Painkiller: Hell Wars


posted 8/28/2006 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: Xbox
Some reviewers have made it sound like the killing fields are populated nonstop, that you’re never entitled a breather between chapters. Actually, the opposite is showstoppingly true on multiple occasions. After decimating predetermined numbers of enemies (a superficial trigger for each level), the next progressive step sometimes proves elusive.  The compass at the top of the screen only locates enemies, not save points and doorways. Despite the linearity of the level design, finding out where to go next becomes an unwelcome guessing game. (Now where did that glowy pentagram save point go? It leads to the next stage, but I’ve been running in circles for the last 20 minutes now….)
And running is your best friend in these gigantic, sprawling stages. The architecture is super-sized and squarely drawn out in a majority of the external and internal maps. Daniel Garner’s cheetah-like speeds become overly apparent inside of cramped quarters, like the orphanage, for instance; but his fast-forward running is oft balanced by the oversized, beautiful terrain and infrastructure designs. It gives you an appropriate feeling of smallness inside of a big, bad afterlife, and at the same time opens up wide, six-lane avenues of gory beast killing.
A literal “big” and “bad” usage of the gameplay mechanics falls through when platforming comes into play. Jumping is brutal to control, and getting to that extra special something over and above and between that fenced-in fire escape, or on top of that slippery steam pipe nearly three stories up … is going to try your patience. Anybody willing to tackle some of these maniacally difficult jumps 1,000 times over is getting their ADHD card revoked. I’m nowhere near having an attention deficit (nor am I a slouch with a gamepad), and I had to just move on after helplessly hopping at too many circus-clown jumps.
The multiplayer and online support make up for much, with well-designed battle arenas, appropriately tweaked weaponry, and tighter controlled platforming. Due to the nature of the multiplayer beast, the arenas are not as awe-inspiring art-wise, but they keep the adrenal flow high and sustained enough for an evening of deathmatch. For many, the multiplayer will pick up the ball where the single-player campaign dropped it.
Because Painkiller harkens back to the opening salvos of the golden age of original Doom and Quake, its simplistic level design and game technicalities have been forgiven much. A lot of shooters slather on manifold options and complicated tactical alternatives. Not so, here. A lot of shooters struggle with laborious pains to get out of the brain dead A.I. bucket. Not so here either. A lot of shooters carve away at linearity to provide a multiplicity of outcomes that foster emergent gameplay devices. In Painkiller? Huh-uh.
This is bread-and-butter gaming for FPS fans -- for better or for worse. Its slightly animated art style gives it some longevity in the design department, and, all in all, it’s aging gracefully. What it does, it does well, merely because it doesn’t do too much except punch you in the crotch with some shallow, hard-hitting action. So Painkiller and Battle Out of Hell created Hell Wars in their own image, and they saw that it was good.

A pared down meat-and-potatoes shooter, heavy on visceral mayo and lite on the rest of the fixings. High fidelity to its PC forebears, putting you in a vegetative killing state with interspersed spikes of adrenaline.

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