Painkiller: Overdose

Review

posted 1/29/2008 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
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The souls do play another role that adds a little depth. Once you collect 66 of them Belial will go full demon; his screen turns white, enemies glow red, he becomes invulnerable and can kill anything with a glance. This hypermode only lasts a few seconds, but it is exhilarating and does a good job of clearing out a room full of tougher enemies.

I just wish there was some more space to use this power, or to shoot it out in general. Serious Sam was noteworthy for its absolutely massive outdoor environments, which it populated with dozens, sometimes hundreds of enemies at a time. Overdose tries to emulate that style of play, but wide open spaces are few and far between. The levels are segmented into small chunks, so you rarely get the sense of fighting an epic battle in the underworld.

Even if they aren’t huge, the environments are at least pretty, in a fire and brimstone way. Overdose has quality art direction that makes its rather generic shooter world into the world of the damned. You’ll encounter your typical hell levels, which are scorched by persistent flames and blanketed in ash, but this hellish theme carries over to the other levels too. The Asian dojo level is obvious in its Japanese influences, from enemies to architecture, but these elements also have a demonic flair. Each level manages to have its own personality, but stays within the framework of the game’s premise. I appreciated this synergy, even if most of the graphics were eye candy that didn’t do much to liven up the gameplay.

I didn’t notice many shader effects, if there were any at all, so it’s impressive that Overdose manages to look good without normal-mapping everything. On the downside, the levels take a long time to load, even from quick-loads. I could forgive this in a high polygon, shader-heavy resource hog like Crysis, but Overdose is running on older technology, and slow load times is evidence of sloppy programming.

The sound work isn’t bad, but it won’t impress either. Overdose’s music is a collection of steady beats and instrumentals that quicken when the action heats up. The music never really got my attention; it was there mostly as an undercurrent, and each piece fit the corresponding level’s theme. Sound effects follow suit, matching each level’s stereotypical setting and enemies. The weapons sounded a little underpowered—none of them had very satisfying effects, which added to their sense of weakness. Belial occasionally utters wisecracks when toasting a demon or grabbing some health, but Duke Nukem he isn’t. His lines aren’t all that original (or, at least they don’t reference Evil Dead) and he tends to repeat them too much. I appreciate the attempt to give Belial some personality, but I’d prefer if he took some pointers from Dr. Freeman.

The one element that keeps Overdose from being completely derivative is its Tarot Card system, a holdover from the first Painkiller. By completing certain requirements in a level, you get a special card, which you can organize on a board for some really cool powers. Getting these cards is the hard part—the requirements are usually tedious, like finding every last scrap of ammo in a level, or breaking all of the clay pots you find. Overdose gets difficult quickly, and on the harder settings these cards can be a lifesaver. I just wish I didn’t have to obsessive-compulsively scour a level to unlock them.

Overdose also has a multiplayer mode, so when you tire of the intentionally mindless solo campaign you can slug it out with other humans. You’d think that an old-school FPS like Overdose would lend itself well to multiplayer, but the available maps hinder the experience. They’re all quite small, so if you have eight or more people running around there’s rarely a second to catch your breath, much less plan any kind of strategy. I quickly found myself longing for some Team Fortress 2, and with very few people playing Overdose in the first place, that’s where I ended up.

It’s probably just as well. Painkiller Overdose is primarily a single player experience. It’s linear, derivative and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Overdose is an exercise in just how much dumb, old fashioned shooter you can stand. Its creative art direction makes it surprisingly pretty, and the hoards of hell denizens to blow away keep the action at a continuous, if not consistent pace. As an expansion pack, Overdose does its job but adds its own sense of style to the Painkiller series. If it were budget priced, I’d have no problem recommending it to fans of classic FPSs, but with a standing MSRP of $40, Painkiller Overdose is just a little too pricey for what it offers.


C-
I could’ve been corny and given this game a 6.6, but it deserves a little more than that. Sure it’s mindless action that gets a little monotonous, but sometimes it’s relaxing to blast some demons without any pesky story or gameplay gimmicks getting in the way. For a brainless shooter the price tag is a bit high, but at least you know exactly what you’re getting.


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