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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.


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PC Preview - 'Painkiller'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Jan. 11, 2004 @ 2:33 a.m. PST

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

I've come to the conclusion that someone over at People Can Fly had to be reading our previous preview of Painkiller and just started laughing to themselves. "Oh if he only knew what the rest of the game was like, or how much higher we are going to take it" they must have thought to themselves as they continued crafting away at their creation. Folks, as most of you already know game previews are usually never to be taken as the final product in terms of structure or quality, as they usually have bugs or things that just simply aren't implemented yet. With People Can Fly and its game Painkiller if the game rocks as much as it does right now, and in a 3 level preview state nonetheless, you can almost get giddy with anticipation over the rest of what People Can Fly are cooking up over there.

Though the storyline of Painkiller hasn't really been revealed much, and what is generally known can be found in our previous coverage of the game, a recap is in order for those of you just tuning in. In a nutshell, the character you play died and has been hired by the top dog up in heaven to combat the forces of hell who are trying to wage war in purgatory. A fairly original premise for sure, though understanding it is optional if you are just looking to blow apart a few hundred enemies. In the previous build the player fought the likes of flying ghouls with scythes, hooded figures with hand axes, and strangely enough big biker guys wielding tommy guns. In the newest preview build People Can Fly introduced undead skeletons, gruesome people who have had their hands and feet cut off, witches (some on foot, and some complete with cackling laughter and flying brooms), zombies who use their own internal organs as a weapon by throwing them at you, and another gigantic boss character. Granted the forces of the undead are probably the most unoriginal and overused video game foe, but when one rips its own liver out and chucks it at the player you realize this isn't your standard fps fare.

The new three level build lifts the curtain a little higher on what locales the player will venture through in the final version of the game. The first level throws the player in a graveyard filled with skeletal warriors and witches. A neat effect in this level is the player's flashlight, which is constantly on with the exceptional flicker and lights up enemies and objects beautifully. One wouldn't be out of line saying that this is probably one of the first games to really get a flashlight effect done right, but that's neither here nor there. In the second level the player is challenged with the task of making his way through a Victorian era town filled with zombies, ghouls, and the odd witch or two. As you work your way along the streets, flanked by olden style shops and homes, fires inside the buildings cause them to fall apart and give the physics engine free reign over the pieces. Finally, in the third level its only you and a gigantic gargoyle atop a crumbling cathedral, locked in conflict with you pumping out lead and dodging its attacks while it's breathing fire, toppling stone walls and pillars, and occasionally hitting the ground so hard it collapses and sends you both plummeting down to the level below amidst many pieces of stone and rubble.

People Can Fly also gave use a glimpse of three new weapons at the players disposal, out of the five dual-use weapons that will end up in the final build. In the previous build the player had an assault pistol / grenade launcher and a minigun / rocket launcher available to them to lay down the law on the forces of hell. In the new build the miniguns / rocket launcher makes its return, backed up by a double-barreled shotgun, a speargun, and a strange flail. The shotgun's primary fire is obvious, it spews forth the contents of two shotgun shells, though its secondary fire was seemingly unavailable. The spearguns primary fire sends a large wooden spike whistling through the air before it embeds itself in demon flesh, which can also carry the demon for a while and staple them to any solid object behind them. If you get beneath an enemy and shoot them in the bottom of the chin, not only will you impale their head with a wooden spike about two inches in diameter but you'll also stick them to the ceiling with it. The speargun's secondary fire shoots a grenade capable of sending nearby enemies flying. In both cases the physics engine shines, stick and enemy and their limbs dangle, blow them up with a grenade and they fly through the air and slump over whatever object they land on. Finally, the flail is probably the weirdest of the three. Its primary fire turns the head of the flail into three spinning blades for close quarters combat. The secondary fire ejects the head and shoots it wherever you aim. If it hits an enemy it rips them apart and the head comes back and reattaches, but if the head hits a wall or similar solid object it emanates a beam back to the handle that can cut right through a group of enemies.

The newest build also contains a new gameplay mechanic. After the player kills a certain amount of enemies or collects a certain amount of souls from dead foes, the screen goes almost all white with black accents, enemies glow red and dark red, the game goes into a faint slow-mo mode, and for a brief, fleeting moment you have total dominion over the enemy forces. In this mode, you are temporarily invincible and you only have one short-to-medium range attack. However, this attack instantly kills nearly any enemy with one hit, causing them to simply rip apart amidst a shower of blood and limbs.

A multiplayer component was included in the latest build, though it remains largely unplayed and untested. In a small two-player test of the multiplayer it was found to be a little incomplete, the levels looked nice and were fine and dandy for two people to shoot each other in, but no special game modes were included and there was really nothing in the entire level that used the physics engine other than dead bodies. Hopefully that will be rectified in time for the final game, as it would be very cool to see an errant rocket topple a pillar in multiplayer, or have a room or building collapse.

The graphics engine doesn't look very much different or better from the previous build capability wise, but going above near-perfection is a difficult task to complete. Lighting effects, whether immediately obvious like the flashlight or subtle like on the player's weapons, are beautiful. The enemies once again look very crisp and detailed, with not only top-notch textures but quality animations as well. Painkiller's smoke effects are some of the best around, coming from the barrels of your weapons or from the limbs of a recently blown-apart enemy. Explosions send bits of coffins, vases, statues, and the handfuls of other breakable objects flying apart, cast enemies limb from limb, and give off a soft glow to the surroundings in stark contrast to the bloody arm flying through the air.

Sound is also done with a level of quality that is simply overlooked in many other games. Footsteps don't sound canned at all, and sound quite a bit like someone who is wearing hard-soled boots and is carrying enough ammo to kill everyone on the planet twice. Gunfire and explosion sound effects also sound rather fresh, though the only complaint is that the sound of the grenade launching out of the barrel sounds a bit tinny. Music scores fit the mood, accented by subtle and unintelligible chants and whispers. Amidst it all, every once in a blue mood for a brief moment there will be no gunfire, the music will be at a low point, and you will see and hear a single sever limb hit the floor and give off a nice little squish sound.

And here is the real thing that is surprising. Out of the entire preview build, the entire thing, the only real flaws are that load times are a bit long (15-20 secs, though the levels are fairly big) and aren't accompanied by a loading bar, and that the size of the wooden spears launched from the speargun look bigger than they do while in the gun. As long as People Can Fly stay the course they've maintained from the get-go Painkiller is going to come out with so much buffing and polishing that the box itself will deflect light. The fact remains; if you liked Serious Sam and that style of gameplay you will have an absolute blast playing through Painkiller, which takes its own deliciously twisted spin on the "one vs. many" genre.

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