Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (PainkillerHD) is a remake of 2004’s Painkiller and its expansion Battle Out of Hell. While the original was developed by People Can Fly the remake has been handled by The Farm 51 and published by Nordic Games. The game is heading to Xbox 360 and PS3 next year but we took a look at the recently released PC version.
Once again you play as protagonist Daniel Garner who is still trapped in Purgatory after a fatal car crash that killed him and his wife Catherine. At the start of the game Daniel is offered a deal by Death himself. To see his wife again Daniel must collect 7000 souls.
The original game had 24 levels and there was another 10 added in the expansion. This remake features just 14 levels which are remastered versions of most of the best levels from the original. These are spread across four chapters and for the first time the game can be played in co-op with another player either locally or online. Adding a second player really ramps up the difficulty of the game by throwing more enemies at you or increasing the health of them.
If you remember the original it will likely be because of how difficult the game was. Painkiller is an old school hardcore shooter and doesn’t come with all the niceties of today’s games. So don’t expect the game to hold your hand, provide you cover, manage your health or give you crazy overpowered weapons. Instead expect to die over and over again as you succumb to the overwhelming and endless hordes of enemies.
Along with many classic enemies there are plenty of new ones out for your blood. The developers have also tried to mix things up by adding variety to the enemies. This means you’ll see enemies carrying different types of weapons with which to murder you with. The AI isn’t particularly clever and you’ll find that monsters tend to spawn and simply come straight at you. Each area you step into soon becomes like a crazy game of tag with hundreds of enemies all trying to kill you. Killing them gives you a soul and a tiny health boost.
Surviving requires near constant movement and lightning fast reflexes as you manoeuvre around the enemies. Two key skills are required – the ability to hammer the jump key as jumping makes you move faster and circle-strafing. If you were brought up on games such as Doom and Quake then you’ll know how to circle-strafe and it turns out it’s like riding a bike – you never forget. For some reason this is a skill which seems to have disappeared these days in favour of lots of cover.
The other thing that will keep you alive is being aware of what weapons you are carrying, how much ammo each has, which slot they occupy and their capabilities. You need to be able to switch quickly and keep an eye out for ammo. The classic weapons return such as the Painkiller, stake gun and of course the shotgun along with a new weapon called the Soulcatcher. The Soulcatcher fires circular saw blades which go through a line of enemies like a hot knife through butter. It has a secondary fire which can literally suck the soul out of enemies and even make them fight for you briefly.
Something else that you might remember Painkiller for is the huge boss fights. These return in PainkillerHD and look absolutely fantastic with the extra grunt of Unreal Engine 3. Sadly though the actual boss battles are still rather frustrating affairs. Another frustrating aspect of the game is that you need to kill everything in order to progress and in the bigger areas you often end up hunting for a final monster or two which spoils the frantic pace of the game.
Graphically the game looks nice and a big improvement over the originals but it still feels old. The game absolutely zooms along though and the action is nice and smooth. Another area that’s had big upgrades is the physics with proper ragdolls which really enhance the endless death you deal out. Sadly the music leaves a lot to be desired with endless looping rock music.
In addition to the singleplayer PainkillerHD packs in all the standard multiplayer modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and duel. There’s also survival mode that puts up to eight players up against endless waves of monsters to see who survives the longest. The multiplayer is incredibly fast and perfectly designed for competitive matches. However the big problem is that no one is playing it. Well over a week after launch and there were 3 people online including ourselves. The games we have managed to play have been fun but also laggy and it’s hard to say if this is a fault of the game or just the connections to the servers. The game reports ping for every game we’ve played as 0ms so there’s probably a bug there somewhere.
PainkillerHD is a fun game that is obviously aimed at fans of the original and of old school shooters like Quake. While multiplayer could be amazing the lack of players and bugs is spoiling this at the moment. Unless the situation improves or you have lots of friends to play it’s sadly not worth buying for multiplayer alone. The upgraded campaign is fun while it lasts but short and you’re unlikely to revisit it often alone.