Developer: The Farm 51 / Publisher: Nordic Games / Played on: PC / Price: $19.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
It’s hard to fully describe how much of an oddity 2004’s Painkiller was. Though arcade shooters have experienced an unexpected resurgence with games like Hard Reset and Serious Sam 3: BFE, at the time it was an all but dead genre. I’d wondered if it was simply the game’s rarity that made me remember the game so fondly, especially since the long string of Painkiller knockoffs since had never really captured the magic of the original.
With Hell & Damnation, Painkiller no longer has to live on legacy. This remake surpasses the original in quality and any fan of arcade shooters should play it — especially if they missed it the first time around.
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROLS
In keeping with the genre, the complexity of Painkiller’s gameplay is as deep as a sheet of paper. There are demons, and you must shoot them with your many “shooty” guns. The secret to Painkiller, and any other enjoyable arcade shooter, is the combination of snappy controls, varied weapons, and enemy types that force you to employ different combat tactics to succeed.
In contrast with other arcade shooters, Painkiller’s enemies are largely melee, meaning that the game’s combat is more about crowd control than managing line of sight. Even though the texture of combat is slightly different, the ludicrously smooth gameplay is unmatched. Emptying buckshot into an enemy at point-blank range and catapulting their ragdoll around the level like a pinball never gets old. I’m amazed the developers managed to make the Unreal engine so responsive — this is the snappiest Unreal Engine game I’ve played and that includes Unreal Tournament 3.
There are a few extra gameplay frills decorating the periphery of Painkiller’s experience. If you satisfy certain conditions inside a level — kill every enemy, finish in seven minutes, etc. — you unlock a tarot card that you can equip to change your abilities (increase your max health, slow down time once per level). While the card mechanic becomes a little more important on higher difficulties, it rarely becomes a make-or-break factor in gameplay. At least the cards are easier to unlock this time around. I remember in the original Painkiller I only unlocked two or three cards because the requirements were so exacting.
There are some control hiccups though. For some reason, guns never switched reliably for me. Even when I hit the right number key, the game occasionally just ignored the input. I took to continuously tapping the appropriate number until the gun popped out which is aggravating given how often you need to switch guns on higher difficulties. Additionally, multiplayer text chat simply never worked for me.
Painkiller’s presentation revels in excess. Whether it’s the laughably intense thrash metal that blares nonstop during combat or the multi-story bosses that are so large your monitor can’t see them all at once, Hell & Damnation’s absurdity is matched only by the original Painkiller. I especially love the level design here. Though the levels are remakes of the original Painkiller’s, they’re remastered in such detail that they feel completely new. Additionally, the levels include an unparalleled variety of environments including Victorian castles, sprawling opera houses, and the canals of Venice. The lack of restraint in Hell & Damnation is extremely refreshing in the wake of legions of games that take themselves extremely seriously.
In addition to standard shooter multiplayer modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, Hell & Damnation also adds two-player co-op support for the campaign and a competitive Survival mode. Co-op play is totally functional, and the only feature that makes Painkiller better is to share the crazy action with a friend. Survival is an entirely new level of insanity, throwing you and other players into an area and spawning massive amounts of enemies until one of the players hits the kill limit. It’s the most frantic experience I’ve had in an FPS and will crank your pulse up even if you have a history in twitch shooters.
Even though Hell & Damnation is technically a remake, it’s been so long since I’d played the original that it felt like the Painkiller sequel I’ve always wanted. The developers have masterfully adapted everything that made the original Painkiller so enjoyable to a new engine that looks fantastic and plays liquid smooth. Hell & Damnation is a hell of a remake and one of the best releases in the arcade shooter genre. If you’ve enjoyed the modern arcade shooters and have been let down by the meandering direction of Painkiller, Hell & Damnation belongs on your computer.