It's not hell, not heaven, and definitely not earth; this is purgatory, and if it were up to me, I would choose hell or even possibly the Department of Motor Vehicles over it any day. In Painkiller: Hell Wars, that choice is not one you get to make. You get to experience the worst that purgatory has to offer, which includes some damn ugly creatures with big guns and a taste for violence. This extremely late conversion of the 2004 PC hit Painkiller has been long in development and is scheduled to hit store shelves next month.
Painkiller: Hell Wars is not exactly a direct port by most standard conventions; instead, it seems a bit closer to a "best of" version featuring the cream of the crop levels from Painkiller and the expansion. All things considered, the aim here is not to provide a new Painkiller experience for the PC gamers but to bring the entire experience to console gamers.
The frantic and high-paced slaughter-fest gameplay is still just that, an experience in obscene violence with a focus on havoc-fueled explosions and chaos. In this preview build, there were only a few of the many weapons available for use including the stake gun, Gatling gun, shotgun and a hand-to-hand weapon that looks like a weed whacker on steroids. For the most part, each weapon features both a primary firing function and a secondary function; for example, the stake gun fires wooden stakes as its primary firing mode and a grenade as its secondary. Of the few useable weapons in the build, the most noteworthy would be the melee weapon which, when used, has the appearance of a blossoming flower, with giant spinning blades of death in place of petals. The secondary fire for the melee weapon was also interesting, as it launched a metal ball that could be targeted to create a constant beam of death or retracted in order to fling a creature back towards the player.
The single most prevalent gameplay mechanic in Painkiller: Hell Wars is … killing stuff, a lot of stuff. Like the PC version, the player will frequently find himself stuck in any given area until a large number of various demons and monsters have been killed. Of course, once a player does clear an area and moves into the next, he basically gets to kill through another field of monsters. Hooray for repetition. The saving grace in the endless fields of enemies is the wonderfully utilized usage of the Havoc physics engine. Things like using the stake gun to nail enemies to the wall, grenades to send them flying into the air, or even the shotgun to help them do backwards cartwheels and flips keep the gameplay fun and a bit crazy.
The levels all sported an extremely gritty and dark appearance, helping to manifest the notion of purgatory. The buildings seem decrepit and decayed, the metal rusted, and the wood rotten … the scenery is stark, to say the least. The three available stages were a town that had an Old West appearance, an old worn-down prison complex, and an ancient ruin. Each stage had fairly unique enemies, from medieval demons that would rip off chunks of their own flesh in order to hurl them at you, to stout men with chain-guns and a penchant for exploding. Of all the things I fought, the most interesting was the single occupant of the ruins, a towering giant that smashed through columns and attempted to crush me with its oversized hammer. I find most FPS games lack this type of encounter where you feel severely outmatched due to the opponent's sheer magnitude, not because of numbers or weapon superiority.
Painkiller: Hell Wars has improved graphically from the very rough images seen at E3, and yet it still somewhat disappointing. For the most part, it is on par with the PC game that came out almost two years ago, which was a top-of-the-line title when it was released. The framerate stays at a very constant 60 frames per second, keeping things running smoothly and without slowdown (which is very important when confronted by dozens of demons hell-bent on killing you). If, in the time between the beta build and the final version, People Can
Fly further optimizes the code and graphics, the game can only benefit, and it will definitely be smooth sailing.
Minor things aside, Painkiller: Hell Wars is looking like a very solid port for the Xbox. Like most FPS-style games, the multiplayer was a very important facet on the PC and will be present in some manner on Xbox Live, although it wasn't enabled on the preview build so we couldn't test it out. Since Painkiller is the official tournament game of the Cyberathlete Professional League, you can expect what made the PC version such a popular and fun multiplayer title to be brought over to XBL.
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