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Painkiller

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: April 12, 2004 (Gold Edition: April 18, 2005) (US), April 16, 2004 (EU)

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PC Review - 'Painkiller'

by Alanix on April 26, 2004 @ 1:49 a.m. PDT

Stranded in a place between Heaven and Hell, your time of judgment is at hand. The Underworld is on the verge of unholy war, and you are but a pawn in the infernal battle. As you fight for your purification, the truths behind the deceptions are revealed.

Genre: Action
Publisher: DreamCatcher
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: April 9, 2004

Buy 'PAINKILLER': PC

It was a dark and stormy night….

You and your lovely wife Catherine head out to dinner, you reach over to touch her hand, and the headlights bloom in your windshield. Vehicles collide, steel screeches as if in pain. The blood flows down your arms, your life ebbs as you reach for Catherine’s hand. You and your beloved are dead.

You awake to find yourself face to face with a vampiric fellow who somewhat resembles Edgar Winter. He informs you that you have a chance to cleanse your soul. To rejoin your darling wife. To leave this limbo. To enter heaven. There’s just a little catch: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are referred to as Lucifer’s Generals, and it’s your job to take them out. You are Heaven’s hitman. You are…the PAINKILLER!

Horror themes have pervaded the FPS genre since Hexen and Heretic made use of the fledgling DOOM engine, but for some reason, recently, they seem more at home on a console than a PC. Hopefully, that trend will change with the highly-anticipated release of Dreamcatcher’s new horror-survival-shooter, Painkiller.

It’s an age-old gaming confrontation: Superior Numbers vs. Massive Firepower. From the early days of O.G.R.E. (which pitted a single Mammoth Tank against a small army), this tactical question has fascinated historians and gamers alike. In a lot of ways Painkiller could be thought of as a first-person version of Devil May Cry, (the first one, not the disappointing sequel) but much darker, much more menacing, and far creepier. Something akin to Serious Sam if it had been conceived by Clive Barker. A game with the hordes of nasties, but without the Duke Nukem tone. Painkiller is dripping with attitude.

From the absolute get-go, you are swarmed. The monsters are easy enough to kill at first, but as more and more of them descend, you find your ammo dwindling. Don’t worry; there are plenty of ammo crates around. This game is not designed to piss you off for not hoarding shells. As a matter of fact, this game has very few subtleties in the gameplay. It’s a good old-fashioned, kill-anything-that-moves shooting spree that requires maximum twitch reflexes and minimal grey matter. But I think that is its entire appeal. As these screenshots demonstrate, Painkiller looks great. The light sourcing, the character detail, and the glorious spurts of gore put this in that “guilty pleasure” category. Those of us who played the original “Castle Wolfenstein” could have cared less what the story was, or how to solve puzzles. The idea was to plug those “damn Nazi pigs” and keep progressing to the next level. Painkiller made me remember how cool this simple yet addictive concept can be.

A compass at the top of the screen constantly reminds you of the right direction, but if you just connect the dots, you’ll miss out on the secret areas (of which there are many), the caches of weapons and a lot of armor. Exploring is not mandatory in Painkiller, but it is rewarded.
In a game of this intensity and speed, it is so refreshing to find a save game system that works for everyone. Quick saves are scattered throughout every level, but if that isn’t enough for you (and it wasn’t for me) you have the ability to save on the fly. How this feature would have saved so many other games with a steep difficulty curve but a low learning curve.

The weapons are among the most unique I have seen. As expected, each weapon has a primary and a secondary fire mode, but the weapons themselves are out of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Your base weapon, which needs no ammo, is Painkiller. In its primary mode, you can think of it as the Cuisinart of Mayhem. Multiple blades spring from its muzzle, and rotate with the ferocity of Emeril Legasse with a bushel of garlic and a kilo of crystal meth. Zombie parts fly in the air and blood splatters the screen. Trust me: Painkiller is not for the squeamish. In its secondary mode, Painkiller acts as a light beam sender-receiver. When you press the right mouse button, the blades fly out and attach to the closest flat surface. From there, it sends out a beam of intense light that fries anything unlucky enough to cross its path. If you start the blades spinning then launch the secondary attack, it can take out a few beasties on its way to anchoring the beam.

The Stake Gun is capable of not only taking out lesser minions with a single shot; it can impale enemies and stick them to walls, and if aimed right, can impale multiple targets. In its secondary mode, it acts as a grenade launcher. The neat thing about this is, there are separate ammunitions for each mode of each weapon. This makes you keep an eye on things, but you still don’t have to micromanage your bullets.

The bad guys are pretty original, with costumes borrowing heavily from Sadomasochistic Fetish Catalogues. I specifically liked the Masocommando replete with domination Hood. Witches fly on their broomsticks and are an absolute S.O.B. to take down. The Vamp is particularly nasty. If they are not chopped to pieces after their first death, they are reborn stronger. A handful of these buggers can get up your skirt in no time. And as I said earlier, there are so MANY of the suckers! This makes blinking not an option. Look away to see who’s at the front door and be prepared to load a save game file. When you get to them, the bosses are HUGE, oft times taking up most of the screen! And they all come fully equipped with signature attacks, and hordes of minions.

Just when you get used to using the weapons and avoiding all these beasties, something neat happens. This is that intangible thing some games have that make them stand out. After collecting 66 should from your fallen enemies, you morph into a demon, capable of infravision, and instant kills with one press of your attack button. It doesn’t last for long, but it is beyond cool when you have it.

Another nice original touch is the use of the Black Tarot cards. These items, acquired through special mission-specific objectives (i.e., destroy every crate on this level), imbue your user with special abilities, power-ups or attacks that you can use in future missions. This is an interesting strategic slant to an otherwise “if-it-moves-kill-it” game. You can only choose to use these abilities at the beginning of a mission. This does lead to a somewhat trial-and-error feel when it comes to choosing your abilities, but it is possible, (though highly unlikely) to complete Painkiller without using a single Tarot Card. Silver cards are immediate bonuses at the start of a level. For example, one card doubles the amount of coins to be found on the level. Gold cards are triggered during gameplay by pressing the “E” key [default control] and give a more personal form of power up. For instance halving the number of hit points you take at the time of usage. The cards must also be paid for when placed on the board. You do get back some of those coins when you remove a card from the Tarot board, but it’s usually best to be sure before you plunk down your hard-earned coins on one.

I’m playing Painkiller on a 2.8 GHz Gateway with 512Mb RAM and a 128Mb NVIDIA card, and I did notice a slight frame rate sacrifice at moments of massive mayhem. It’s not enough of a lag to take away a point from its score, but this game will test your machine’s resources.

Multiplayer modes are de rigueur these days, and Painkiller doesn’t disappoint. My first online battle was with a few of the developers on GameSpy Arcade, and the action in Free-For-All mode was fast, and bloody! Your opponents appear in a vivid red outline to make them a little easier to see, and the weapons react according to a pretty good physics model. If you are using the stake gun, for instance, you do have to aim higher to shoot farther, and you must also time your shots better than you would with, say, a machine pistol. Painkiller also has a Team Deathmatch mode which follows the same “kill anyone not on your team” gameplay as any other shooter. Three “twist” multiplayer games are also included for your internet murderous rages. “Voosh” is a variation where everyone starts with the same weapon with unlimited ammo; then, at pre-determined intervals (controlled at start-up), everyone’s weapon changes. This can turn the tables (as well as the body count) fairly quickly. “The Light Bearer” is a turn where a single Rage power up is on the map. It gives the holder 4X damage, and never expires. Kill the guy with the Rage, and you get to keep it until you are killed. The player holding the Rage at game end is declared the winner. Finally, “People Can Fly”, which is played on two specially designed maps, uses only the Rocket Launcher/Chaingun weapon, and has the twist of only being able to damage your opponents when they are airborne. This one reminded me a little of the “Low Gravity” games in Unreal Tournament, but were actually a lot of fun to play. A sort of Matrix-thing going on there.

All in all, I really liked Painkiller. The story is interesting, without getting too laden with metaphysical theory, the action is blistering, the sound is creepy, the graphics sharp and clear (with a few minor slowdowns when multiple multiple enemies attack), and the multiplayer fun and varied. I can think of many other worse ways of spending $39.99

Score : 8.5/10


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