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Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (PC) artwork

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (PC) review

"Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is about as barebones FPS as you can get. There are no frills, just design choices that reward skill and dedication. It's a splash of cold water to the sweaty face that has become the muddled world of the modern shooter, and pleasingly pedestrian in a way that brings out a sense of carnal rage while demanding one thing from the player: the desire to annihilate."

Run, shoot, duck, turn, and shoot some more. No, those aren't altered lyrics from a rhyme straight out of Parappa the Rapper. Instead, those words sum up everything you really need to know about the throwback shooter, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation.

The 2012 revival of the classic 2004 PC run-and-gun franchise is a raucous tribute to a time when all you really had to memorize in a first-person shooter were the W, A, S, and D keys, and which finger worked better under pressure when you needed to fire off as many shots as humanly possible. You'll find no convoluted space operas here. This remake of Painkiller is a fiery tale of demons and damnation that's more than a little unpolished, but it’s an adrenaline rush all the same. Considering all the abominations you'll be annihilating, the title couldn't be more fitting. You'll probably want an aspirin or two after each play session because this remake is just as brutal as it has ever been.

At the start of the game, you're thrust deep into the heart of a decrepit graveyard after an optional tutorial level (the basics are laid out in the extremely brief getting-to-know-you session), armed only with your wits and a souped-up boomstick. Luckily, that Soulcatcher (as it is called) collects souls and acts as another formidable addition to your arsenal. There's little time to worry about anything else. Before you can get your bearings, you're assaulted by foul creatures that want nothing more than to tear you limb from limb and let your entrails rain down upon them in a bloody reverie.

You learn fairly quickly what's required of you if you're going to survive: a good mixture of cowardice and bravado. Run in with guns blazing when the time is right, but know your place when you think you're outnumbered. To stay alive, you'll want to be frugal with both movements and ammo. As skeletons approach from the graves all around you, that shooter instinct kicks in and you move to retreat, frantically - you've got nowhere else to go - while all of Hell descends upon you. You'll start to charge forward only when you're sure your current arsenal can cut through the crowds a la Serious Sam, and relish each takedown. In short, you're conditioned to stop thinking so much and to pull the trigger when it feels right. All of that feels very good.

With brand new enemies jumping out from every corner, you're constantly struggling to keep abreast of your surroundings and the threats waiting in every dark hallway or catacomb. It's easy to forget about anything other than shooting and keeping an eye on your health. The aforementioned Soulcatcher is an augment you can take advantage of once you've collected 66 tortured souls, an accomplishment that activates a sort of buffering demonic transformation which renders you temporarily invulnerable. These brief reprieves are a welcome breath of fresh air from a constant onslaught of horned beasts and miscreants straight out of your nightmares.

You'll need several such breaks from the dizzying amount of carnage taking place on-screen, which for all its savory gore and violence, can begin to wear thin for those who need a little more variation in their shooters. Slaying hundreds of monsters can begin to feel like a bit of a slog. You’ll start to feel like you're digging a hole to China. Across a set of levels from the original Painkiller and its expansion packs (spritzed up with HD sparkle), you're continually charging in and finding yourself at the entrance to another area teeming with new threats. It's exhausting, to be sure. The monotony is occasionally alleviated by hulking targets (boss fights), but most of those foes are downed using familiar tactics. While there's only one behemoth to contend with, you're still forced to employ the same self-preservation exercises that help you to survive encounters with its underlings. The process is suffocating to be sure, which explains why I tended to play Painkiller in short bursts only.

Luckily, there are beacons of change when it comes to uncovering secret areas: locking and loading with brand new weapons, and becoming acquainted with the armor and loot drops in each level. There's a thrill to unlocking secret content, and Painkiller has that content in droves. Granted, there isn't much time to find everything, so when you do it's all the more rewarding. That mechanic makes the game’s single-player mode fulfilling in a much different way than the modern shooters we're so used to seeing released these days.

Multiplayer is a deliciously nostalgic affair, as well. It presents a good selection of maps that feel both familiar and quaint. There's a certain formula to these locales that caters to players who don't camp or duck behind cover and wait for care packages or a nuke to end the game. While the community isn't especially bustling with activity (likely due to the fact that this gem is tucked away in the bowels of Steam), there can be some particularly memorable scuffles and good old standoffs, hearkening back to frenzied Quake battles of yesteryear, or the best of the TimeSplitters games.

Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is about as barebones FPS as you can get. There are no frills, just design choices that reward skill and dedication. It's a splash of cold water to the sweaty face that has become the muddled world of the modern shooter, and pleasingly pedestrian in a way that brings out a sense of carnal rage while demanding one thing from the player: the desire to annihilate. You'll find yourself giving into that desire, happily and frequently. Good on Nordic Games for bringing back a viable property that, much like Serious Sam, is the poster child for frenetic bloodbaths in the world of shooters.


MolotovCupcake's avatar
Freelance review by Brittany Vincent (November 06, 2012)

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