Painkiller: Overdose

Review

posted 1/29/2008 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
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The original Painkiller appeared on the FPS scene a few years back as the rebellious kid who bucked the establishment. Published by Dreamcatcher Interactive, Painkiller eschewed heavily scripted sequences and dialogue laden cutscenes for pure down n’ dirty action. It was a throwback to Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem, to the good old days where you didn’t need to be a crowbar wielding scientist fighting Orwellian cops to have fun. The story was simple, and clearly expressed by the game’s tagline—“heaven has a hitman.”

An expansion pack and an Xbox port followed, but no official sequel. Czech developer Mindware Studios liked the series so much that they started work on an unofficial expansion of their own. Dreamcatcher Interactive took notice and, rather than issue a cease-and-desist, they licensed Mindware’s project and gave them full support. The resulting half-sequel is Painkiller Overdose, a different take on the original formula, with a new story and main character.

The opening cutscene plays like a page out of an angry emo kid’s diary, repeating such words as “hate,” “fury,” “pain” and “death” numerous times. The protagonist is Belial, an angel/demon hybrid who’s been imprisoned for centuries, escapes and is seriously pissed off. He sets out on a revenge quest, hell-bent on slaughtering the demons that locked him up and cut off his wings. Overdose supposedly ties up some loose ends from the first game and acts as an “interquel,” with the promise of a sequel sometime in the future. All of this plot business need not concern you, because Overdose is basically Serious Sam in hell.

Seriously (no pun intended), that’s what it reminds me of. Overdose drops you into a sequence of seemingly unrelated levels—a demon city, an Eastern/Japanese neighborhood, a desert, outer space—and sets you off gibbing demons of various shapes and sizes. Overdose is an unabashed old-school shooter, and the whole point of the game is to splatter monsters. There’s not a lot of thinking involved and it’s a formula you’ve no doubt seen innumerable times before, but it still works.

Floods of bad guys spawn and rush you in each room of every level, with little thought to their own preservation or tactical strategy. They can range from a flimsy skeleton to a hulking demon lord, but their means of attack is always a straight charge, and the means of dealing with them is invariably lead.

Or, a reasonable facsimile of lead. The enemies you face are only different in appearance and strength, but Overdose does do a decent job of mixing up the ways you kill them. The weapon you start with is a severed demon head, which presumably belonged to the unfortunate guard posted outside Belial’s cell. You quickly locate a fragmented cube that can spin like a buzz saw or latch onto enemies like a grappling hook. The third gun you find is a shotgun that fires bones…and is made of bones too. The obligatory crossbow shoots darts, but also launches exploding shrunken heads. These somewhat creative weapons are joined by FPS staples, including a rocket launcher and an automatic rifle.
Even if the guns are creative in concept, there really isn’t an innovative way to use them. Overdose isn’t shy about being a straight-up FPS—the gameplay consists mainly of blasting everything that moves. Even the more unique guns are cleverly disguised generic shooter fare. The demon head is a laser gun, the hell cube is essentially a chainsaw, and the bone gun is really just a shotgun.

A few of the guns tend to be a bit erratic, which breaks the run and gun pace sometimes. The bone shotgun’s damage feels random; sometimes it’ll shred a bigger demon or send him flying, but a weaker baddy will take two or three close-range shots before he dies. Most of the other guns have this apparent randomness in their damage level and accuracy.

The uneven gunplay is one of many flaws that break the pace of the game. Overdose is at its best when you’re running along, guns blazing, your screen splattered with gibs, but this adrenaline-fueled gameplay just isn’t consistent enough to keep the game interesting. The levels are broken up into small bite-sized rooms, where you’ll clear out a hoard of hellspawn in cramped quarters. Ammo is littered about, but the only health you get are measly pickups that demon corpses leave behind. These swirling “souls” only remain for a few brief seconds and restore very little health, so you’ll often find yourself scrambling for these meager scraps while enemies beat on you. Clearing out a room will give you a more substantial health powerup, but at that point the action is over, and this health refill doesn’t even appear on harder difficulties.
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