We had the chance to revisit DreamCatcher's upcoming shooter Painkiller at Game Developers Conference 2004 in San Jose. The soon-to-be-released shooter looks as good as ever, especially in the new levels we watched. One of these levels started on a huge metal bridge spanning a chasm across a snow-covered, wintry expanse. In this level, and in others, Painkiller's crisp environmental textures did an excellent job of rendering a realistic, believable-looking scene, even though much of the game itself takes place in bizarre locales that represent the afterlife.
Since you play as a recently deceased character trapped in purgatory until you can escape by defeating a series of demonic enemies, you shouldn't be surprised to be charged by hordes of angry zombies, like on this bridge level. In this level, we were able to see the game's new lightning gun weapon. Like the game's other weapons, the lightning gun has both a primary firing mode (in this case, jagged metal spikes that lodge in an enemy's body) and a secondary firing mode (in this case, a snaking coil of blue electricity). And like with Painkiller's other weapons, the lightning gun's primary and alternate firing modes actually set up a combination attack when used in concert. You can fire the spikes into an enemy's body, then fire lightning at the spikes, which gets conducted across them. If you fill a bunch of zombies with spikes, then blast them with lightning, the embedded spikes in their bodies will actually link up to form a barrier that damages any enemies that pass through it.
We also had a chance to see one of the game's later levels, which took place in what appeared to be a train station in Europe. However, we're fairly certain that most train stations in Europe aren't infested with angry, gun-toting zombies carrying rifles and wearing gas masks and helmets. These zombie soldiers ran around and behind the train tracks to get to us, though they, like many other enemies in the game, can't stand up to skillful use of the painkiller--the game's default weapon, which acts as both a spinning sawblade and a glowing beam that can act as a trip wire or a projectile. Thanks to the implementation of physics throughout the game, the painkiller can actually "juggle" the corpses of enemies in the air if you care to amuse yourself with it. The weapon's primary attack can also be used to shred enemies to bits--doing so is accompanied by appropriately gory sound effects, and even walking through the resulting gore will cause your character's footsteps to make squishing noises as you pass through.
Painkiller looked remarkably polished and extremely impressive visually--possibly because the game itself is almost complete. Painkiller's beta test, which included extensive testing of multiplayer play (which, surprisingly enough, has been designed with serious competition in mind), has ended, and the PC version of the game is scheduled to ship in a matter of days, while the Xbox version will ship later this year.