The pulp action first-person shooter, Painkiller, draws its gothic curtains closed in Painkiller: Hell Wars. Combining scenarios from the original as well as the Battle Out of Hell expansion for the PC (albeit with notable levels missing), Hell Wars places a proper headstone on this highly-praised mini-series.
Running and gunning through Painkiller’s gameplay is like sleeping with an ex: It’s familiar territory, it skips a lot of foreplay, and it doesn’t expect you to call back too often. Unfortunately, unless this is breaking your virginal experience with Painkiller on the Xbox, then your heart’s probably moved on by now.
What makes this such an acclaimed success from the get-go is its old school Dick & Jane tactics. The Dick, in this case, is heaven-hired gunman Daniel Garner. Daniel gets tossed into a purgatorial lions’ den after a fatal car crash. His woman seemingly strolls through the pearly gates just fine, but the Alpha & Omega has a tiny favor to ask of Daniel first: Stop an imminent holy war from erupting between heaven and hell. Oh, and you have to do it alone. So, no pressure.
The levels’ settings jump incongruously over a metaphorical map of anywhere you might’ve felt like you were in purgatory. At an opera house. In an orphanage. And of course, General Sherman’s Civil War mantra lives on: “War is hell.” And it gives away nothing to say that the final stage is one of the most striking imaginings of hell ever depicted in a video game. What at first looks like a graphical glitch turns into a very chilling revelation about the history of man. Simultaneously, what at first looks like a climactic final battle turns into a hellish exercise in futility. When it comes to the final boss, all I’m saying is: Good friggin’ luck.
The stage bosses leading up to the end are huge, sit-back-in-your-seat encounters. They’re not Shadow of the Colossus huge, but they’re an FPS equivalent, and puzzling out how to take them down is the greatest challenge you’ll face. Again, there’s no continuity between the levels, and there’s often nothing connecting stage bosses to their own levels except a load screen. This doesn’t strip away the fun factor and attractive design, however, and watching these colossi topple is gratifyingly worth wiping the sweat off your forehead.
The other side of the boss coin, though, is the peon-packed stages leading up to them. A healthy menu of enemies roll out, a la carte, keeping target practice fast and furious. But target practice is fun for only so long before a glossy sheen formulates over your eyes. Enemies fly, topple, and get thrown backwards under your ceaseless hail of gunfire. And still, too much of this factory-line shooting gallery can weigh heavily on your eyelids.
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