Painkiller, the original one, released back in 2004, was pure, unadulterated fun. It was a fast, bunny-hopping, gib-splattered FPS that took the best bits of FPS titles like the Quake series and Serious Sam and smashed them together to produce a PC gaming hit. The game focussed very closely on tight twitch mechanics and high enemy numbers within a gothic horror setting. It also featured some of the most unique weaponry in any FPS title. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the original Painkiller’s Stakethrower weapon remains one of the most joyful methods of dispatching an enemy in gaming, even today.
Why is this important? Well because Halloween sees the release of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (HD?) and it is very much an attempt at refining the original release. Fans of the series, of which there are many as Painkiller enjoyed a solid community based around it’s no-frills multiplayer, will be keen to see if this entry is a return to form. Previous sequels such as 2009′s ‘Overdose’, sullied the name by misunderstanding what made the first game so appealing.
I was looking forward to sitting down with Painkiller HD and getting stuck in with the gore producing array of weapons once more, especially having just played through Serious Sam 3. My twitch skills have been recently sharpened and ready to split some demonic heads. This re-imagining is almost like a greatest hits album, consisting of 14 levels taken from the original title and it’s first expansion ‘Battle out of Hell’. They have been exquisitely rebuilt and repopulated with a horde of horrors from the original cast, all using the prowess of the Unreal engine. The problem is, it feels a bit like a greatest hits album where some of the tracks are iffy cover versions and remixes you’ll never want to listen to more than once.
It looks perfectly acceptable, it’s a sharper, more detailed version of Painkiller, the enemies are well realised, the weapons look practically identical to their original counterparts and the environments are creepy and atmospheric It does the job it needs to, but doesn’t go any further. Aside from the huge scale of some of the bosses, there are very little graphical ‘wow’ moments.
Audio is slightly dated, weapons effects are true to the original and rightly so, you can’t mess with people’s memories of key elements. It’s the ‘heavy metal’ riffs that unfortunately fall flat as they could have really used a rework. In this era of 7.1 HD Sound, to have the same tired riffs looping over and over whenever there’s a bit of action on screen, quickly grates. Some sharp re-sampling or remastering, or hell, even a totally new soundtrack, would’ve been a welcome update, assuming it complimented the rest of the experience.
It’s that dated, tired feel that runs throughout the Painkiller : Hell & Damnation experience. Dispatching a room of enemies to find that you can’t get through to the next part of the game, because there’s a single critter left somewhere in the level that has gotten lost or you’ve missed is a regular frustration. Having to wait for downed demons to disappear, leaving behind a green soul (a health pickup) takes a fraction of a second too long, leaving a jittery feeling to the flow of gameplay. Then there’s boss battles where you have no idea if you are having any impact at all on the boss, or whether or not you’re approaching it entirely wrong. All these were present in 2004, and more importantly, forgiveable. It was how things were. 8 years later, if you’re remastering a game in your own vision to update the best bits, you’d better bloody take out the bad bits, especially if you want to try and capture a new audience. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, in fact some elements, such as hitbox detection, seem to be a bit worse off, with almost-point blank shots going seemingly undetected.
As a result, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation struggles to justify itself as an essential purchase. It will naturally appeal to hardcore fans of the original, the core gameplay remains mostly unchanged. This is also it’s downfall. I have Painkiller Black Edition in my Steam Library – and it’s still available to purchase. I also have the original release in it’s retail box. Yes the graphics aren’t quite as shiny, but it also has all of the greatest hits and none of those dodgy cover versions or remixes. If you are new to the series, it’s a good place to start, as the dated visuals of the original may feel off-putting although they are by no means unacceptable. You could even add a point to the review score in fact. However for everyone else, unless you are desperate for some more graphical fidelity with your stakethrowing, it’s hard to recommend this if you own the originals.
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