This is a very strange product. Although Painkiller (2012) bills itself as a remake of Painkiller (2004) and its Battle Out of Hell expansion, the action is set after the 2004 game. Losing his girlfriend in a car accident, David blasted his way through Hell in order to see her again only to be denied this mercy. At the start of Painkiller Hell and Damnation, Death approaches David and offers him a deal: collect 7,000 souls and he will deliver Catherine. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in context because even though the story is set after the events of the first game, David ends up replaying through the same levels as the 2004 game. It even goes as far as to reuse old cutscenes while adding new pieces of dialog. Again, it’s all very weird. Why not just stick with the original story?
Looking beyond the bizarre recycling of old content, Painkiller Hell and Damnation (“HD”, get it?) is a callback to a bygone era of run and gun first person shooters that didn’t require too much extraneous thought to enjoy. Using a unique collection of weapons, you’ll destroy demons in areas throughout Hell and Purgatory that resemble war torn areas in history. Thought it has its faults, Painkiller is a fun enough shooter provided that you haven’t already played it.
Those familiar with the original game will find that the core design hasn’t changed: large, open stages are broken down into smaller pockets of action in which David must destroy groups of enemies before crossing through a checkpoint to the next area. To combat the hell hordes, David calls upon a host of savage weaponry including a double barreled shotgun, the eponymous Painkiller, a stake gun, rocket launcher and a gun that fires ninja stars. Alternate fire modes mix up the action as ice shots, stake grenades lightning and soul siphoning aid in dispatching the damned in pretty gruesome ways. Completing levels usually requires David to defeat all monsters in the stage while others see him taking on large bosses before advancing.
Apart from weapons, what makes the gameplay unique is the Tarot Card system. Upon fulfilling special level parameters (finishing a level within a given time limit, collecting specified amounts of gold, etc), David is reward with a Tarot Card that will grant short term game altering effects that can be called upon during battle. Up to four cards can be equipped and it is in the player’s best interest to come up with a card combination that offers the best effects. There’s also a rage mode that occurs when David collects 66 souls dropped by fallen enemies. In this mode, the player is rendered invincible for a few moments and given the ability to perform massive, one hit kill gib fests.
After finishing the main campaign, there isn’t much to do afterwards. A co-op mode is available for two players but doesn’t offer anything new outside of the solo campaign. There’s also a multiplayer end with a few game types but I never had a chance to try them because no one is playing.
Right from the beginning, it is clear that the primary focus for Painkiller Hell and Damnation was to make it look as pretty as possible by updating the graphics to the new modern standard. While it is no Crysis, comparing the the original with the remake does show off a significant visual jump. Rather than simply up-rez the textures like most HD-ified games this year, it looks as if Farm 51 rebuilt the textures from the ground up. In-game enemies benefit the most from the redesign as their identifiable details make them all the more frightening and the lightning makes for some dazzling moments. The levels themselves are are hit and miss with some areas, like the Cathedral, show off visual pizazz while others, like the Opera House, are dreadful due to dark, muddy and genuinely ugly textures.
Painkiller is fun largely because of its simplicity, a design that had been popularized after the incredible success of titles like Doom and Serious Sam. It’s not perfect, however, and the noticeable offender is poor enemy AI. The monsters really don’t pose much of a challenge as they make a bee line for your position with little regard for the hail of bullets/stakes/lightning being thrown in their direction. As such, there’s very little strategy involved in combat as battles are won by simply holding down the fire button and strafing left and right. The most egregious problem with AI is their penchant for getting stuck behind environmental objects, making them easier to kill or forcing you to backtrack to earlier parts of a level in order to hunt down the last remaining foe that prevents you from advancing deeper into the stage. Boss monsters also suffer from this affliction making even the most terrifying Hell demon appear weak and stupid as it struggles vainly to get past a cushy couch or giant stone column.
Painkiller’s dialog and voice work should be brought to notice simply because of how bad it is. The actor they got to spout out David’s lines sounds as if he were attempting to imitate Max Payne with hilarious results. It’s hard to tell whether or not the game is trying to take itself seriously because of the unintentional comedy and B-movie trappings.
Painkiller Hell and Damnation is just as fun as the original game if not a bit quaint. While certainly entertaining, I struggle with finding a justifiable reason for those who already own the original games to spend $20 for it. Updated visuals and a new weapon might be an easy sell but the barren multiplayer and co-op landscape don’t add a whole lot of value to the overall product. Best to just wait for the inevitable Steam sale and pick the game up on the cheap.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.