Painkiller: Hell and Damnation Review

Painkiller: Hell and Damnation

painkiller-box-shot
Release: 28/06/2013
Publisher: Nordic Games GmbH
Developer: The Farm 51
Genre: Shooter
PEGI: 18
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Substandard About Rating
          
 
4.5 - Gameplay
           
 
3.5 - Video
           
 
3.0 - Audio
          
 

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Painkiller: Hell and Damnation – Introduction

“Retro-influenced” is almost certainly a compliment in today’s reviews. If a game is “retro-influenced,” we presume it takes all the best of the games we used to love and modernizes it with some cool twist or hook. Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is retro-influenced, but it’s influenced by an era of gaming that’s perhaps best left in the past.

But don’t let me confuse the issue. Painkiller is a rubbish game all by its own, and its inspiration doesn’t even really need to come into it.

Fighting for your Wife

Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is an arena shooter not entirely unlike Unreal Tournament or Quake. It’s a corner of the FPS genre that’s been ignored in mainstream shooters for the vast majority of this generation, with the exception of Unreal Tournament 3, which VGChartz tells me only sold around a million units on consoles, and Serious Sam, a franchise which has evened out at around the 60-70 mark on Metacritic.

 

This is the subgenre in which you’re presented with loads of enemies, are given a rocket launcher or some other deadly weapon, and then are just allowed to go mad. No need to aim especially well, just dodge, point and click.

There’s a little bit of story – you’re given a chance to reunite with a long lost lover who died alongside you in a car crash, although you have to collect a ton of souls – but it’s largely meaningless. The characters are dull and badly acted, it only progresses once every few levels and it bears little influence over anything you’re actually doing. Oh, a trip through a theme park, then to an Asian castle, then a theatre…

It’s tagged on, because killing a bunch of stuff doesn’t count as plot any more.

Do the Bunny Hop!

That is what you’ll be doing though, just blowing up everything that comes towards you and then moving to the next area. I suppose, on some plain level, that’s all the FPS genre is and all it’ll ever be, but other games attempt to hide that somewhat. Painkiller displays a compass that points to the nearest enemy.

There are a variety of weapons with which to punish those foolish enough to get between you and the exit of the level. Most are fun, and, while I wouldn’t say they were especially innovative, perhaps fresh is the right word. It’s nice to have “silly” weaponry, an armoury of flying disks, shotguns that go a mile and spear guns that double as grenade launchers.

That is what you'll be doing though, just blowing up everything that comes towards you and then moving to the next area.

And that’s likely where the fun will end. Enemies, although they come in different shapes and sizes, are meant only as a receptacle for your bullets and after the first few hundred of these bullet dumpsters, you’ll have seen more or less everything. 

Once you’re done fighting all the enemies in a given area, you’ll bunny hop to the next, or you’ll spend a little time looking for the traditional “secret areas,” where you’ll gain extra coins and armour.

It’s on the Cards

The previous section pretty much sums up every bit of play on offer in Painkiller: Hell and Damnation, although there are a few exceptions that will provide at least a little bit of identity. Firstly, the huge boss battles. It still boils down to basically the same thing – shoot and dodge – but it’s something that wasn’t possible on this scale even at the beginning of this generation and it’s nice to see. Less nice to see is the frame rate drops that come with them, although slow down will happen throughout the Painkiller experience.

Secondly, tarot cards. For fulfilling certain prerequisites within a level, you’ll be granted a tarot card. This card, when paid for with gold (which you collect around levels and from fallen enemies), alters a level in some way. Tarot cards are largely linked through to the trophies. Some are stupidly easy and you’ll do them basically by accident, others will make you want to never play again, something you’ll probably feel throughout your time playing Painkiller: Hell and Damnation anyway.

Neither are game changers, but manage to actually build on the shoot-by-numbers that the rest of Painkiller: Hell and Damnation represents.

On the Grid

A few added systems and some impressive bosses aren’t enough to really push Painkiller: Hell and Damnation out of its rut. It’s a PS2-era game, masquerading as something more modern. On more than one occasion I was surprised by how smooth the enemy’s attacks were, how targeted they seemed to be.

I had to keep reminding myself that it’s 2013 and that enemies who constantly attack the space between you and them until they connect are a thing of the past. The developers have done a good thing for the genre by leaving it behind, but that’s not exactly a plus point in their favour.

There were even times where you could seemingly see the grid below the level, the area upon which the developers have created levels. Maybe this was a design choice, a display of the frail barrier between the purgatory you explore and the pits of hell beneath, but it looks too much like a grid for it to get a pass based on that.

And, in fact, you can just about entirely discount the graphical side of things here. The textures are terrible and the level design is very square, but it doesn’t matter anyway because the whole thing is ridiculously dark. Black, even. Dark is a greyness in which you can make out shapes. None of that in Painkiller: Hell and Damnation.

The saving grace should be the online mode, but unfortunately there's nobody playing it.

And then there’s the heavy metal. Vast amounts of it will provide the backdrop for your ripping apart of demons. It’s not exactly original, and the music itself is beyond cheesy. Even the voice acting works towards your not being able to take anything seriously. 

The saving grace should be the online mode, but unfortunately there’s nobody playing it. Over the last few days I’ve tried the servers at different times of the day and there’s never more than a few games going, and never more than one or two people per game. As of writing, Painkiller has been out a week.

The games that I have played have been laggy, although I haven’t really been given enough chance to play that I can say this is typical of the game itself. It’s far-flung from the kind of couch justice that made this sort of game popular though, and it suffers as a result.

Conclusion

Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is to arena shooters what Resistance: Burning Skies is to the modern FPS. They’ve built something that functions – almost all of the time, anyway – but which has no heart behind it. It is, but shouldn’t be.

This is one of those games that people say “it’s fine, if you don’t take it too seriously.” That’s basically code for “it’s not a good game, but you’ll have some fun in it.” That, at least, is probably true. If you have to buy it, expect the worst and maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up enjoying your trip through sub-mediocrity.

Positives

  • An old-school shooter without any frills
  • Boss fights are huge as hell and generally quite fun, although there’s quite a bit of slow down attached to them.
  • Decent variety of enemies, but they’re all bullet sponges either way.

Negatives

  • Ridiculous story made up of three or four cutscenes
  • No sense of flow to the levels. You’ll be in an Asian-influenced castle on one level and a theme park on the next.
  • Graphics are bad and textures tend to just turn up as and when they feel like it.
  • Repetitive gameplay. Repetitive extras. Just repetitive.
  • No one plays online – not fun when they are.
 

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Article By

Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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