In the belly of St Andrews church, London, we gathered. Deep down in the crypt we saw skeletons walk, demons rise and Death himself came to visit. Painkiller is back.
A tribute to First-Person-Shooters from yesteryear, when guns were obscene, movement was insane and health was numbered, the original Painkiller from 2004 shed a fresh light on this ancient design. The game found a healthy following among the faithful and is still one of the more popular FPSs played at international game arena competitions due to its intense multiplayer atmosphere.
On All Hallows Eve this October Painkiller: Hell and Damnation will be unleashed upon the world, bringing with it a new wave of destruction and slaughter. Essentially an HD update of the original plus the Battle Out of Hell expansion pack, but completely rebuilt in the Unreal engine, developers Nordic Games hope to bring a fresh new generation to the sacrificial table. And the lucky sinners amongst us managed to grab some early action, and here are some thoughts before we are sent to the pits of hell.
It is strange to think that games of this style have almost been eliminated from the world. Now we are all transfixed by realism, and conversely regenerating health or chest high walls. Yet re-filling the hefty boots of Daniel Garner (the main protagonist) feels instantly familiar. Instead of hiding like frightened lambs, picking off enemies one by one, waiting for mysterious shields to regenerate, we are charging head first into the fray. Fifty skeletons lumber towards us, easily dispatched with round after pumping round of shotgun. Demonic creatures wielding fearsome scythes are instantly crippled by the spinning death of the titular Painkiller melee device.
It is a game of sheer intensity and action, where every second a new creature is lunging towards you eager to eat your brains. However, to proceed through any section Daniel has to suck the souls out of every evil creature that stalks the area. Arguably it is a tiring chore to hunt down the last remaining creature and while there is a compass pointing you in the right direction, it frustrates speed runs and creates unnecessary lulls in the action. As was essential in games of yore, bosses stand in the way at the end of chapter. These monsters, often fifty feet tall, are an interesting and refreshing experience. But they still fall at the unrelenting punishment of Daniel’s weapons.
Painkiller: Hell and Damnation graphical overhaul is understandably a vast improvement on the eight year old original, but it also runs at a constant sixty frames per second on a modest PC. Fans of Painkiller will instantly feel at home but will also find lots of exciting new additions such as the Soulcatcher gun. This forsaken beauty allows Daniel to suck the souls out of his enemies and then release them as minions fighting for his cause. Somehow the clever minds at Nordic games have managed to design a novel concept for a gun that still feels naturally old-school to use.
Single-player, which is also playable two player cooperative, may be an entertaining frolic into the underworld but multiplayer is the mainstay of most first-person shooters and Painkiller is no different. Getting our hands on some of this insane action was rather like slipping back to last century with echoes of Quake and Unreal Tournament. Players were flying across the map using the rather ridiculous speed jumping method, a hangover from the original, and blasting bullets and rockets from all angles. It is brilliant old-school fun, but with an unfamiliar graphical finesse.
In the process of battling out to be crowned king of Painkiller we did discover quite a number of overpowered weapons and styles (the lightning gun turned out to be the only gun worth owning), but the crew from Nordic game admitted there will be a day-one balancing update. Hopefully this fix will level the playing field as the version we played felt almost broken by certain guns, but no one can deny the amount of fun everyone was having as we laughed and screamed in equal measures.
Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is looking like a brilliantly timed release, reminding players of the sheer fun of games long since past. The updated graphics, as well as releases for console (due early next year), should hopefully draw in new crowds and bring fresh attention to the forgotten old-school first-person shooter genre. I’ll see you all there, in hell.