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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)

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Preview - 'Painkiller'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on June 11, 2003 @ 12:32 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.

Pre-order 'PAINKILLER': PC

Do you remember Serious Sam, with its one versus many gameplay, strange and varied enemies, and (for its time) top-notch graphics? More recently, do you recall the coverage of Will Rock, who seemed to inherit Sam’s throne with improved graphics, a little deeper plot, and an even higher degree of gameplay? If you like the concepts that those games bring to the table, quit reading right now and go reserve Painkiller at any fine software dealer. If you are interested in how exactly this game is going to rock the one versus many genre apart, read on and be enlightened.

As stated, Painkiller is the newest game to adopt a one versus many approach in the purest sense and pits you and a handful of weapons against a huge amount of enemies who want nothing more than to mount your head on a spear. In Painkiller you play 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. A decent plot overall for a game of the genre, and actually works with the gameplay.

The enemies you face are big and small, weird and weirder. In Painkiller you’ll fight everything from cloaked figures to floating skeletons wielding scythes. 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 a bull 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. In the preview build there were only two weapons available to use in the build’s 3 levels, an assault pistol with a grenade launcher and a miniguns with a rocket launcher. Apparently People Can Fly like to go with the mentality “If you’re gonna go, go all out” and this is the exact type of game that works the best with it. In game you’ll find yourself spraying a couple enemies with hot lead, then turn and blast a group of them with a well placed grenade or rocket. The final product will feature about 5 different weapons, but each of them will have an alternate fire mode.

Speaking of People Can Fly, every object in the game is attached to an exhaustively details physics system. Enemies who have taken their last breath will slump over against walls, tumble down steps, flip over railings, and fly flailing through the air all 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 path, or to 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.


After an enemy has been dead for a few second their body explodes into a puff of smoke, leaving their soul behind. Collecting souls adds a bit of health to yourself, which is the only way to regain your health. You can also pick up boxes of ammo for your weapons and strange gold coins that had no purpose in the preview build but could just be used for scoring purposes.

Painkiller’s graphics rock, hands down. The Venice-like level nearly bleeds atmosphere as you walk along ancient canals and along the balconies of the buildings, and the temple level has a cathedral that will almost make you gasp in its quality of architecture. The enemies you face look excellent, with extremely crisp and detailed textures and high-quality animations. Speaking of textures, PCF’s Adrian Chmielarz told us that textures are unique everywhere in the game, meaning that none are being re-used in later levels. You see a wall in level 1, that’s the only place where you will see it. Effects such as explosions, smoke, and even mist given off from a water fountain rival the effects in any game in terms of how great they look and how well they blend with the action itself. Even effects such as lighting given off by gunfire and puffs of dust given off by bullet ricochets are very well done and look simply awesome. In one of the levels you start off next to the sea and firing into the water made it splash up, and we tried it as far as the eye could see. The sun in the sky is not “just” there, it also functions as the main light source in the game and it will regulate the shadow effect as you move.

Sound in the game is also very well implemented. The sound effects pack a punch and aren’t repetitious. Bullets slamming into concrete and flesh while the roar of a dying demon fills your ears and the explosion of a nearby grenade graces your subwoofer 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 seems 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.

Painkiller will of course feature multiplayer and to make it interesting developer People Can Fly will introduce some off beat modes. One of them will be an appropriately called “People Can Fly” mode, where you can only kill the opposing enemies by blowing them up and killing them “as they fly through the air”. Not quite sure how this is going to actually play, but it sure sounds wicked enough. One of the other modes will be arena based where all the players receive the same weapons at the start and they will randomly change, for everybody. He, who has the most frags, wins.

All in all, Painkiller takes the best aspects that the one versus many FPS genre has to offer and takes it about three levels higher, delivering graphics, sound, and gameplay that simply is awesome to behold. Fans of the other games like it, such as Serious Sam and Will Rock, should buy this game without question, without thought, and even fans of first person shooters in general will find Painkiller to be a great game to just sit down and lay the smack down on a few hundred enemies. In short, gather your money, place your reservations now, and get ready for when Painkiller is finally unleashed later this year, it’s a hell of a ride.

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