PAINKILLER BLACK / Dreamcatcher / PC

Painkiller is in the vein of Serious Sam and in the lineage of old-school kill-em-all FPS like Doom and Quake, just minus the keycard-hunting. It's nothing but pure blasting of the undead from start to finish. The game actually reminds me most of some of the stand-alone challenge maps in the Timesplitters games, except stitched together into proper levels.

Now, one thing before we proceed. If you can't deal with enemies spawning in a close radius all around you, this isn't the game for you. Because that's pretty much all the game does. There's always somebody appearing out of nowhere behind you, and silently to boot. Painkiller is basically all about the constant paranoid spinning, or at least finding a nice corner to wedge yourself into.

So the backstory is this dude goes out to dinner with his girlfriend on a rainy night, ends up in a horrible car accident, they both die, but for some reason dude gets stuck in Limbo and has to do insane suicide missions for Alucard to earn his way to heaven with his sweetie. The story is pretty threadbare and games like this have never really needed any more than a text blurb here and there, I'm really not sure why they sunk so much time into it, but there's a pretty long intro movie and cutscenes each time you finish a level set and defeat one of the Generals of Hell, who are all basically like Colossi that you shoot in the balls instead of climbing.

Let's talk about what goes right here first. The gunplay is basically solid and satisfying. There's absolutely no bullshit outside of Shewtin' Thangs. There is a card system for buffs and such whereby you unlock cards for doing certain optional things in each level, and you also have to earn money usually by desecrating tombstones and destroying priceless artifacts, and then in between levels you can equip the cards you've unlocked if you have enough money. But that's all optional and you could probably complete the game without even bothering with it. It just gives you something of a reason to replay completed levels, which are always accessible.

This was the first major commercial game for developer People Can Fly, however, and there's some significant rookie missteps here. Aside from the general repetitiveness of levels mostly consisting of spinning around constantly shooting samey skeletons and such, criticism mostly centers on the periodic bosses. The first problem child is the seemingly invincible boss of the 3rd level. Up to this point there's absolutely no indication that there's going to be anything like "puzzle bosses", all you've been doing is spinning and shooting from checkpoint to checkpoint. Suddenly you're up against some invincible jerk who can only be killed by non-intuitively shooting a hole in the ceiling and making him walk into some light. You're at a screeching halt until you either stumble across this or quit out of the game to look up a solution, but even when you know what to do it's still kind of shitty. You have to wait for the guy to uppercut you, watch him get gibbed while you're in the air, then just hope as you land that the unruly Havok Fizzicks of his body parts don't push you off this tiny ledge into the inferno pit somehow.

The four major bosses aren't any great shakes either. It seems like the devs plan for them was simply "LOL BIG" without a whole lot of further thought. Not great planning when you spend most of the fight against this giant impressive boss having to concentrate on the endless wave of mooks you just spent the last 5 levels trudging through instead.

And then there's all that tooting about of SHURIKENS AND LIGHTNING ... yeah, you know how fucking long it takes to get that thing? You know how many levels you have to schlep through with just the shitty shotgun and stake gun first? A LOT.

I understand the cathartic appeal, but this just isn't all that well-designed. It's some brainless good times at first, then it gets real repetitive, then it's redeemed a bit by some cool new weapons being dribbled to you, but once the novelty of those wears off it's back to being a repetitive grind again.

One last complaint specific to playing on Steam -- the game still tries to force Gamespy Arcade installation on you even though I'm not sure that even exists anymore. You can cancel out but you have to do it every single time you start the game. I wonder if the disc version won't let you play without it? Maybe get the disc and try to find a mod/patch that removes it or something ...

               excuse me sir, I just have to shoot ya ass hole

Videos :

* Gameplay Video