a mostly successful throwback to the glorious nostalgia of id-popularized shooters and their myriad imitators.
and that's exactly what painkiller offers: a throwback to the glorious nostalgia of id-popularized shooters and their myriad imitators. and while such shameless derivation pretty much splits painkiller wide open for knee-jerk criticisms such as "well that's not very original", or "that's been done a million times before", it's hard for me to care when i have my index finger working overtime and a freak case of arthritis developing in my left hand.
let's begin with some building blocks. for one thing, painkiller is chock full of charm. for me it gave the distinct impression that the developers actually knew, instinctively, that nobody was ever going to pay any attention to the storyline, preferring instead to impatiently hammer the escape key during any moment with even the slightest hint of narrative advancement. consequently, they made the story as laughably flimsy as possible, and then compensated for its rather horrific premise with a few flashy extended cut-scenes. honestly i belong in the aforementioned audience demographic; i was so eager to play painkiller that i can only conjure vague plot details, admittedly. as far as i can remember, it's about a dude (i don't even know his name, but he DOES have one) who has to fight through never-ending waves of identical hellspawn in order to meet his dead wife in the afterlife.
which is fine by me, of course. i'm not of a particularly curious disposition, and therefore i'm not about to inquire "why are the enemies here?" or "what do they want with my character?" or "what is my character doing again?" or "why do all the enemies look the exact same?" surely it's far easier - and infinitely more satisfying - to jolt them in the face with a well-placed bolt or take out legions of them at once with an equally spot-on lob of a grenade. and so yeah, to me painkiller's merry selections of cannon fodder made absolutely no logical sense, and its environments are similarly random, making the game's sprites and textures as inconsequential as the equivalently thin storyline.
what we're left with, then, is a highly streamlined and linear trek through some seriously heterogeneous territories in which the only objective is to destroy absolutely everything the game throws at you. it sounds eerily similar to the oft-namedropped quakes and dooms of yesteryear, and that's namely because at heart painkiller aims to replicate that exact same brand of back-to-basics high-octane gunslinging in a more modern light. for the most part, it succeeds. it does many, many things correctly: it lacks a reload function, all weapons have alt-fire capabilities, it's easy to bunny-hop your way through the entire game, and there's no cowardly way of getting things done, like the ever-popular display of cowardice known as hiding with a sniper rifle. (this would later be rectified in the expansion pack, but that's besides the point)
one thing that sets painkiller apart from its predecessors, however, is its noticeable emphasis on set-piece gameplay. whereas quake and doom would lead you down sets of mostly unchanging corridors, spewing enemies at random, painkiller chooses to offer brief reprieves in between larger skirmishes. each of the game's levels is highly structured; you'll enter a large room, foes will teleport in, and you're trapped in the room until one faction emerges victorious over the other. when that happens, the game's tongue-in-cheek nu-metal soundtrack will pause momentarily and you'll be guided to the next checkpoint. upon touching said checkpoint and advancing into the next chamber, the macho guitars will resume anew, yet more assailants will flood in, and you'll again be expected to paint the walls with arterial fluids. it's a somewhat refreshing framework and it does eliminate the tedious practice of quick saving in the right place, since the game autosaves before virtually every major battle.
in terms of the combat itself, painkiller manages to remain consistently meaty and endlessly entertaining throughout all five of its chapters. considering the highly repetitious nature of games such as this, that's a feat in itself. most of this extended enjoyment is attributed to painkiller's brilliant selection of weapons; there's a shotgun that boasts a freeze function, a crossbow-esque weapon that doubles as a grenade launcher, and perhaps best of all, a minigun/rocket launcher combo - arguably one of the most versatile weapons in the entire genre. to maximize the twisted, sadistic pleasures offered by this motley arsenal, the physics engine is seriously satisfying and there's a liberal amount of gore accompanying almost every death in the game. and there's a lot of death.
assuredly there's not much else to say about a game as unashamedly archaic as painkiller. it's safe to say that if you find yourself swayed by a bizarre, all-encompassing urge to play a video game that requires absolutely no brains whatsoever, this is a worthy choice. even if you're a die-hard loyalist who would ordinarily claim that painkiller could never quite eclipse the classics, you can't deny that it's got a one-up over quake ii, etc. simply for the fact that you probably haven't beat this game seven million times on every difficulty setting.
in all, painkiller offers the same characteristic over-the-top qualities and the same blissfully uncomplicated shoot-everything antics as almost any shooter from your youth. on top of that, it's got great level design, fantastic weaponry, and truly immense replay value, if only for the brisk and breezy pacing and the pick-up-and-play factor. obviously there's absolutely no legitimate touches of originality here, but when it comes down to it, you can't go wrong with formulae that have held strong for over a decade. if anything, painkiller proves that so-called 'innovation' is becoming arguably too much of a focus in today's gaming climate, and that sometimes even the most antiquated of gaming blueprints can provide hours of effortless amusement.