Written by Charles Husemann on 7/23/2004 for PC  
More On: Painkiller
2004 is turning out to be the year of the first person shooter. With Far Cry and Unreal Tournament 2004 already on shelves and Half Life 2, Doom 3, and Halo 2 due out later this year, it’s just a great year for fraggers. Somewhat lost amongst the hype of these games is Painkiller, a delightful FPS published by DreamCatcher games and developed by People Can Fly.

The plot of Painkiller is a little different from your typical FPS. Instead of a marine, or ex-special forces, or nerdy scientist you play a somewhat average guy name Daniel Garner who’s killed in a car accident while on a trip with his wife. Rather than joining his wife in heaven, he is sentenced to an eternity in purgatory. In order to “move up” and join his wife, he must wage war on the devil’s army and help turn the tide of the great battle between good and evil. Along the way, you’ll try to figure out why you were denied entry into heaven. OK, it’s not that much different but it does provide some background to the orgy of violence in the game. The plot is advanced through cut scenes between the major chapters of the game. While it’s nice to have cut scenes in a game, the ones in Painkiller have a nice “B” movie feel that matches the tone of the game.

The single player mode is the heart of the game and it’s where the game really shines. The game is broken into chapters with several missions per chapter. The last mission in a chapter is the typical boss monster fight However, these things aren’t your typical end mission bosses though. These guys are 70 to 100 ft tall and are one of the most impressive parts of the game. They just tower over you and are a pain in the rear to kill. The first time I saw one of these monsters come on to the screen I was in awe. If you played Serious Sam, you know about the huge boss at the end of the game. These bosses are like that except there are more of them and they are much bigger.

Another cool feature of the game is that dispatched enemies leave a small soul orb which you can pick up. These orbs provide two functions. The first is that they regenerate a bit of health and the second is that after you collect around 67 of them you’re transformed into a demon. In demon mode, you can one shot kill most enemies but it only lasts for a few seconds. The trick is to ensure that when you whack a bad guy that you can get to the body to recover the soul. It’s also a bit tricky to time the collecting of souls as it’s not very helpful to enter demon mode after you’ve run out of enemies to kill.

While you can play the single player mode straight through, the game does provide some incentive to explore and try new things. Each level has a goal such as completing a level within X amount of time or using a particular weapon. If you complete the goal, then you earn a tarot card which can be used in future levels. The cards are purchased with the gold coins you find in the level to provide power ups during the next level. It’s a nice inducement to get you to explore the game and the power ups can be used to earn further cards.
Visually the game is an absolute treat. The art designers on the game did a terrific job of creating a bright beautiful world to explore. Instead of facing a different variety of the same enemies over and over again, you face a wide assortment of enemies throughout the game. I’ve gunned down everything from demonic bikers to monks with axes and attitude problem (the enemies section of the full color manual is the largest section of the manual).

Good enemies aren’t any good if you don’t have a good environment to place them in and this is another area where Painkiller excels. While the levels are a little linear, they are well designed and look solid. Overall, it’s hard to complain about the look and feel of the game and while it’s a little bit below Far Cry you won’t need a high end computer to run the game (although it doesn’t hurt).

The sound in the game is solid. The weapons all have a nice oomph and sound just about right. The only thing you might find a little grating about the sound work is the music. If you hate heavy metal music, you’re going to want to turn the background music off before you even fire up the game. If you like metal, then you’re in luck as the game features some decent guitar laden, head banging music. The music is keyed to combat so as soon as you hear the guitars you know you’re in for a firefight.

FPS games are made by the weapons they provide gamers with. If you can’t deal death in new and interesting ways, then what’s the point of playing, right? The weapons in Painkiller are solid. There are only five weapons in the game (each weapon has an alternate fire so you could say you have ten weapons). Along with the alternative fire mode, you can perform combination attacks with some of the weapons. For example, you start the game with the Painkiller, a short range set of spinning blades that slice and dice enemies. The alternate fire of this weapon shoots out an orb which can be used to knock out enemies at range or can be lodged in a wall and when aligned with the player it shoots out a beam of energy when can be used to zap multiple enemies at one time. However, if you get the blades spinning and activate the alternate fire, you can send out a spinning set of blades which will mow through mobs of enemies. The rest of the weapons are a mix of your typical FPS weapons (chain gun, shotgun) along with some new twists (such as the stake gun). It’s a nice set of weapons but after playing a lot of Unreal Tournament 2004, it did feel like there wasn’t a lot of variety to the weapons.

Besides the audio and video goodness, what really makes Painkiller a lot of fun is the inclusion of the Havok 2.0 physics engine. Almost everything in the game can be moved, blown up, or manipulated which is quite a bit of fun. One fun thing the game allows you to do is take explosive barrels and push them down hills towards your enemies and when they get close to them you blow it up wiping out groups at a time. It does feel like the physics are a little juiced so things fly a little farther than they would normally but it adds to the fun of the game.

The biggest disappointment in the game is the multiplayer. While it’s decent, it’s just not up to the same level as some of the other FPS games in the market. All of the multiplayer modes are death match based with a few twists. While this matches the focus of the game, a CTF or similar mode would have been nice.

Overall, Painkiller is a blast to play. It’s not a particularly deep game but you get a lot of bang for the buck. The game is a visual treat and you could spend hours just playing around with the physics engine. The multiplayer is a bit of a disappointment but hopefully, that will be tweaked in one of the upcoming patches.
Painkiller is a lot like a Golden Retriever puppy. It is fun, high energy, and not necessarily that deep. If you’re a fan of the original Doom and Serious Sam, you’ll enjoy this game. However, if you’re looking for a deep plot and multiplayer, then you may want try something else.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014
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