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Painkiller: Overdose

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Jowood
Developer: Mindware Studios

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PC Review - 'Painkiller: Overdose'

by Keith Durocher on Jan. 10, 2008 @ 2:31 a.m. PST

Packed with tons of fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled single player and multiplayer levels of mayhem, Painkiller: Overdose brings with it 6 innovative new demonic weapons, mind-bending physics, lightning-player maps, over 40 demented and sickly-twisted monsters from Hell and gigantic end bosses that will blow your mind!.

Genre: FPS
Publisher: Dreamcatcher Interactive
Developer: Mindware Studios
Release Date: October 30, 2007

In 2004, a company called People Can Fly released, via Dreamcatcher Interactive, a first-person shooter that instantly captured my imagination and heart. It was called Painkiller, and it was a glorious return to the self-indulgent gore of Doom, resplendent in its blatantly satanic atmosphere. It had an almost moronic "plot," full of holes so big you could drive a truck through it, but its selling points were action, blood and evil. Who cares if it made no sense? Zombies threw intestines at you! What more reason does one need to play a game? An expansion, Battle Out of Hell, wasn't long in the making, coming out mere months after the original. Now, several years later, we're presented with Painkiller: Overdose. Is it a sequel? No. An expansion? Not as such. Well, you may ask, what is it? The short answer is, "an unmitigated disaster," but do read on to see why.

To begin this comedy of errors, it is important to note that Overdose is not the product of People Can Fly. In this instance, a Czechoslovakian crew by the name of Mindware Studios is at the helm. Have you ever seen a movie sequel that wasn't written by the same scriptwriters, wasn't directed by the same guy, didn't have any of the original actors and was straight-to-video? In a nutshell, that's what Dreamcatcher have done with Overdose.

The basic plot breakdown follows a completely different character. Instead of a human assassin on heaven's payroll, you're playing Belial, a half-angel, half-demon on a vengeful spree. Imprisoned for being a half-breed, you escape, tearing off your jailer's head and using it as a weapon. As before, you're stalking through the various areas of purgatory in search of violent restitution. Where the original Painkiller just didn't make any sense, Overdose is merely the unrestrained imaginings of a seventh-grade heavy metal fan. This is what happens when you take science class doodles and make a game out of them. The writing alone is proof of this, being some of the most self-indulgent, pretentious foppery since Garth Ennis penned "Preacher." Trust me when I say that it only gets worse from here.

Here's the biggest problem with Overdose. It's not new. It's not a new graphics engine, and there are no new game mechanics. This is a (slightly) glorified fan-mod packaged as a whole new Painkiller experience. This alone wouldn't be such a bad thing if the fans in question hadn't botched the process so badly. For example, the weapons, highly touted on the box as "Eight radically designed demonic weapons," are in fact nothing more than the same weapons from Painkiller and Battle Out of Hell, only with new skins and sound effects. They function in exactly the same manner; they didn't even try to swap out the functions. The Painkiller itself is now called the "Hellcube." It looks like Lemarchands Box from Hellraiser, but both its left- and right-click functions are the same as the Painkiller. The Bone shotgun in Overdose has the same shotgun-left-click/freezeblast-right-click as the shotgun in Painkiller. The Bolt-Driver from Battle Out of Hell is here, too; they just hung some tiny demon skulls from it.

Now to be fair, there are a couple of new weapons, but they aren't particularly well implemented. There is the demon head that blasts out a steady beam of heat. Well hey, a laser is handy enough. The secondary attack is a hellish scream that makes enemies explode. It's also handy, except that it's nearly impossible to see a scream. Then there's the broken blade that sprays out heat-seeker skulls and hurls out of your hand in a controlled spin for the secondary attack. This is probably the most powerful weapon in the game against peon enemies, but it's extremely unwieldy and thus not particularly fun. There's also an alien egg-thrower grenade weapon, the first in the franchise that doesn't have an alternate firing mode. It's somewhat of a tactical weapon and therefore almost totally useless, as Painkiller is about the least tactical game ever released. Finally, we have the radioactive waste shotgun, which is the one stroke of genius to the new weapons, and a tragic "too little, too late" entry. It shoots straight blasts of glowing green goo and a continuous spray of depleted uranium liquid — potent, effective and cool.

The enemies are again little more than uninspired re-skins of previous enemies from Painkiller. Ninjas? You bet. Samurai? Yes. Armless skeletons? Check. Etcetera, and so forth. What new opponents do we get? How about vaporous columns of fire in a vaguely humanoid shape, giant scorpions, hellish geishas and cross-legged Anubis clones? There are more, but this is just a random selection. They aren't necessarily bad, per se; these new demons just lack flair and personality. Mixing them in with the far superior examples from the prior titles only serves to contrast the bland offerings of Overdose. As with the weapons, there is the occasional nod to the inspired demons of the earlier iterations. The best of these are stitched in to the best level of the game, which segues into my next criterion point: maps.

Much of what gave the original Painkiller its edge was the level design. Many areas were based on real-life locales, and this attention to detail really fleshed out the immersion. This has not carried over to Overdose. Levels are uninspired to the point of being bland, and many of them are effectively just re-worked versions of prior levels in the original game. One of the more puzzling aspects of this entire franchise is the complete lack of cohesion from area to area. What I mean is that it makes no sense that in one stage, I'll be slaying everything in a satanic orphanage, only to load into the next level: a massive bridge across a dizzying chasm of ice. I assure you, the orphanage was not built in the Alps. This is something that could have been fixed in Overdose, but wasn't. It's still a random collection of places to kill evil things, with no rhyme or reason as to how or why each location is connected to the previous one.

Now, it's not a complete disaster; there is the occasional moment of inspired genius. I must give credit to the map called "Asteroid," a sprawling outer-space zone, full of teleportation beams and heavy black-and-green tones. However, even this standout suffers somewhat from repetition. The one level that is exactly the kind of seriously warped and evil magic that made Painkiller such a great game is the farm map. The entire area is a massive ranch/slaughterhouse, and it's truly gutwrenching. This level also has the most unique enemies. There are demonic chicken coops that shoot rotting, heat-seeking poultry at you! Butchers on the killing floor with cows' heads and meat-hook hands! Re-animated bovine carcasses! That's precisely what Overdose needed more of, horrifyingly surreal enemies and shockingly obscene locations. If you ever do come across a copy of this game, play it for this level alone, as it's the only one that really lives up to the franchise.

The single biggest issue I have with Overdose is the new antihero commentary that can't be shut off. I didn't like this sort of "crackin' wise" when it was in Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior or Blood. About the only FPS I've ever thought actually pulled it off was Serious Sam, and much of what allows Croteam to escape my scorn lies in their restraint. In Overdose, the constant one-liners are tiresome at best and aggravating at worst. They aren't witty or amusing the first time you hear them, and the excessive repetition doesn't make it funnier. "Bite my half-demon ass," when spoken over and over and over again isn't bravado, smack talk or even scathing satire — it's just stupid. The addition of this unnecessary and infantile "feature" almost single-handedly ruins the experience for me.

As you can tell, I was extremely let down by Painkiller: Overdose, and my disappointment was made all the more intense by my love of the franchise. Instead of fleshing out the most gore-filled and evil FPS series yet made, Mindware has instead managed to flog a dead horse. As a final insult, this is the most poorly performing version of Painkiller yet; it loads more slowly now than ever before, even with my updated hardware. If you've yet to dive into this series, don't let Overdose be your starting point. Go buy Painkiller Black and treat this game like a non-canon TV series that doesn't really count.

Score: 5.1/10


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