|Developer:||People Can Fly|||||Release Date:||2004|||||Systems:||Windows, Xbox, Android, iOS|
This week on Super Adventures, I'm finally taking a look at Painkiller, a first person shooter made by Gears of War: Judgment developer Epic Games Poland back when they were still called People Can Fly. Oh hang on, they're back to being People Can Fly again now... and they still have the Bulletstorm license! They'd better be working on making me a sequel right now, I don't care how much the game bombed.
There's about a million different editions of Painkiller and just as many expansions, but as I understand it Black Edition is as close as you can get to the definitive version. It's the original 2004 Painkiller game plus the one expansion developed by People Can Fly, with a 'making of' video thrown in. The game later got a remake/sequel called Painkiller: Hell and Damnation (HD, get it?) but judging by the reviews I've read, seems Black Edition's the one to go for.
(Click the pictures to bring up a higher resolution image. It's not going to make them any more widescreen though I'm afraid.)
Dan's voice is the biggest surprise though. I remembered that he's played by someone I would recognise, but I wasn't expecting him to be Cam 'Leonardo, Kaneda, Liquid Snake' Clarke!
The guy hands him a scroll that'll guide him to the generals of Lucifer's armies. They're organising for an attack you see and moving against them in force will just start the war early. But if Dan can pull a Doom and kill the worst that Hell has to throw at him, he'll force the armies to retreat and in return earn a trip to Heaven to be reunited with his wife. I keep expecting shots of who he's meant to kill, but nope the camera's happy enough panning across this same room over and over.
Daniel's a bit surprised to be offered this deal. Not because he isn't a badass, he's survived in Purgatory a while by this point, but because he's been a decent guy in life and should be up in Heaven already. Unless there's a DARK SECRET in his past he's repressing...
Shame the scroll's not entirely intuitive. If it wasn't for that text showing up in the bottom left I'd have no idea that the inverted pentagram down on the right brings me back to the main menu and clicking the red gem starts the game.
Hah, it says "PAINKILLER" when I start a level! More games need to a pull a Resident Evil and have a sinister voice announce their title.
CHAPTER I-1: CEMETERY.
The music was all creepy and atmospheric a second ago, but as soon as these chaps started leaping out of the earth the distorted metal riffs kicked in and now it sounds like Quake II. In a good way.
Seems that fallen enemies soon disintegrate into collectable souls (that green thing on the left), but not quite soon enough for my liking. Plus souls quickly dissipate, so I have to hang around after a kill for longer than I'd like; it's hurting the flow. Why am I harvesting souls? I'm not sure yet, but there's probably a good reason for it.
Spinning blade on a stick is good, but this shotgun I just found is better. I'm running right up to the undead hordes, blasting them at point blank range for maximum damage, then stepping back again to let Dan cock the weapon (no reloading required). If I get close enough most enemies go down in just one hit and the rest go down in two, so these folks are the opposite of bullet sponges.
Dan speeds up after two consecutive jumps so I'm basically hopping circles around these guys and they can't touch me... unless I leap right into their attack like an idiot. No one I've ran into so far's been carrying a gun, but they like to spawn from all over the place so I do have to be careful about getting a sword up the ass as I'm backing away.
Also featured on screen (I'm being efficient with my screenshots) is a coffin getting shattered to release the gold coins within. It's okay, no one was using the thing, this is Purgatory. Trouble is that the money's just as ephemeral as the souls, so I have to stick around to grab the coins before they're gone. Plus there's coffins stacked up all over the place and I'm not sure I've got the patience to go around wrecking them all. They've somehow made destruction tedious.
A FEW FIGHTS LATER.
Right, I've figured it out. Collecting a certain number of souls turns the screen funny and lets me obliterate any foe I point my crosshair at in a single shot. It doesn't last long though and they were dying in one hit anyway, so it hasn't given me a massive advantage.
Each soul I collect also gets me a single hit point, which is handy seeing as I've no health regeneration and monsters constantly working to wear me down. If I want to survive I have to stay mobile and dart between enemies to harvest their fallen comrades.
Half-Life 2 used the licensed Havok physics engine for see-saw puzzles, this uses it to wreck shit and send limbs arcing gracefully through the air.
I've got a cunning plan to defeat this guy though, and all his little minions. The spinning blade stick (actually called the 'painkiller') has a secondary fire mode that launches the bladed end into a wall. When I point the stick at the embedded blades it creates a sustained beam of intense energy, continually burning any enemy who wanders into it! The tricky part is keeping the beam going as I'm dodging around, as it's easy to lose the other end behind the crowd of enemies.
Well I've learned that the game has end level stats, but my own results are a mystery to me. I did unlock a card though apparently, for managing to finish the level.
Turns out the Black Tarot card I earned is Endurance, which lets me take only half the damage... for a limited time only. If I remember right, cards like this can only be activated once per level, so I have to hang onto it until I really need it.
CHAPTER I-2: ATRIUM COMPLEX.
The big difference is now I'm dodging axes and trying not to walk into the blue smoke given off by their staves. The stuff slows me right down and seeing that my movement speed is my big advantage that ain't a good thing.
At least I can check my stats at any time during the level to see how well I'm doing. Plus the game lists the unlock goals on the level select screen so I know what still needs doing for each stage to get my cards. They're not giving me much to complain about here.
CHAPTER I-3: CATACOMBS.
Like Serious Sam a couple of years before it, the game's got a homemade engine that managed to provide fantastic visuals and slick frame-rates on even humble game rigs. So I'm not entirely shocked that it runs like a dream on my semi-modern system with the settings maxed... except for a bit of tearing. Plus the menus keep falling to pieces and the videos won't play.
The shooty bit works though and People Can Fly's PAIN Engine gives it a slightly different feel to everything else out there (well aside from the mission packs and The Farm 51's NecroVisioN, which all use the same engine).
F.E.A.R.'s HV Penetrator, as it's a spike launcher which nails enemies right to the wall in one shot. Takes a couple of seconds to reload, but I can live with that. The tricky thing is the firing arc, as I have to aim above the target I'm sniping. Oh plus it's a grenade launcher too! Me and this gun, we're going to get along just fine.
A FEW GOOD SPIKE KILLS LATER.
It's my own fault I've been having an easy ride so far, seeing as I put the game on the default difficulty, but I know the thing's going to get bastard hard later and I want a fighting chance. Still, with checkpoints and quicksaves I'm unlikely to get hopelessly stuck.
LATER IN THE SAME LEVEL.
I can see that those are supposed to be skulls embedded in the wall to the left, but are those high-heeled boots coming out of the ground on the right? Sorry, I'm getting distracted now that I'm bored; the scenery I'm jumping over is becoming more interesting than the boss I can't hurt.
I'm sure someone somewhere enjoys figuring this crap out, but I was liking the first person shooting a lot more and I'd like to get back to that as soon as possible, so I'm checking a walkthrough.
I did figure something out by myself though: Daniel is fucking awesome at jumping. I mean I already knew that he could hop around like a mad hopping bastard, but I fell down into the fire pit once (or twice) and with sustained panic-jumping I made it back up the sloping wall and then up onto the top of the skulls! Stick him in an Elder Scrolls game and he'd be over those rocks and up those cliffs in seconds.
Seems that this a different type of card though, one that's always active, which is good as the card makes souls stick around for longer. Souls are my glowing green medikits so it'll be nice not to have to have to rush in to collect them.
The thing is, placing cards in my deck costs money, so I need to keep accumulating wealth to equip my new powers.
CHAPTER I-5: ENCLAVE.
There's only one thing I can do on this level and that's shoot this bastard. Well I suppose I could shoot the other enemies around his feet, if I felt like throwing my ammo away, but I don't. In fact I should probably switch to the shotgun and get between his pointy legs as I'm not sure the stake launcher even has the range to hit him from this distance. He is bloody huge.
And then when I got his health down he suddenly broke from his chains and spat a whirlwind at me and that was that. Well I could start the level again and this time quicksave every time I manage to strip away a chunk of his health without losing my own, but I've got a better idea... I'm taking a break and letting a friend take over, because I'm not even slightly enjoying this.
It's probably a perfectly adequate boss fight (probably), it's just not the kind of gameplay that appeals to me.
Seems I'll be getting one of these between every chapter, each adding the next piece of the story. They're not really adding a whole lot to the game though especially considering how disconnected and video gamey each level is. I don't feel like what's going on in cutscenes has any relation to what's happening between them, especially as Dan keeps his mouth shut during his demon slaughtering.
CHAPTER II-2: OPERA HOUSE.
Weirdly I've skipped right from level I-5 to level II-2, as the first level of the second chapter is locked. Seems I have to get here on a higher difficulty to play it, which is weird. Better that than being locked out of the good ending or something.
Oh hang on, I have been locked out of the good ending by not playing on the hardest difficulty! Well I know where the cutscene folder is, so check and mate Painkiller. I'm not actually that bothered to be honest, the story's not exactly a crucial component. I'm happy just blasting away at a roomful of evil ninjas and headcrabs.
Wait, headcrabs? What?
CHAPTER II-3: ASYLUM.
CHAPTER II-4: SNOWY BRIDGE.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Except with demon ninjas instead of Nazis. I have no idea why I'm suddenly on a bridge up in the mountains, but I do know I'll be running up from one end back down to the other over and over until these dumbass ninjas are dead and it lets me out.
By the way, check out the one cartwheeling through the air in the background. This game has the best ragdoll corpses, especially when I'm using the stake launcher. It makes every shot a joy.
Quake or Unreal. Those games are set in mazes and if you see a stack of crates like this in them then you know you're going to be jumping all over them to get out (well maybe not in Doom, seeing as it doesn't have a jump key, but you know what I'm getting at). In Painkiller on the other hand, they're basically just scenery. Maybe there's a secret up on those boxes, it's certainly possible, but the path to get out actually takes me through corridors around the outside. Corridors full of spawning enemies.
It's basically a first person Robotron, or Smash TV without the hope of ever winning a dishwasher.
CHAPTER II-5: TOWN.
Dragon Age: Origins... either way it's nice to be back. These are some beautiful looking houses and it's a pleasure to pin zombies to their walls.
CHAPTER II-6: SWAMP.
This guy's a transparent reflective bloke who likes to stomp around this corrosive liquid, shooting fireballs at me and slamming the ground with his arms. Those things take off a quarter of my health per hit, so when he puts his arms underwater I need to stop what I'm doing and spin around to see where they're coming back out from, so I can get to the other side of this tiny island.
But first I need to quicksave, because I'm having enough trouble figuring out what I'm meant to be doing without worrying about all this damage I'm taking as well. Sometimes he's invulnerable, other times he's not, and I think it's something to do with the exploding bubbles floating around, but maybe not and... oh it's just crashed to desktop. Well that's bloody fantastic. Though it does give me an excuse to stop playing and wrap this up already.
Wait, I didn't talk about the multiplayer mode yet! It has one, or at least it had one until GameSpy shut down. I'm sure you can still connect to other players directly but I didn't try it.
2004 was a bloody good year for first person shooters wasn't it? Far Cry, Doom³, Chronicles of Riddick, Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 within the same 12 months. But is Painkiller the best of them? Well it's the best arena-based horror-themed Serious Sam 'em up of the set. There ain't a whole lot of stealth or exploration going on here though and the AI is about as dumb as a homing missile.
Gameplay-wise I suppose you could compare it to Doom or Quake as the combat is all about movement: dodging incoming fire, closing in to get more powerful shots, and hopping through the crowd to grab souls. A few blokes with machine guns showed up in the third chapter to take the fun out of running around in the open, but mostly the idea of taking cover in this is ridiculous. There's no reloading, no crouching, no leaning, no audio diaries, no waiting for your squad to kick a door open so you can paint a target with that annoying satellite cam headset... but there's no key hunting or map button either. Sometimes the enclosed fighting arenas can resemble classic first person shooter levels, but they rarely come close to being as maze-like. Plus they've got some replay value with the level select and tarot cards goals, which is a feature classic shooters rarely provided.
It's all about applying guns to enemies and thankfully the guns feel satisfying to use, mostly because they get the job done. I didn't find a huge range of them, but at least they were all noticeably different and had different secondary attacks to double their usefulness. Also one of them is a Gatling gun that's also a rocket launcher (and another fires shurikens and lightning). Daniel can take a lot of punishment, but enemies aren't generally bullet sponges and a shot to the face tends to stop them in their tracks a moment, when it isn't launching them skywards. The game doesn't give out points for being creative with your kills like Bulletstorm does, but sending folks flying is its own reward.
So it plays like a game from 1996 and looks like a game from 2004, but I think it's aged pretty well. It's got a Greatest Hits compilation of video game levels and it's nice to watch them come apart when the explosions start, with pillars collapsing and walls coming down. Plus the audio's so good I'd sometimes spend a few seconds listening to the creepy ambience before triggering the next wave of monsters. It's rare to hear spinning metal blades hitting stone sound so right.
I'll give Painkiller a Not Crap star without hesitation, but I can't give it my highest accolade due to two reasons: 1. 1/5th of the levels are boss fights and I hate 'em. I hate 'em so much. 2. It gets crazy repetitive. Also 3: Smashing items to collect coins is rubbish.
As always I welcome your feedback, so drop comments, opinions and criticism in the box below and partake in the joyful act of self-expression.