Technically, I haven’t finished Painkiller yet, although I only have a few levels left to go. So why am I reviewing it now instead of finishing those levels? Well, because my computer of four years decided to finally keel over today. I have a new one already ordered & hopefully I’ll get it sometime this week, but because all of my saved games were on it, I’ll have to start Painkiller all over again before I can finish it. So since I was so close to finishing, & I highly doubt my opinion will change in that short time, I decided to go ahead & get it out of the way.
There are several versions of Painkiller available, including several expansions. But while my version includes the ending expansion, I’m only going to focus on the original game for this post. In this version, you play as a man named Daniel Garner. After dying in a car crash with his wife, Daniel is trapped in Purgatory while his wife Catherine goes to Heaven. After surviving on his own for a while, Daniel is approached by Samael, one of God’s angels. Samael offers Daniel a deal: hunt down the generals of Lucifer’s army before they march to war & he’ll be allowed into Heaven. Thus begins Daniel’s journey through a wide variety of areas, taking on the forces of evil.
Painkiller is an unabashed FPS. You can run, jump, climb & shoot. And that’s about it. Daniel will come across several very unique weapons to aid him in dispatching Hell’s army, all of which has two different modes of fire. The weapons include the Painkiller (rotating blade/holy beam of light), shotgun/freezer, stakegun/grenade launcher, chaingun/missile launcher & the Electro (ninja stars/electric bolts). As Daniel kills enemies, they leave their souls behind for him to absorb. Absorbing 66 will send Daniel into a temporary demonic state, where he inflicts massive damage & can’t be harmed. You can also gain Tarot Cards for completing certain objectives within the levels, such as beating a boss in a certain amount of time. These cards can be equipped if you have the gold & grant a variety of abilities, like sucking up souls.
Story: If you’ve ever played an FPS, you’ll know that their stories can be a bit… lackluster. And Painkiller’s no different. Really, the story is just a way to string together a bunch of different levels. You only get cutscenes between the chapters, adding to the feel that the story is just background noise. The handful of characters you meet aren’t that interesting & have very little personality. Daniel in particular seems a bit daft. We’re never told why he was chosen to hunt the generals instead of God’s army. The game seems to be hinting at some sin in Daniel’s past, like maybe he was a hitman or something, but it never explains. Score: 2
Gameplay: So if the story is bland, then you’d expect the gameplay to be the selling point, right? Well I’m happy to say that Painkiller is a hell of a lot of fun to play — no pun intended. There’s a simple elegance to the violence. Enemies swarm you in waves & you have to kill them. There’s no cover. No inventory to deal with. It’s just run & gun. And it works. I think a large part of the fun is the guns. Sure, you’ve got your old standbys like the shotgun, but they mix it up by giving you a shuriken launcher that also shoots lightning. And there is some strategy to the enemies, as they behave in different ways & are better disposed of by different means. Larger, singular enemies may be best disposed of by freezing & then blowing them apart with the shotgun, while your rapid-fire weapons are better for large groups. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: To me, this is the best part of the game. Both the art & sound of this game are fantastic. Each level is completely different from the others. Over the course of I’ve seen cemeteries, catacombs, an opera house, a snow-covered bridge, a plague-ridden town, an asylum, a military base & the freakin’ Tower of Babel. And despite being almost a decade old, the graphics still look really good… except in cutscenes. While the models aren’t bad, the cutscenes look a bit grainy to me, & the characters’ faced look a bit off. As in blank. However, the cutscenes are far between, so it’s not a deal-breaker. The same variety in the level design is also in the monsters. You start out with your standard skeletons, but it isn’t long before you’re facing down witches, ninjas, hellhounds & zombies who throw their own innards as projectiles. The best thing is that the monsters fit the stage & you rarely see them in more than two stages. And no discussion of the enemies would be completely without mentioning the bosses. Some of them are huge & all are interesting in their own rights. The audio also fairs pretty well. Although I didn’t really like the fact that the same music plays during combat, I have to admit the heavy metal keeps the heart pumping. There really isn’t a lot of music during the game, but the sound effects are nice. Playing with headphones on, it’s easy to get immersed in the game, jumping at a sudden scream or groan. So overall the presentation is excellent. Score: 5
Replayability: Decent. Although technically there’s no reason to replay the game, I’m sure there will at least be stages you’ll play more than once. Some of them are short, particularly the boss fight stages. Plus, each stage has its own challenge to complete for Tarot Cards. Some stages can only be access on harder difficulties. Also, the fact that each stage is independent really lends to replaying your favorite. Just select the chapter & stage you want & away you go. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: While it will never win a Pulitzer, Painkiller is a fun little throw back to a simpler time. I recommend it for just about everyone.
Console: PC Rating: M Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Release Date: April 12, 2004