While many modern-day shooters seek to impress with sparkling production values, in-depth narrative and more features than an issue of Edge magazine, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation keeps it real, taking us on a nostalgic trip down memory lane by focusing on simple, yet effective, FPS mechanics and strong level design.
Consequently, Farm 51’s resurrection of People Can Fly’s 2004 FPS plays out like an old-school, run-and-gun, twitch-based shooter, the likes of which we haven’t played since the days of Quake and Doom.
From the arena-based, multi-tiered, gothic level design to the familiar mix of melee, short and long-ranged weapons, the influence of these two popular games can be seen in every corner of Painkiller HD.
Exploding barrels, ammo crates, health power-ups and armour buffs are dotted around the arenas to help you fend off wave upon wave of enemies, and that run-and-gun mentality soon kicks in when dozens of skeleton warriors emerge from gravestones and attack en masse.
The repetitive nature of the increasingly ferocious assault from a varied cast of ghastly creatures, means that gameplay is fairly one-dimensional. Each level requires you to kill increasingly larger waves of enemies until they’re all dead or you’re toast. Inevitably then, survival mode kicks in and you spend a lot of time scuttling backwards to keep enemies in your sight and at a distance as they lunge at you with speed.
Luckily, it seems there’s a decent variety of levels in terms of design and aesthetic with plenty of secret areas to discover and lots of space to run into. Painkiller HD is nowhere near as good-looking or detailed as most triple-A shooters, which sadly gives it a low budget feel, but it's this impressive level design that could well make up for its lack of polish.
The range of weapons is quite impressive too. You’ll be freezing enemies with icebolts, using a Stakegun with a grenade launcher attached to take out multiple enemies in one shot, and can dice monsters up at close range with some sort of hand blender attachment. There’s all the standard fare too, including shotguns and sniper rifles.
The control scheme is slick and targeting system is accurate and by the time we were halfway through the first level we were able to blast off enemies’ heads with little effort. We’re promised more weapons in the final version of the game and we’re looking forward to seeing how the combination of primary and secondary fire modes conjures up some unique kills.
It’s all fairly mindless fun, but blasting the heads off old hags and undead knights at such a fast pace is entertaining and instinctive. There’s no cover system or fancy tactics to think about; it’s just you, a weapon, and hundreds of enemies that run at you like lunatics.
The big boss battles we’ve faced so far aren’t quite as much fun as these fast-paced skirmishes due to how slow, docile and predictable the huge creatures are, but we’re hoping that they’ll get more exciting and challenging as we progress through the game. If they don't, then the boss battles could well be the most disappointing aspect of the game.
Aside from just killing enemies, Painkiller HD does offer some side attractions. There’s collectibles to search for and souls to catch which activate a demon state when you’ve caught a certain amount and make you invulnerable for a period of time. And exploration is actually a welcome distraction away from the intensity of the combat.
We’ve found it quite an addictive task to scoot around an area after the monsters have gone in search of treasure chests containing coins. There’s also replay to be had out of completing set tasks in each level, such as killing a certain amount of enemies. The reward for carrying these objectives out are decent enough too as you gain access to tarot cards which can be used for special powers, such as being able to slow down the action.
It’s unlikely Painkiller HD is going to win any awards come the end of the year, but it is what it is: a mindless blast with some entertaining weapons across some well-thought out maps. From what we’ve played so far there’s potential here for it to gain a decent following, while the addition of two player co-op could be the jewel in its crown.
Painkiller Hell & Damnation is due for release on May 31, 2013 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.