Itâ€™s easy to dismiss Painkiller as DOOM with actual physics, or a darker Serious Sam, particularly after the first couple of levels or the demo. And in all honesty, Painkiller truly is dumb. I mean like, really dumb! But it reaches a rarified level where dumb flips around and becomes some sort of mad genius, and the more you play Painkiller, the better it gets. Every level builds to an even better one, with the final dÃ©nouement taking place in Hell itself, which is a pretty cool way to end any game.
With games here like Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield Vietnam, Painkiller is by no means a great multiplayer game. Itâ€™s clearly designed to be a throwback to the days of Quakeworld. Every game mode is a deathmatch variant, and the co-op that made DOOM and Serious Sam such (literal) blasts is definitely missed.
The â€œmehâ€ multiplayer cowers to the quality solo campaign. You play Daniel Garner, and youâ€™re dead. You find yourself trapped somewhere between heaven and hell. A war is brewing, and youâ€™re recruited to take out four generals of Luciferâ€™s army. Story isnâ€™t the gameâ€™s forte; as it serves to mainly explain your traveling through a series of disconnected levels, shooting lots of stuff using the most contrived structure imaginable. On every level, you cross some magic threshold, doors close (or appear out of thin air), youâ€™re attacked by dozens of different monsters, and youâ€™re able to proceed only when the last one has been turned into wallpaper.
And thatâ€™s really how the entire game plays out. Its pacing is perfect, its settings inspired, its weapons and monsters full of interesting details, and its combat is so visceral that itâ€™s impossible to play without hooting and hollering. The solo game is full of secret areas and locked content (including entire levels) that make it worth replaying multiple times. By meeting certain objectives, you can unlock special cards that subtly alter the game balance, and theyâ€™re worth uncovering though theyâ€™re entirely optional.
It has perfectly balanced difficulty levels, meaning itâ€™s easy on â€œEasy,â€ and ludicrously hard on â€œTrauma,â€ and some features are withheld only for players on the higher levels which, again, enhances replayability. The AI isnâ€™t what youâ€™d call good, at least in the traditional sense, but honestly, itâ€™s hard to judge zombie AI, particularly when said zombies are throwing pieces of their own flesh at you.
Guns From Hell
The arsenal is superb. Thereâ€™s a stake gun that painfully nails bad guys to walls, and a spectacular chaingun – rocket launcher cannon. Another highlight is the most comically overpowered shotgun imaginable (think close range blasts launching monsters across the level), with an alt-fire that freezes the bad guys like the one from Duke Nukem 3D. Possibly the least controllable weapon isn’t a weapon at all, but a sort of berserker power-up that activates when you collect a certain number of souls. It would have been much nicer to let players activate this power-up at their own leisure.
Nothing about Painkiller is particularly revolutionary, but itâ€™s so refined and pure that it feels fresh. Itâ€™s definitely a throwback, an unpretentious blast-a-thon that makes no attempt at being a major â€œinteractive movieâ€ kind of experience.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 Mhz, 256 MB RAM, 64 MB Video, Windows 98SE
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