A hodgepodge of memorable levels and satisfyingly straightforward and bloody pure shooting action highlights this first-person shooter, which combines the PC version of Painkiller with its expansion pack.
- Gory, intense shooting action makes great use of realistic physics
- Impressively diverse level variety makes you look forward to each new stage
- Effectively combines levels from the original game and its expansion pack
- Good replay value, and not just because of the multiplayer mode.
- Technical performance issues bog down the presentation
- A few awkward design choices hurt the pacing in spots.
Originally released for the PC in 2004, Painkiller distilled first-person shooter gameplay down to its rawest essentials. It was a throwback to the halcyon days of id Software's Quake, the 3D first-person shooter that started it all. But Painkiller also featured spectacularly impressive graphics and amazingly realistic physics, so it was much more than just homage to a classic game. Now Painkiller has finally reached the Xbox in a game that's like a "director's cut" version of the original PC game and its expansion pack. Some technical performance issues and the passing of time make this version of the game less remarkable now than the original was when it was released, but Painkiller: Hell Wars is still a fun and viscerally satisfying shooter that has a lot to offer.
The game's disposable plot casts you as Daniel Garner, who meets a tragic death in a car accident with his wife one night. Next thing you know, he's in purgatory with a shotgun. A representative from heaven explains to him that he'll get on the express elevator, going up, if he'll be willing to do the Big Man Upstairs a solid by eliminating Lucifer's generals and their minions, who have taken up residence nearby. Garner reluctantly agrees, and this gives Poland-based developer People Can Fly the license to create an interesting mishmash of completely disconnected levels. Hell's minions, in this case, definitely aren't your typical fire-spewing demons, and the entire game deliberately avoids falling into the clichés used to depict the afterlife. Instead, Painkiller: Hell Wars has you stomping through everything from orphanages filled with murderous children to zombie-infested medieval towns to ninja-infested opera houses to World War II-era Leningrad, complete with undead Nazis. This is inspired stuff, and the complete lack of cohesion from one level to the next ends up working to the game's advantage.
The single-player campaign spans more than 20 unique levels, spread across five chapters, each one culminating in a battle against a gigantic boss opponent of some sort. These boss fights are quite impressive but also oddly puzzlelike for a game that's mostly pure run-and-gun action. They still make for memorable encounters and provide a good sense of contrast and closure within each chapter. As mentioned, Painkiller: Hell Wars combines levels both from the original game and its expansion pack, though it leaves some levels on the cutting-room floor. That's a good thing, because the expansion pack's levels were hit or miss, so the developers deserve credit for editing out the misses in this release and leaving only the good levels behind. The expansion pack's best levels are packed together in the game's final chapter, and they help make the last few hours of Painkiller stand out in comparison to most other shooters. In particular, the final battle, while frustratingly obscure, takes place in one of the most remarkable last levels ever put in a first-person shooter.
While the levels in Painkiller: Hell Wars often look wildly different from one to the next, the underlying action remains firmly intact. This is a pure run-and-gun shooter, realism be damned. You run at what seems like 90 miles per hour and never need to reload your various overpowered weapons. What happens is, you run into a new area, heavy-metal music starts thrashing, enemies start spawning in from all over the place, and you run around (often in circles) killing them. Most enemies just run straight at you, though there are plenty of neat little twists, like shotgun-wielding skeletal thugs who grab nearby chaingun-wielding biker punks and use them as human shields, or flamethrowing mercenaries who purposely set their bayonet-carrying frontline assault troops on fire (it makes them run faster). When the dust settles, you've got an onscreen compass to point you in the direction of the next checkpoint, and so you move on.
There's a relatively small number of guns in the game, but most of them are versatile and very satisfying to use, offering up two completely different firing modes. One is a combination chaingun/rocket launcher, for instance. The best weapon from the expansion pack also made it in here: a combination flamethrower/submachine gun. However, Painkiller's defining weapon has to be the stakegun, which fires huge, pointed stakes that impale their victims, rip them apart, or pin them against a wall.
When it first came out, Painkiller featured easily some of the best-looking physics effects of any game before it, and the stakegun really shows this off. These effects still look great on the Xbox, especially since the game does a lot more than just make its enemies flail around like rag dolls. A good, solid hit causes the typical foe to burst into steaming, bloody chunks, which then flail around like pieces from a rag doll. Explosive barrels often cause gleefully destructive chain reactions, and some levels feature huge set pieces that get torn apart as the combat unfolds.
- Player Reviews: 18
- Game Universe:
- Painkiller (PC, XBOX),
- Painkiller: Resurrection (PC, X360),
- Painkiller Universe (PC),
- Painkiller: Overdose (PC),
- Painkiller: Gold Edition (PC),
- Painkiller: Battle out of Hell (PC),
- Painkiller: Redemption (PC),
- Painkiller: Recurring Evil (PC),
- Painkiller Hell & Damnation (PC, X360, PS3, UNIX, MAC),
- Painkiller Hell & Damnation: Medieval Horror (PC)
- Number of Players:
- Number of Online Players:
8 Players Online