If you ever wondered what Burnout's crash mode would be like if you were launching people instead of cars into horribly dangerous situations, guess what: Sony and developer Idol Minds already thought of that, and they're already hard at work turning the idea into a downloadable PS3 game to be released later this year on the PlayStation Network. That's the easiest way we can think of to describe the aptly named Pain, which is all about causing pain to the poor, innocent subjects of your unfettered sadism. Combine Havok physics, a giant slingshot, and one large urban environment chock-full of hazards, and you'll get a decent idea of what Pain is all about.
In the game's free play mode, called Paindemonium, you simply get to load up that giant slingshot with your choice of character (we saw a spiky-haired guy, a chimpanzee, and a mime), pull it back with the right analog stick, point, and shoot. The slingshot overlooks a wide-open cityscape full of skyscrapers, construction sites, outdoor cafes, traffic-laden streets, and a multitude of other features with high potential to cause your poor projectile serious injury. You can even control the pose your subject assumes before it launches, so if you want that frat boy to go flying with his legs spread wide open, well, why not? After all, your score is determined solely by the amount of pain you cause to him.
There's more to the gameplay once your guy is in the air, though. You've got a subtle amount of air control, so you can guide him toward a particularly damaging feature like an explosive gas tank. You can make him grab on to most surfaces, which can be useful for abruptly stopping midflight and then dropping into a dangerous situation. You get only one grab per launch, though. Lastly, once you're on the ground you can "twitch" a little to move your subject a few feet in a particular direction (which can make the all-important difference between sitting on the sidewalk and lying in the middle of a busy intersection). The game keeps track of every object you collide with, and you can rack up damage multipliers for doing creative things like finding a way to hit the same object more than once.
Paindemonium is really just practice for Pain's challenge modes, which give a little purpose to all this destructive madness. In mime toss, the object is to fire your character at a mime who's dancing in the environment, grab that mime in midflight, and then hurl him into a predefined target before you hit the ground. The "spank the monkey" mode (yes, we know) peppers the city with chimps, and you'll have to find a way to chain-bop them from their usually precarious perches all in the same turn. Finally, we got hands-on with the horse mode, which works more or less like the same game in a basketball context. The participating players take turns competing for the highest score here, but the catch is that the first player in a round determines which object in the environment must be hit first. So whether it's an enormous billboard or a tiny target like a dinner plate at 100 yards, every other player must hit that same object first and top the starting player's score to keep from receiving a letter of the word "horse" and eventually losing the game.
Pain is an uproarious sort of fun, from the little we got to play of a three-player game of horse. As much as many publishers like to bandy the phrase "emergent gameplay" around, this is one of the purer examples we've seen of that concept recently--we saw one unexpected and often hilarious (or hilariously frustrating) situation unfold after another as we flung our characters to their doom. The whole city feels sort of like a giant Rube Goldberg machine, with cars and trains zooming around and lots of collapsible structures everywhere that can be coaxed into causing some excellent chain reactions. Sony and Idol Minds plan to support the game after release by encouraging players to submit ideas and testimonials from their time spent experimenting with all these physics-driven toys. Those ideas may then be turned into downloadable new game modes that will hit the PSN later on.
The developers already have some downloadable content in mind, though. The game will ship with only one city environment at launch, but at least one more will be made available as a microtransacted download sometime after release. Similarly, only four characters will be playable initially; you'll be able to get the other four in the same fashion later on. After our hands-on time with Pain, we don't feel like its basic concept (and the almost limitless and potentially comical outcomes that can result from it) will get old anytime soon, so those subsequent pieces of downloadable content may be quite worthwhile indeed. The game is due out later this year. Stay tuned for more.