Following the fine examples laid down in the early days of FPS by such giants as Doom and Quake, Painkiller was one of my favourite games when it was released in 2004. As regular readers may have noted, I’m really not a fan of cover-based shooters or generic desert-based ‘kill all dem terrorists’ games. Painkiller re-ignited my love of FPS with its mean weaponry and tight control scheme.
Eight years later, I think Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is set to do the same. It’s not all that surprising if you’ve read up on the game. Hell & Damnation is, as far as I can tell, an almost carbon copy of the original with a few tweaks and improvements afforded by the Unreal Engine.
The current beta is limited to the first level of the game, Graveyard. If it were possible to give games plastic surgery and an intensive workout regime then Nordic Games have not only figured out how to, Hell & Damnation is patient zero.
Hell & Damnation is possibly the smoothest beta (real beta, not when they call a demo ‘beta’) I’ve ever played. Dropping into the Graveyard, I felt both the excitement of something new combined with the familiarity of slipping on a comfortable pair of jeans. One of my favourite parts of Painkiller and classic FPS in general was always the creativity shown in weapon design, something we’ve lost now that we can just call it an M16 or a SPAS-12.
The beta comes with three weapons: the titular ‘Painkiller’ that this time around fires a shuriken-like blade at range and leeches hit points for a secondary fire, the shotgun with the ability to freeze enemies (incredibly useful later on) and the Stake Launcher, an accurate high damage weapon with a long reload and the ability to launch grenades. If you’re familiar with Unreal Engine games then the weapons will feel instantly comfortable.
The gameplay is the same as the original title, which should really be a given as it is a remake. It boils down to simply; ‘kill all these things here, move to another room, kill things there.’ Sounds like it would tire easily but the game never loses the feelings of claustrophobia and near insurmountable odds as it throws wave after wave of enemies at you.
Enemies range from the simple cannon fodder that are basic skeletons, to armoured skeletons that carry shields (pro-tip: freeze them first). On top of the skeletons there are crones that can fade the screen to black, which is both horrendously annoying and dangerous when you’re circle-strafing a bunch of other enemies and finally the hooded executioner-looking things that will straight up ruin your day if you get into melee range with them.
The level ends with a retro-styled oversized enemy boss fight inside a chapel. Victory requires a mix of circle strafing (seriously, I cannot stress how important this skill is) and using the pillars to block line of sight with the enemy. The beta also currently features multiplayer modes but either due to the limited nature of betas or the unsociable hours that I keep for playing games, I have yet to fully experience the multiplayer side of it.
In conclusion, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation or Painkiler: HD (see what they did there? Hell & Damnation or High Definition) is both a remake and a reinvigoration of classic shooter mechanics with the modern sheen we’ve come to expect from the modern day game. I cannot wait for some more levels to come up and some more faces to crush.