Everybody remembers when professional gamer Fatal1ty swept the media with a startling prospect: A professional gamer able to live — quite well — from the proceeds of his "craft." Publications everywhere, from Time to Newsweek, jumped at the chance to cover Fatal1ty's rise. And even when, to everybody's surprise, Fatal1ty came out as the underdog in a major competition, he, in a bit less of a surprising turn of events, walked with the first prize anyway.
The concept of this is great; it's living the dream! Games for a living! …or is it? The truth of the matter is, Fatal1ty — nay, every active tournament player — had to go through quite a bit of mundane, straight-up work to grab the top prize. Poor Fatal1ty and his peers, these guys had to pick up Painkiller to get where they needed to be. Needless to say, they washed their hands of the entire game, as did the rest of the major players once the tournament season ended.
And now there's an Xbox version.
I usually like this kind of first-person shooter, just to clear the record. This, and Serious Sam, represent a modern take on the days when AI didn't matter, and it was all about figuring out how to kill as many enemies at once without dying in the process, along with the odd keycard here and there. There wasn't anything necessarily flawed about that model in terms of providing sheer, angry, gleeful, (and probably sinful) fun, so why not try to go back and see if there was anything that could have been better with a little modern tweaking?
The strategies are all based on pure instinct, adding to the visceral enjoyment these types of games produce. Am I out of bullets?, you might ask yourself. Well, then run the hell back and get some more bullets! Am I running low on health? Then go back to the last place you saw a health pickup. And then there's the real brain-teaser: I'm out of bullets and health and there aren't anymore pickups in this stage. Simple: suck it up and stop sucking so much.
The real question is, what does Painkiller have that Serious Sam doesn't? Or, better yet, does it do anything better than Doom did?
Over Serious Sam, it's got a coherent image going. Kind of. The stages themselves present whatever damned theme the developers felt like doing, but they have a very sinister appeal. Serious Sam, despite the title, did not. Doom does, but have you played that game lately? It's early-90's death metal fan imagery to the max. Read: embarrassing. Painkiller looks embarrassing already, but at least it was made to look that way from the start. And technologically it isn't entirely behind. This port is very accurate, covering about what a mid-to-low-end PC would have put up with from this game back in 2004 when it released.
Serious Sam and Painkiller seem to share the same exact AI parameters — that is, none at all aside from enemies rushing straight towards the player — and I will not complain about this here. This is the point of the design, however lazy it may be, and I wouldn't have asked for more. If I wanted to be hunted down ruthlessly with a little bit of cunning, I would play Doom 3, Halo and its sequel, Half-Life 2, FarCry, or any number of big-budget shooters that has released in the past five or six years. This game, although not necessarily low-budget (those ragdoll physics were a big deal no-so-lon-ago), has a second-stringer charm to it, similar to Shogo: Mobile Armor Division and SiN way back in the late nineties.
The Painkiller ship doesn't appear leaky until the single player has run dry (which might take a long time, since this type of gameplay lends itself to copious replays for shaving off a few seconds of monster-murder per stage), and multiplayer is the only way to go. This, like many FPS before it to be honest (the original Half-Life says hello), has a weapon design ethic that only seems useful in single player.
Multiplayer matches are without the intricacies of Unreal Tournament or Quake, which must have driven Fatal1ty and company completely insane while they scoured for techniques during their training. This is straightforward, shoot more/die last action. Whlie I cry out for single-player FPS games more like Doom just once in a damned while, I see absolutely no need for such a mentality in deathmatches. Quake 2 serves as the most primitive, balanced deathmatch game around — largely due to impeccable level-design, notably famous map The Edge — and I wouldn't dare go further back than that in the year 2006.
The final stake in the multiplayer grave is a sadly common one: there is only online or network play available. That means unless you've got a few Xboxes and TVs, you aren't going to be playing this with any of your local friends. A lesser problem is that nobody is playing this online, either. I won't fault the game for this last fact, but instead will pat the intelligence of those who made the choice not to play Painkiller for the deathmatch mode.
Fatal1ty wouldn't recommend this Xbox version, despite the inclusion of the expansion pack. Not even at the great price of $30 would he touch this release. But he's Fatal1ty, and he's probably a console FPS-hating, pretentious jerk. I'd say go for it, as long as you're aware that this is simply Serious Sam with a few undead Nazis thrown in. Have at.
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