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Painkiller Review

publisher: DreamCatcher
developer: People Can Fly
genre: Shooters

PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.2GB HD
ESRB rating: M

release date: Apr 09, 04
» All About Painkiller on ActionTrip

After a quiet period in the gaming industry that lasted for several months we finally got our fair share of good games. March has been chock full of them, and things are starting to heat up in April, too. After several months of playing various betas and demos I finally got to play the review build of People Can Fly's Painkiller. But before I go on with deconstructing the finer points of this game I feel I must make something perfectly clear first.

If you are one of those guys that like to compare his better half with Halle Berry and then subsequently give her the boot for not having the exact same breasts and killer lips as her, you are not the type of person to play Painkiller, especially if you have played a game like Far Cry. Before I set down to write this review I read several complaints of the "it's not as groundbreaking as Far Cry" sort which I feel have no merit in this case (Would you like some cheese to go with that whine? -Ed). Even though both Painkiller and Far Cry belong to the same genre, they couldn't be further apart when it comes to the type of gameplay experience they offer. Does Painkiller feature clever AI opponents? No. Does it expand the boundaries in terms of open-ended gameplay? Nope. Comparing Painkiller to Far Cry is comparing apples to oranges. Painkiller belongs to the arcade FPS genre a-la the original Doom, Serious Sam and the more recent Will Rock. This game is supposed to provide you with hours of adrenaline-charged frenetic FPS entertainment that's shallow, scripted, at times eerie, but most of all violently fun.

That said, it's amazing how much stuff People Can Fly picked up from their idols, id Software. To start with, most of the levels feature satanic symbols of all kinds and gothic ambiance; you are after all, fighting against hordes of mindless demons. The player steps in the boots of one Daniel Garner who, after a terrible accident that kills both him and his girlfriend all good and dead, gets sent to a place between heaven and hell that serves as the battlegrounds for the forces of good and evil (Essentially, it's Purgatory, but the realm is never called this by name). The story unfolds through cut-scenes that follow the end of each chapter (there are five of them in all), and ironically, (as Painkiller is hardly supposed to be a story-driven game) I kind of enjoyed most of it. As he battles the forces of evil, Daniel will ponder the reasons why his girlfriend was allowed to pass through the gates of heaven and he wasn't, while being guided through the "middle world" by none other than Eve (ya know, Adam's wife who just happened to end up between heaven and hell herself) and a friendly demon who managed to escape the hell ... of Hell... and hide in the middle world.

Going back to what I said about People Can Fly's infatuation with id Software, the similarities between Painkiller and id's early work don't stop there. The gameplay pace is virtually identical to the original Quake and Doom; for crying out loud, PCF (People Can Fly) even included strafe jumping (that was merely a code bug in id's engine), as well as rocket jumping in the "People Can Fly" multiplayer mode.

So is this a bad thing in any way? Hell no! Being a huge id fanatic myself, I must say I was delighted to finally be able to move much quicker by strafe jumping in a FPS. Hell, I do that all the time instinctively, in every FPS I play, so it was really cool to get to do it in a game where strafe jumping actually counts. Just like in Doom, or Serious Sam... or any other arcade FPS, monsters will be spawning from all corners of the map as you try to fight them off with truckloads of bullets and circle-strafing.

For what it is intended to be, Painkiller filled the bill for me. I don't mind a mindless shooter here and there, especially when it's as well-done as this one. Besides the already much-hyped Havok physics engine, Painkiller has a lot more to offer in terms of uniquely designed and well animated enemies, and some very cleverly designed boss creatures. The Havok physics engine blends excellently into the gameplay enhancing the already frantic action to a point where you will truly feel like you are raising havoc across maps. Barrels will explode, subsequently bringing down stone pillars and shattering glass in windows as scores of demons attack you from all possible angles. On several occasions the scenes of carnage truly looked spectacular, what with the great character animation and lots of animated gore. If you are a Doom fan, you'll know how to appreciate this.

The game is also full of very neat subtle touches. Using one of the more popular weapons, the wooden stake gun, you'll be able to nail bad guys to the wall leaving them to hang there with the stake stuck in their chest. Physics will come into play as there are several physics-based puzzles. In addition, you'll also witness subtle touches like when you step on the roof of a cable car it will start swinging so that you are forced to adjust your balance not to fall off it.

In many ways PCF has shown that they can be quite creative, and most of that creativity is evident in the design of the many demon types and of course the colossal boss creatures. If you haven't played Painkiller before I'm sure you'll be blown away by the size of some of these monsters. They are really, really huge! The best thing about them though is that some of them are quite unique, like the swamp monster that is originally in liquid form (which means bullets and projectiles pass right through it), but if you light enough of the gaseous swamp on fire it can solidify, so that you can shoot at it. I found that to be a very original idea for a boss creature.

The in-game arsenal seems also to be quite varied and well balanced, with each weapon boasting its own strengths and weaknesses. I especially enjoyed the stake gun that has a grenade launcher as alt fire and the rocket launcher that you can also use as a chaingun. One thing that's very good about grenades and rockets is that the ballistics of flight seem to work quite naturally, courtesy of the Havok physics engine. Anyone who's ever played a lot of FPS games and is a RL whore knows how important that can be in a multiplayer match.

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7.9   Good

Intense arcade action, interesting weapon design, bosses are HUGE (in a good way), Havok physics are fantastic. A fine FPS romp;

Little replay value, multiplayer ain't all that, game occasionally loses frantic pacing 'cause of some uninspired level design.


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