chapters, as well as an additional 10 levels in the Get Out of Hell expansion.
As you play, you’ll collect 5 different weapons, and another 2 in the expansion, including your starting weapon, the titular Painkiller. This may not seem like much, but the game makes up for this by going with quality over quantity. Each weapon has an alternate mode of fire, adding a new way to shred through enemies. Don’t think a shotgun is enough? How about a shotgun that can also shoot cryo rounds that freeze enemies. Don’t think a gun that shoots shurikens is good enough? Well, first of all you’re insane, and secondly, how about a gun that can shoot shurikens and lightning.
In addition to its weapons, Painkiller also has a fair amount of enemies. While many could be considered a reskin of certain architypes, like charging enemies or kamikazes, each chapter will have some form of unique twist to some of the enemies. For example, one of the heavy type enemies in some of the later levels is able to temporarily make themselves invincible, while another one is able to launch itself in the air with a grenade launcher. That being said, the AI in the game is not particularly smart, and more than once I’ve was able to cheese out an enemy by getting it stuck behind level geometry.
Boss fights are a bit less exciting than the rest of the gameplay. Your basically pit against a giant enemy with an unclear hitbox on his attacks, and after finding out the gimmick of how to damage them, it turns into a race to see who can deal more damage. They’re short, and after you get over how large the enemy is, a bit of a let down.
Like Doom and Serious Sam, the player is able to pick up health and armor drops around the map, though Painkiller admittedly doesn’t do this as well as the former two. Health can be collected by picking up souls dropped by slain enemies, but there are a fey problems with this. To start, the souls don’t immediately pop up after an enemy dies, and waiting for them to show up can break the flow, as well as put you in danger. In addition to this, the souls despawn incredibly fast, making collecting a significant amount quite the task. To top it off, these souls only give a single point of health, making them unreliable as far as keeping the player alive is concerned.
Souls also allow the player to enter into demon form, which gives the character both invincibility and make all their shots one hit kills. To get this form you have to collect 65 souls, but as they disappear so fast, you’ll often go through whole levels without reaching the form once. It’s also very likely that when you are able to collect enough souls, there won’t be any enemies left to fight, essentially wasting the transformation..
Levels generally consist of going to a section of the level, killing everything that moves, and moving on. Taking a moment to explore the level may reveal secrets, which will usually include additional ammo, health, and armor. At the end of each level you are given a tally of what you managed to accomplished in the level, such as how many enemies you killed and how long it took you to beat the level.
Another aspect of Painkillers gameplay is the black tarot cards. These cards give you special buffs that can be used during combat. The cards are unlocked by completing a certain objective in each level, like collecting all ammo or killing all enemies. Unfortunately, these objectives are usually time consuming and difficult, and not for that great of a reward. Throughout the majority of the game I barely even remembered I had the cards, and for the most part the effect didn’t have a significant change on the game.
Difficulty wise, Painkiller is fair, but challenging. On the base difficulty, you'll find yourself on constant alert, but as long as your on your game you'll survive. The game also provides a hard and extra hard mode, which is sure to provide a challenge to genre veterans, though for people new to this style of game I would definitely recommend the base difficulty.
Graphics and Audio
Being that it’s originally from 2004, I’d be lying if I said that the game didn’t look more than a bit dated, but it manages to make up for this with a huge amount of variety in both enemies and level designs. With each level taking place in a different part of time, the player is taken through a large variety of environments. In one level you’re going through a medieval castle, only to be battling in an extravagant opera house. Enemy designs also benefit from a large variety. Ninjas, Templar knights, and ww2 soldiers make up a small part of a huge roster of enemies. Virtually every level introduces a new enemy design, each one with a demonic theme to it.
Sound wise the game also succeeds. Battle music consist of adrenaline pumping metal, while the few moments of peace are accompanied by eerie ambient music. Sound effects do their job, with special mentioned going to the weapons, as they give a nice meaty thud when they make contact with demon faces.
With the reboots of series like Doom and Wolfenstein, the classic style of shooter seems to be in a resurgence. As such, Painkiller stands as a great game for people looking for more heart bursting action
While it suffers from a very generic story and some poorly implemented mechanics, the core gameplay more than makes up for it. Fast paced and backed by a great soundtrack, Painkiller is a game I can’t recommend enough.
|+ Great core gameplay||– Generic story and poor writing|
|+ Large variety in levels and enemies||– Lackluster boss fights|
|+ Unique weapons||– Poorly implemented secondary mechanics|
|+ Great soundtrack|