Again we find ourselves on the steps of Hell’s fiery door. Thrust deep into the depths of this wretched soul-torn wasteland, our monumental task of collecting seven leagues of damned souls for Death begins. Taking back the reigns of the Painkiller, Daniel Garner takes on the tormented plain. The man who has fought for both Heaven and Hell fights on in spite of the false and broken promises on each side of the line. No matter whom he fights for, it is certain that it’ll be a wild ride. Fortunately for you, you get to you experience all the chaos in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation. But is it all the madness it promises?
If the title and premise of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation sound familiar to you, that’s because it should. This isn’t the first time around the block for the title. Nine years ago, Painkiller entered the shooter genre with an over-the-top, hellish slaughter-fest on the PC. It was applauded for its great level design and scenery, and also its multiplayer prowess. At one point, it was even named the top game in competitive eSports. Like most shooters from the ‘90s and early ’00s, it eventually fell out of favor, only to be left to collect dust in the wake of console shooters. Today, Daniel returns to the market with Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, an HD remake of sorts of the original game, from Nordic Games and The Farm 51.
Daniel’s story of reconnecting with his love Catherine after death is nothing new. She went to Heaven. He got stuck in Purgatory with a pretty severe caveat; he was imbued with twisted demonic powers that left him unable to die. The sides of good and evil play him, knowing his greatest weakness is his wish to be with Catherine. It’s the greatest love story ever told, ripped straight from a book. Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love. Girl and Boy die in car crash. Boy and Girl get sent to different sections of the afterlife. Death makes contract with Boy. Boy takes up arms. Death tricks Boy. Boy racks up body count to earn Girl back.
…Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong types of books.
Story aside, the strangeness continues when you take the lead behind a gun. The environments in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation are still a touch out there, much like its predecessor. Spooky and condensed Louisiana-style graveyards give way to soaring grand cathedrals, deceptively large opera houses in disrepair, and even the war-torn plains of Hell. If there is one thing that Painkiller: Hell & Damnation does well, it is the worlds and level design that you find yourself admiring between waves of creatures trying to bring your quest to an end. More than once, you take advantage of the quiet gaps between destruction to look into the intricacies of the construction and textures of everything around you. I even found myself going back to investigate some of the areas once I had cleared the stage. However, that’s where the strange beauty ends for Painkiller: Hell & Damnation.
Obviously, one could only find wonder in the depths of Hell for so long before things started to feel dull. For instance, the AI in Painkiller: Hell & Damnation isn’t all that great. Mobs will relentlessly throw themselves at you. Be it charging at you head-on or attempting to take you out from a distance, there isn’t much flexibility in what they do. It leads to the game feeling stagnant. You would think that this would be different when you came to the boss fights at the end of a stage, but frankly it isn’t. The bosses seem to be on a script of actions, with small bits of deviation based on player location. It’s something you might not notice in between the waves of mobs coming after you, while you attempt to collect ammo to take down these bulking beasts by lead attrition.
Multiplayer is an issue in itself. It suffers from a lack of identity. Of all the new gameplay variants, you’ll be lucky to find any populated games outside of Deathmatch and Painkiller: Hell and Damnation’s version of co-op survival. While the level design remains a great thing, item placement is troublesome. Following the old formula of weapon placement, each one has its specific place on the maps. I was appreciative of this years ago, but now it doesn’t lend well to balanced action. Another oldie that Painkiller: Hell & Damnation brought back is the bunny hop. This is a tactic that should have died off long ago, yet someone at The Farm 51 thought it was a good idea to put back in. Even worse, the game encourages you to do it – not just to move around the map quicker, but through achievement unlocks as well. Imagine the site of a decently populated server just hopping around everywhere. It’s enough to give you a headache.
So where does Painkiller: Hell & Damnation stack up against its forefathers? Well, to be blunt, it lacks a little in the absurdness department that games like Serious Sam 3 brought back to the shooter genre. In the past, Painkiller was a game that drew attention for being a fast-paced, surreal experience across all modes. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation just doesn’t bring that feeling back all the way. It makes you pine for nostalgia, during a time where shooters have devolved into perk gains, military weapons, and infinite shields. It reminds you of the simpler times where shooters were more about skill and anticipation rather than relying on a holoscope or helicopter to increase your status on the leaderboard. However, Painkiller Hell & Damnation just doesn’t have enough strength in its idea to bring back the players of old.
Game provided for review by PR.