Painkiller: Hell Wars's arrival on the Xbox platform in its waning months is a testament to both the power of the console and the joy that the title brings to a gamer's heart, regardless of the platform it's on. Painkiller isn't exactly like its PC counterpart nor is it exactly like the expansion Battle out of Hell, but rather a blending of the two, taking the best parts of each and combining them for the Xbox version. The surprising part comes with the level of quality that the Xbox version has, which looks very comparable to the PC version in both graphics quality and framerate. Though the Xbox console is in its last hurrahs, it's still more than capable of delivering some solid entertainment.
In Painkiller, you take on the role of Daniel Garner, who has just been involved in a horrific car accident that took his life. Upon reaching the pearly gates, you find that heaven isn't taking any new applicants, and there is a brutal war going on between the forces of heaven and hell. In order to gain access to heaven and eternal rest, Daniel has to go through purgatory, enlisting as a soldier for heaven to fight the battle against hell's army. It's a decent plot overall for a game of the genre, and it actually works with the gameplay.
The enemies you face are big and small, weird and weirder. You'll fight everything from cloaked figures to floating skeletons wielding scythes, and other enemies you'll face can easily touch the ceiling of a cathedral. Enemies all behave a bit differently, but in general, they all come right at you kamikaze style. The cloaked figures only have axes, so they have to get up close to be a threat, but the biker-looking enemies are armed with Tommy guns. Enemies on the brink of death will occasionally perform a new move; for instance, the bikers will charge at you like bulls, and the cloaked figures throw their axes at you before collapsing.
The weapons you use against your foes are conventional for the most part but are also very exaggerated. Apparently, People Can Fly likes to go with the mentality of, "If you're gonna go, go all out," and Painkiller is perfectly suited to this philosophy toward munitions. While there are only a very small number of guns in the game (around five), every weapon has equally powerful primary and secondary attacks. The stake gun that can stick enemies to walls also launches grenades. The Painkiller itself is a sort of spinning blade, the head of which can be launched and stuck into a wall, where it will emit a beam between it and the player and cut through anything in between. The chaingun's alternate fire is a rocket launcher. This means that in the game, you'll find yourself spraying a couple of enemies with hot lead, and then turn and blast a group of them with a well-placed rocket, all with the same weapon.
Speaking of People Can Fly, every object in the game is attached to an exhaustively detailed physics system. Enemies who have taken their last breath will slump over against walls, tumble down steps, flip over railings, and flail through the air in real-time, and never the same way twice. Object such as barrels and boxes can be rolled down staircases and ramps to trip up enemies, block their paths, or be used as another means of attack entirely in the case of explosive barrels. Boxes, pots, and barrels splinter and shatter into pieces when shot, all controlled by the physics system. The Xbox and PC versions are almost completely indistinguishable in this regard, as the level of detail that the physics engine has is still quite high.
After an enemy has been dead for a few seconds, its body explodes into a puff of smoke, leaving behind its soul. Collecting souls is the only way for you to regain your health. Once you collect enough souls, you turn into a force of God for a short amount of time, which enables you to blow apart enemies at will.
Painkiller's graphics rock, hands down. The Venice-like level nearly bleeds atmosphere as you walk along balconies and ancient canals, and the temple level has a cathedral that will almost make you gasp in its quality of architecture. The enemies look excellent, with extremely crisp and detailed textures and high-quality animations. Effects such as explosions, smoke, and even mist rival any game in terms of how great they look and how well they blend with the action itself. It's actually very surprising how well the Xbox version handles large battles; there can be an intense amount of action going down, and the framerate nearly always stays at a level that can be described as "butter smooth." Even effects such as lighting given off by gunfire and puffs of dust from bullet ricochets are very well done and look simply awesome.
Sound in the game is also very well implemented. The sound effects pack a punch and aren't repetitive. Bullets slam into concrete and flesh, the roar of a dying demon fills your ears, and the explosion of a nearby grenade graces your subwoofer; these all combine to form a complex and very gratifying palette of sound effects. Painkiller's music takes it up another notch with moody, slower music when simply walking around and harder, guitar-laden rock songs when you see the enemy, the enemy sees you, and it's time to rumble. The way the music sounds is a bit like Devil May Cry, with the slower bits being very melodic and dark, and the combat bits immediately putting you in the mood to unload your weapon into anything that lives, breathes, or moves.
Honestly, the future was uncertain when we saw Painkiller: Hell Wars at last year's E3, but People Can Fly really worked on it and put some love into the Xbox version to make it one of the last great first-person shooters to grace the console. Painkiller is an excellent example of how a game can be excellent and yet not overly complex or, more simply put, it's still just as fun to pop in the disc and blow the crap out of a few hundred things, just as it was on the PC three years ago. For sheer entertainment factor alone, the Xbox version of Painkiller rivals that of newer, Xbox 360 titles, and that's saying quite a bit.
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