Painkiller, the newest game from Dreamcatcher and People Can Fly. At first sight it looks cool. I mean, a game that beams out thoughts of Hell, magic, demons, devils, gothic and zombies always leaves a good first impression. However, there are some things that are less great.
First let’s start at the beginning: You buy the game and I might add that in contrary to other games you buy retail nowadays, this one has a nice package. The 3 CD’s are stored away rather nicely and the coverart isn’t ugly at all. One thing it shares with other modern-day first person shooter games is that the manual is a very thin one, but it summarises up all parts of the game rather efficiently. So far all is well.
You install the game and everything continues to give you a WOW-effect. Everything looks dark and gloomy and the entire interface just breathes gothic atmosphere. When you start the game you get to see a very nice pre-rendered movie still keeping you in that dark mood, ready to blow away some zombies.
To give you a small impression of the story: you died in a car-accident, your wife died with you, you were driving, and now you feel guilty. Especially the fact your wife is in heaven and you’re stuck in an afterlife hell-zone bothers you and when someone gives you a way out, why would you decline? Minor setback – you have to kill a couple of hell lords. Fun.
So now the actual game begins, and a few things immediately become clear: This game is not meant to be played with strategy or stealth, and the enemies will not try to trick you or jump you from behind, no, they will bash you in your face and they will do it good. In fact, the game has a real “Serious Sam” feeling when it comes to fragging. You start off with a strange little weapon called the PainKiller, and it supports 2 firing modes, conveniently called Pain and Killer. And as I’ve already pointed out: the game is pretty straight-forward when you’re playing a level. You move your mouse to a random enemy and start clicking like hell to impale, freeze, electrocute or shred him to after-death. A nice little touch is the metal-music that begins to play in the background when the slaughter fest begins.
This is pretty fun for a short time, but the problem is that after a while it becomes rather boring. As soon as you’ve played the game for a few minutes, you realise that all monsters look almost exactly the same and while the surroundings do add to the nice gothic atmosphere, they are all pretty alike to. Add to this that everything looks rather blocky and rather soon you get the feeling you are playing a game that has been released about 4 years too late. So much for graphical violence.
But hey, I’m a gameplay kind of guy: who needs photorealistic models and textures anyway? The best games aren’t the most graphically stunning ones but the ones that keep you locked to your pc for hours because they play so well. And to be honest, Painkiller is not one of them. As I’ve said monsters all act pretty much the same way (almost all of them wish to smash in your cranium), and just moving your mouse, jumping a little bit and clicking like a maniac aren’t much of gameplay. Nor is the fact that they only included 5 different weapons in the game. While all weapons have 2 different uses, e.g. a rocketlauncher combined with a minigun in one, the weapons suffer from a lack of originality and the same graphical problems the other elements in the game face. Doom might have thrived upon 10 weapon-types or less, but nowadays we do expect somewhat more and especially a lot of originality.
Other elements of the game fail to make it fun. Bunnyhopping hasn’t been prevented in this game, no, it has been increased, making you able to fly around the map like crazy, providing you have some skill. Fun at first, irritating after a while. Then the “reward” element in the game: the Black Tarrot cards. These are cards you receive if you complete a level in a certain way, e.g. use only your Painkiller. They do add another dimension to the game but at the beginning of a level it does not say what you have to do, and if you use one it simplifies the game immensely. They’re like built-in cheats that are meant to be used. Again: they don’t make the game a lot more fun. The game is difficult enough, but the lack in variation really makes the game boring quickly.
So we seek refuge into the multiplayer part of the game. And we fail, because the multiplayer is even worse than the singleplayer. The five different game-types are all but variations on the basic Death Match. Again, having only 5 weapons at your disposal can be frustrating, and to even make it worse the game comes with less than 20 multiplayer levels, all of which are disappointingly small.
Conclusion: The game has attitude, but fails to catch your enthusiasm for longer than 5 minutes. Fun to play once in a while to blow of steam though, and the entire atmosphere surrounding the game isn’t that bad either.