The only thing worse than being killed in a car accident is then awakening in purgatory to find yourself tasked with repelling an invasion by the forces of hell. Talk about a bad day. That's exactly the situation you'll find yourself in when you play Painkiller: Hell Wars, the long-in-development Xbox port of People Can Fly's great 2004 shooter Painkiller. We've had a chance to go hands-on with an updated demo of the game, which is due out in January of next year, to find out what's new--and perhaps more importantly, how close to the PC game's frantic, nonstop action this new version will come.
First off, this isn't strictly a port of Painkiller, as Hell Wars will actually contain the best levels from the first game and its expansion pack, Battle out of Hell. So you're not getting every single level available for Painkiller; you're just getting ostensibly the best ones. Anyway, veterans of the PC original won't have any sort of learning curve to climb, since, from what we've seen so far, Hell Wars plays identically to the past entries in the series. The demo version we played had some of the basic weapons from the original Painkiller included, such as the shotgun, rocket launcer, stakegun (as in the "stakes" you use to kill vampires), and that famously wicked-looking bladed melee weapon: the painkiller. Each weapon has a radically different alt-fire mode, so the rocket launcher doubles as a chaingun, while the shotgun can also lob grenades. So even with just a few weapons in your arsenal, you'll be able to wreak massive amounts of havoc.
Like in the PC game, the shooting action in Hell Wars is all about slaughtering the forces of hell en masse, as fast and with as much destruction as you can manage. The game uses the Havok physics engine to good effect, since you can send enemies flying in every direction with some well-placed shots. The stakegun can pin a foe right to the wall, for instance, while a shotgun blast to the face will send a demon flipping end over end. Even a lot of the background elements can be influenced by your weapons, so tossing a grenade into a big group of enemies and other objects can have a high-flying and comical effect.
The demo of Hell Wars we played offered only three levels: one in a medieval town overrun by demons, one in a prison full of burly guys with chainguns, and one in a set of ruins that pitted us against one of Painkiller's absurdly huge boss characters. There's no word yet on exactly which levels from Painkiller and Battle out of Hell will be included in Hell Wars, but as both of those games spanned a ton of different (and rather bizarre) environments, there ought to be plenty of variety in this comprehensive Xbox version.
Hell Wars' graphics have come along fairly well since we last saw it at E3. The texture quality seems to have been improved, and visually the game is certainly on par with the PC version (though it understandably runs at lower resolution). The frame rate is generally quite high, which is obviously paramount in a game with such fast action, though this version can bog down a little much when there are a lot of physics at work in a given scene. The game isn't due out for another three months, though, so the developer should still have plenty of time to optimize the game for the Xbox hardware.
So far, Painkiller: Hell Wars is looking like a pretty solid re-creation of the PC original and its expansion pack. Multiplayer was a big part of Painkiller's gameplay, and Hell Wars will be playable on Xbox Live, though specific details on the multiplayer modes aren't available yet. If you've already played the PC games, there won't be much for you to see here, since the gameplay and content are essentially the same. But console-bound gamers looking for a hardcore, pure shooting experience may find some good fodder for their trigger fingers in Hell Wars. The game is due out in late January, and we'll bring you more soon.