Painkiller (Windows) 2004
First game with giant bosses, advanced havok engine support (Havok 2.0)
Magazine preview - Games tm Australia (2003)
Review- GameZone (2004)
"Unbelievable physics and some intense action make Painkiller a great FPS title.
"Been there … done that”. That’s what many retail game shoppers can hear me muttering as I make my way through the endless sea of FPS titles up on the shelves these days. I am an FPS junkie of sorts, and I have played everything from the original Wolfenstein to Unreal Tournament 2004, but these days I’m getting a little concerned over a lot of repetition in the genre. Personally, my most recent favorites were more “under the radar” titles that emerged (without a ton of publicity) like Nosferatu and Serious Sam, both due to unique themes and more of an action based format versus a lot of puzzle solving or getting stuck. Well, one title that I’ve been watching since the E3 show last year is a release by Dreamcatcher and People Can Fly called Painkiller … and I really fell in love with this game during my Beta test which I played over and over and over again. Well, here it is folks … the long awaited (for me anyways) release of one of the fastest and most trigger happy FPS titles I’ve seen in a long time … Painkiller.
Our story revolves around an unlikely hero named Daniel Garner, and opens as he and his better half (Catherine) are heading out to make some dinner reservations on a dark and stormy night. Well, Daniel gets into a fatal accident on the way (didn’t see that one coming, did ya?) that costs him both his life and that of his wife, and while it is assumed that Catherine crossed over into the Promised Land, Daniel instead finds himself trapped in a purgatory of pain and suffering fighting for his survival in the afterlife. A messenger from above named Sammael approaches him and offers him a deal … travel through Hell, destroy the four powerful generals of Lucifer’s army, and gain eternal life with his wife. His alternative? Decline the offer and stay in Purgatory forever. Well, the game would stink if he decided not to do it, so off you go, guiding Daniel through 24 of the fastest and hellish stages I’ve seen in a while to complete his mission and enjoy eternity next to his wife once again.
Now at first glance, Painkiller looks like a run of the mill FPS title. Basically, the controls are pretty standard, with W,A,S, and D allowing you to move and strafe, the space bar allowing you to jump, and the left mouse unleashing primary firing mode on weapons while the right mouse button uses the secondary weapon. Also, the whole concept is the typical “run through the stage from point A to point B then go to the next one”, so there’s not a whole lot that will be new to the veteran FPS player, nor a lot to have to learn. Again this may sound like you’re spending money on yet another “run of the mill” title, but wait … it gets better from here.
For starters, this is one of the fastest and most constant games that I’ve played in a while. While the stage layout is really predictable (enter a room, door closes, kill stuff, other door opens), the bottom line is that at no time from the door behind you closing to the other one opening do you have time to explore, much less to really sit and think. Once the music flips from a creepy ambient feel to blazing heavy metal riffs, you get accosted from all sides by all manner of nasty creatures looking to kick the “you know what” out of you. There were times where I literally had 20 of them dashing at me at full speed, and I honestly don’t think I’ve backpedaled that much since Serious Sam. This rag tag group of gruesome monsters and demons consisting of such things as zombies, hell bikers, and “amputees” (just to name 3 out of about 26 of them) mean business, and when they emerge be prepared to fire a weapon like you have never done before. Sitting still will only get you one thing, which is killed.
The really big thing that got my attention and pulled me in with Painkiller from all the way back in the Alpha stages was the Havok 2.0 graphics engine that the game utilizes. Most of us FPS action gamers are used to enemies dropping to the ground or flopping around when killed, or objects in the environment getting blown up when shot, but Painkiller takes it an extra step further. The objects in the environment are destructible, but they are also fully interactive … not only by you but by enemies as well. For example, a powder keg makes a great weapon to stop a ton of bad guys, but the powder kegs in here can be scooted around by running into them or sent rolling down inclines of you happen across one. Basically, if you see a large group of monsters or enemies coming at you up a hill, just roll one of these bad boys towards them and then shoot it when it gets close to help even the odds and send body parts flying around.
Another cool thing about the Havok 2.0 engine is the amazingly accurate environment interaction that enemies have when various things happen. For example, I lobbed a grenade at approaching bad guys and when it went off, it not only threw one of the dark creatures off to the side … but actually pinned him to a spike that was protruding from one of the pillars. There was also a time where I shot one zombie like enemy off of a coffin in the leg with a stake gun and he flew off at kind of a sideways angle, hit an object, got spun around, then wound up pinned to the wall by his leg while his arms and other leg realistically dangled towards the floor for a couple of seconds prior to stopping. Overall, I was really amazed at not only the interaction level … but also the accuracy in which these things happened. It wasn’t just there for the heck of it, the game’s creatures really do move and react to getting hit or hitting things like you would expect them to if you ran across them in real life.
Now another standard feature with just about any FPS game is guns … lots and lots of guns, and Painkiller definitely holds up its share of the lot. There are 5 weapons to utilize in the game, but each one consists of a primary and secondary firing feature. The shotgun can also emit a freeze ray, the chain gun has a rocket launcher, etc … and even the rotating, bladed melee weapon simply known as “Pain” has a secondary feature that allows you to utilize a burning laser that cuts through bad guys (and saves ammunition). The really neat thing that Painkiller brings into play with its arsenal is a “back to old school” kind of feel. Each one can hold X amount of ammo, but the developers have decided to shuck the whole reloading thing out the window. Have you even been in a fire fight and had to stop and re-load? I know I have … and it can be frustrating. Well, you won’t find any of that stuff to slow down the action and destruction here … just plain old “fire until your ammo count is 0”. In addition, you yourself can become a weapon of destruction. Each monster leaves it’s soul behind when it gets killed, and when you collect 66 of them Daniel becomes a rampaging demon for a brief period of time that can rip, destroy, and incinerate everything in his path, whether it moves or not.
Lastly, Painkiller also has incorporated a unique help system into it’s gameplay that allows you to do things like increased health and half damage through the use of what is called “The Black Tarot”. The black tarot consists of cards that are collected from stage to stage if certain requirements are met. For example, one stage may award a black tarot card for simply killing all of the creatures or destroying all of the objects, while another may award the card for going through the whole stage using only one kind of gun. Either way, they do help out in a tough spot … but don’t think that you can just use them when you want. Having divine power will cost you, and the cost is in gold. Gold is picked up from destroying various objects like barrels or coffins in the stages, and you will have to pay a certain amount in order to activate the ability that you want to use. No money, no go … get it? Good.
Graphically, Painkiller’s Havok 2.0 engine runs and looks spectacular. The monsters and levels are made up of really large polygon counts, so movement is extremely fluid and looks great, even down to the little things like billowing smoke plumes from some of the more ghostly monsters to the swirling and swooshing of the robes on the Evil Monks. Aside from the killer environmental action and interaction that I discussed earlier in the review, the game also has some really good lighting effects in which shadows will move and act accordingly when passing in front of a light or object. In addition, the level designs looked great and were very well designed, although they are pretty linear in overall design and it’s not difficult to figure out where you need to go next. This isn’t really as bad as it seems though, since as you can see by the review … the developers were looking to offer up a title that runs, shoots, and just kicks the crap out of your adrenaline gland. Puzzle solving or out of the way exploring only slows things down, so none of that in here.
Overall, Painkiller is a great game that will truly be appreciated by FPS purists like myself who remember the good old days where all you needed was a bunch of ammo, some nasty monsters, periodic powerups, and an itchy trigger finger to get you from the beginning of the stage to the end. Painkiller resurrects that style of gameplay through and through, and leaves all puzzle solving, escort missions, and long walks with nothing happening outside where it belongs. The bottom line is this … if you like your FPS games fast, furious, and brutal, Painkiller rocks. If you are more of a thoughtful person who needs some story, plot, and a little more than just killing, this may not be the game you are looking for and you might want to try out a demo before making the final commitment to buy.
The controls are pretty standard to an FPS game, which is good since there is no learning curve and you will immediately spend your time running and shooting like a psycho. Each stage offers a ton of enemies looking to beat you to a pulp, and there is no puzzle solving or reloading to get in your way of just killing anything and everything that moves.
The enemies and the environments both look fantastic, and the Havok 2.0 engine really helps this game to act and look realistic when it comes to environmental interaction and movement. Clothing swooshes around realistically, and will even move when enemies run into one another. In addition, the boss battles at the end of the stages are insane, and I put this in the graphics section since from a visual standpoint, I have never seen a boss as big as the ones in this game that you have the unfortunate task of taking down.
The sound to Painkiller is really good, and little things like the clanking of boot spurs and hollow clatter of ejected shotgun shells can be heard throughout the stages. The environmental music was pretty decent, but get used to some heavy metal riffs every time something bad is getting ready to happen. It wasn’t bad, but some of the riffs grew kind of tiring and just faded out into the background.
Part of this depends on the difficulty that you decide to set the game on. The easier modes will give you a challenge, and don’t expect a break in the fast pace just because you turned it down a little. There is also a Nightmare level that is accessible after collecting all 23 tarot cards in the game, and a Trauma difficulty that can be accessed after you have completed Nightmare.
While a lot of gamers really like a little more thought and puzzle solving to their games (even FPS titles), I personally would rather just pick up a weapon and run and shoot. The whole action concept behind Painkiller is really good, and just provides a lot of intensity and fun gaming all around.
I did play a deathmatch multiplayer game with two people (both developers), but every other time I got on there was no one else around so I didn’t feel it was fair to review on something that I didn’t get to fully experience. There is a Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch mode available, but there is also one called People Can Fly (all rocket launchers in an arena no bigger than a closet), Voosh mode (all players have the same weapon and unlimited ammo which will change periodically), and Light Bearer (one 4x Rage powerup available, the one holding it when the frag limit or time limit is reached is the winner).
Here’s my personal opinion … if you like a ton of action and a lot of non stop killing, tack an extra point onto this score and GO GET THIS GAME. The only reason that I couldn’t go higher in the overall standings personally is because I know a lot of you like a little more substance to your FPS titles, but even so … if you like FPS games than this one should provide a lot of fun for you either way. Definitely get it or check it out."
1) First Havok engine game is Harley Davidson: Wheels of Freedom.
2) At the end of 2004 Painkiller was chosen by the Cyberathlete Professional League to be their official 2005 World Tour game.
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