An Unreal Engine 3 makeover isn’t enough to keep Painkiller’s gameplay relevant nine years on.
I‘m normally a big snob when it comes to reviews. I’ll just go ahead and admit that now. I’m seldom impressed by any game unless it really comes close to the pinnacle of artistic perfection. That said, some works are well aware that they’re awful, doing their own thing as the veritable B-movies of the games industry.
Painkiller was one such game, People Can Fly’s 2004 romp that took the FPS back to boot-camp with its simple gameplay and campy underworld storyline. It’s a bit of a classic (provided you can take it with a pinch of salt), but several developers have jumped on the bandwagon and released their own entries in the Painkiller series since then.
"If better graphics were what you wanted out of Painkiller, your prayers have been answered. "
Hell and Damnation is the latest release, with The Farm 51 giving the series an Unreal Engine 3 makeover. It makes the hellish world of Painkiller particularly grizzly, with the bosses especially getting a great boost from the new engine. Towering monsters that fill your screen just weren’t possible like this back when the original Painkiller was released.
The graphics supplement the game’s unified aesthetic, an over the top representation of a dreary afterlife. If better graphics were what you wanted out of Painkiller, your prayers have been answered. There are a few glitches that spoil this new found immersion, with towering boss monsters seeming less intimidating as they get stuck on the scenery. Still, Painkiller doesn’t disappoint in the visuals department.
Hell and Damnation acts as a sequel and remake simultaneously. The plot takes place after the original, with Daniel Garner now striking up a deal with Death himself. 7000 souls is the price Daniel must pay to be reunited with his deceased wife, so you set out to clear endless hordes of the damned once more.
"What many remember the Painkiller series for is its wacky arsenal of guns and, though Hell and Damnation stays true to this, it becomes clear just how much content has been recycled here. "
Where the remake part comes in is the levels, a greatest hits of the stages you remember from the original. It isn’t quite so simple though, with a few glaring omissions and the unwelcome return of that bloody swamp level. It does a reasonable job of capturing the best bits though, resulting in some iconic nostalgia for retro FPS veterans.
What many remember the Painkiller series for is its wacky arsenal of guns and, though Hell and Damnation stays true to this, it becomes clear just how much content has been recycled here. Old classics return (stake gun FTW!), but are bolstered by only one new gun.
Admittedly, the aptly named soul catcher is a boon to the game, a hybrid soul sucker and saw launcher that can rip through groups with ease. Considering this is what always defined the series, one new gun is a poor effort. Still, the arsenal continues to add variety to the action.
Though the guns may be creative, the rest of the gameplay struggles to stay relevant to the 2013 sensibilities. It was a breath of fresh air when released in 2004, but enemies that charge head on endlessly just don’t quite cut it any more. We’ve had our retro revival in areas outside the FPS genre so, despite being easy to pick up and play, H and D also comes across as far too simplistic at times. The rush tactics employed exclusively by the AI also mean you get boxed into corners a lot; and not in a fun or exciting way.
"There's also other multiplayer modes on offer but, far from recreating the glory of the original Painkiller's deathmatches, it feels hollow and soulless by comparison."
Collision detection just feels off when enemies surround you and, with no way to get out, you find yourself getting frustrated as the game spams more and more opponents your way. Enemy frustrations continue as,t with the only objective in the game being to clear an area of enemies, certain foes will get stuck in a corner of the map. This forces you to waste time hunting them down before you can proceed. It’s a small niggle but, in a game that is made by its fast-paced action, this regular need to enemy hunt becomes tiresome.
It’s a shame the game gets so repetitive, even in short bursts, but there isn’t too much game to suffer through at least. Being a compilation of levels from the original Painkiller, Hell and Damnation is even shorter than its forebear. You can run it in 4-5 hours without much effort, a disconcerting lack of content for those seriously considering parting with their cash.
Optional objectives exist within each level to unlock new tarot abilities, but these are often too basic to offer any real replay value. The inclusion of local and online/LAN co-op certainly makes the short lifespan easier to swallow and, whilst the implementation isn’t perfect, bringing a second player adds some serious replay value.
There’s also other multiplayer modes on offer but, far from recreating the glory of the original Painkiller’s deathmatches, it feels hollow and soulless by comparison. The sincere lack of players doesn’t help. Having tested liberally over the past few days I encountered barely anyone online and, whenever I did, the gameplay failed to hold up. The fast and frantic deathmatches of old just feel a little dull in Hell and Damnation.
" It plays fairly well and looks even better, but it just doesn't have enough new content to stay relevant for long."
Survival mode shakes things up a bit, with players defending themselves from a horde of AI, but this mode too offers little on top of the campaign and similarly becomes repetitive after a short play time. If you’re looking for the next big online shooter, you won’t find it here.
Despite releasing for a fairly reasonable price on Xbox 360 and PS3, Hell and Damnation remains a hard recommendation to make. The physics and back to basics gameplay that wowed us in 2004 aren’t quite so special in 2013 and, whilst the original Painkiller remains a joy to play, there’s little reason to recommend this remake over the game that started it all.
In terms of sheer content and quality, I’ll take People Can Fly’s version any day of the week, but this isn’t to decry the effort The Farm 51 have put into Hell and Damnation. It plays fairly well and looks even better, but it just doesn’t have enough new content to stay relevant for long.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Bosses look great, Accessible gameplay, Local co-op, Varied weapons
Minimal content, soulless multiplayer, Dull AI, Gets repetitive, Very glitchy, Not much better than the original
Half remake half sequel of the 2004 original, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation offers pretty graphics and cool remixes of the original's levels, but dumb AI, repetition and glitches crash the party.