Painkiller is a mindless barrage of violence, and in single-player this is its selling point. It's a vent through which anger and frustration can be funnelled, while keeping your gameplay arm steady with clever level design and a degree of variation.
The multiplayer game tries a similar angle, tying itself to old-skool frenetic shooters like Quake, but somehow doesn't make enough of itself to gain anything but the occasional online follower. It's fast and it's mental, but with only six maps on offer it's a limited package. Also, those maps are fairly basic, despite a few nice ideas such as the reflective windows scattered around that enable you to warp to the action quickly.
It gets repetitive very quickly and isn't a patch on the similarly veined combat in Quake III Arena. Greater interest is gathered by the People Can Fly mode, which only records damage when your opponent is in mid air, but even this wears thin. When the develop came up with the Voosh mode, which switches your weapon every 30 seconds, it must have been aware the bottom of the barrel was fast approaching.
It isn't psychologically damaging to play Painkiller online: it's mind-numbing in a good way, but it's also thoroughly out-shot by most other games on the market.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Our exclusive Painkiller demo features two full levels from the depths of hell: Chapter 3 Level 3 City on Water' (an ultra-violent Venice); and Chapter 3 Level 5 Ruins', starring massive end-of-level boss Thor. You can also choose between four difficulty settings, although Trauma is only unlocked when you complete the demo on Nightmare (no mean feat without any mid-level saves). You have a total of three weapons to play with (see box).
City on Water begins with you on the outskirts of the level, so look behind you to find the boxes of ammo needed to take on the enemies ahead of you. As you enter the city, look left to see your first targets - two careless goons standing on exploding barrels.
Once you've fought your way across the Bridge of Sighs, finish off the undead bikers on the ledges of buildings and the red pentacle should appear. Don't forget to collect the green souls of departed enemies as you progress, as 100 of these turns you into an all-powerful demon able to slay anything in its path.
Eventually, after much more killing, you'll find yourself outside a beautifully-detailed building decorated with ornate paintings, where hell literally breaks loose. Next, head on to a level with a fountain containing some very hard skull-headed beasts - obliterate everything and you'll finally reach the end of level by entering the spinning white pentacle. Phew!
Chapter 3 Level 5 involves you shooting Thor's giant hammer until it breaks (he uses it to recharge his health and to bash the ground, causing you damage). You then blast him until he croaks - the red circle at the top of the screen shows how you're doing. Hint: jump when he's about to bash his weapon on the ground.
A bulky, out-of-shape demon from the depths of hell is struggling towards me carrying a fizzing barrel of gunpowder. I take aim and shoot the barrel, obliterating the unfortunate creature and sending a mixture of wood splinters, limbs and offal splattering around the walls of an underground cavern. It's hilarious. In fact, the noise of my guffaws is so loud that it interrupts the ZONE team, who rush over to take a look at what was so chucklesome. I've said it once and I'll say it again - there's nothing wrong at all with violent videogames. In the messed-up shitstorm of a world we live in, taking a few virtual potshots at some pretend monsters on a computer screen is one of the least harmful things we can do. Which is why I love Painkiller.
This gloriously violent first-person shooter is a defiant, bloodstained two-fingered salute to those pious social commentators who continually condemn videogames as irresponsible entertainment. It's also a hugely entertaining, well-designed game that possesses some of the most beautiful looking levels I've ever seen - and yes, that includes Far Cry.
Lock And Load
Let's get down to business. Painkiller is a no-nonsense run-and-gun blaster that takes its inspiration from classics like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem, but with some hugely inventive weaponry, smart ragdoll physics and next-gen visuals. Developer People Can Fly is particularly proud of the fact that the game doesn't have a crouch button - like myself, it seems they don't like stealth much. This is a major part of Painkiller's appeal - it knows that it's not Deus Ex, and it revels in that fact.
You play the game as Daniel Garner, an every-dude who's recently died in a car crash along with his wife Catherine. However, while your beloved has subsequently strapped on a pair of golden wings and begun banging out the latest Dido album on her celestial harp, you're stranded in Purgatory and must purify your soul before you can join her. Luckily for us, this basically involves blasting the holy crap out of Satan and his army of devilish followers. Painkiller has four levels of difficulty and is crammed with 24 levels, made up of five chapters and always finishing with a big boss battle (and we mean big). All in all, Painkiller will take most gamers at least ten hours to plough through on an easier level, and that's without taking time to discover secret areas, collect all the holy items and gold coins, and admire the gorgeous scenery whizzing past at a liquid 60fps. Gameplay is simple. There are no RPG stats to struggle with, no NPCs to talk to and no vehicles. Just aim your weapon at anything that roars, bellows or cackles, shoot them back to Hades, and progress to the next part of the level.
Level transitions are signified by a checkpoint in the shape of a fiery red pentacle. Walk over it and a few doors will usually seal shut and the next wave of monsters will begin piling towards you, bent on reducing your already-dead body into purgatory pate.
Additional interest is provided by special Tarot cards and power-ups. Silver (temporary) and gold (permanent) Tarot cards are awarded for completing specific actions during a level.
such as finishing in a certain time, and endow you with special powers such as a cool slo-mo effect. Before starting a level, you can arrange your cards on a Black Tarot board, and as long as you've collected enough gold coins from blasting open coffins, urns and barrels, you can use them to aid your battles during a level.
Souls, meanwhile, are the green floating detritus of defeated foes that when collected, add one to your health. However, once you've accumulated 66 of them, they transform you into a powerful demon that sees everything in black and white, with enemies shown as shimmering orange entities. Rather like the Berserk mode from Dooms of yore, you can then storm around tearing apart every one of the hellish servants in your path with a deft tap of the mouse. Fantastic.
Painkiller's level design isn't particularly special, with much wandering about and re-tracing of steps, but there's just enough variety to surprise you and keep things from getting monotonous. This includes the later addition of bounce pads, a series of Indiana Jones-style crushing ceilings, as well as a fair few nasty traps that we'll allow you to discover on your own - and get royally shafted, just like we did. It has to be said though, the architecture and backgrounds are awe-inspiring. Each one of the 24 levels has completely different styles and textures.
OK, OK, Painkiller does have a few bad points. For a start, there's a certain amount of clipping, with characters' arms coming through doors and that infuriating pleasure of being shot through a wall when you're near an enemy on the other side. Plus, whenever you get killed (and you will) the game automatically reloads the last checkpoint rather than the last quicksave, so you have to quit out and re-load. Very annoying.
Finally, Painkiller is just dumb, relentless blasting with a teensy bit of puzzle-solving -there's no boundaries being pushed outside of sheer gratuitous violence. It's sure to attract comparisons with Serious Sam, which also came from an unknown developer and pleased us with its old-skool blasting, but it really is in a different class from that game and other B-grade efforts like Chaser.
People Can Fly wears its influences on its sleeve, but you do get the impression that the game was a labour of love. Painkiller abounds with sublime touches, such as the boxes full of postcards that flutter down around you when shot and the fireworks that send multi coloured sparks whizzing in all directions. I've said it once, and I'll say it again - there's nothing wrong at all with violent videogames. Disagree, and I'll send you to hell with a wooden stake through your eye socket.
Outside, the wind whistles through the jaded streets of a city still beleaguered by the shadow of the Soviets. The grimy features of Warsaw's faceless tower blocks start fading into the cold winter night. Meanwhile, in his posh hotel, young Will Porter has just fired a stake into a zombie's face and watched the poor bugger get pinned by the cheek to a ceiling 15ft above his head. For good measure, he takes careful aim and fires two more stakes into its dangly bits and wanders off giggling like a schoolgirl. Right now, Painkiller is barely a blip on the hype radar. Dwarfed by a variety of big guns and developed by an obscure Polish outfit, people might say that the chances of its success are minimal. At least, stupid people would say that.
From what we've seen, heard and played, Painkiller is going to be supreme fun. With its gore, Havok-ated ragdolls, sublime monsters and a physics engine that regularly blasts rabid nuns into orbit (as well as stapling them to the scenery), the smart money is on Painkiller for being the first one at the dairy after the fat cats have had their cream.
"The basic story is that you and your wife die in a car accident," explains Adrian Chmielarz, project manager and head honcho at People Can Fly. "She goes straight to heaven, but you haven't been a good guy, so you're stuck in purgatory.
"After 20 years down there, you're approached by the Archangel Samuel with a proposal: Lucifer is starting armageddon by sending his forces to heaven through purgatory - so if you clean out these nests of demons, you'll be granted entrance to heaven."
This may sound like the Gospel according to St Stupid, but with a couple of twists and a sprinkling of heresy, it's certainly an engaging concept. You might say it's a cross between What Dreams May Come and Serious Sam, that somehow isn't a pile of putrefying shit.
This may not be entirely the inferno you're expecting either: fire and brimstone are on the menu, but here the emphasis is on hellish variety. You'll be battling through gothic cathedrals and graveyards, but alongside these lie levels based in prisons, docklands, military bases and opera houses. All textures and monsters are level-specific too, so a sense of progression and development (so lacking in games like Contract J.A.C.K.) should be maintained throughout the game.
The range of monsties available for your perforating delight looks set to be vast too: psychonuns, evil monks, Arabian sword-wielders and bizarre leaping zombies (who lick the floor while they writhe around without any hands or feet) are among the minions you'll battle. For the grunt-level creatures, the main tactic is to stalk you in huge crowds, try to flank you and generally get blown to the four-quarters by your grenade launcher.
In among these brain-dead stumbiers, however, are the masters: the smart cookies who know better than simply to run after you or throw lumps of their own flesh in your direction. A Skull, for example, will grab nearby minions, wring their necks and use them as a temporary shield. Adrian, meanwhile, can't help but grin when he starts describing the samurai master. "He's got some cool moves, and some of the best animations in the game. When he's low on health he understands he can't win, so he commits seppuku (Japanese ritual disembowelment), and gives the rest of his life force to the surrounding ninjas." How thoughtful.
For the really stunning bad guys, though, you just have to look at the bosses - you can't miss them, they're the ones 50-100 times your size with a weapon the size of a bus. In a welcome return to Ze/da-style bosses and the gigantic platform foes of old, Painkiller specialises in spectacular conclusions to each of its chapters. Take Thor, the giant hammer-wielding demon you confront among some forgotten ruins. Every time he hits the ground with his weapon, the earth buckles and you're hurled high into the air and the fragile columns and masonry of the surrounding temples are dislodged and fall around you in perfect physics-led harmony. The game presumably leads up to a scrap with Lucifer himself, so expect the finale to be even bigger and badder.
The atmosphere of Painkiller is very much that of the early Doom games, and while it won't be competing with Doom 3, its gameplay and atmosphere (and colossal bosses) are close to the fundamentals of the id legacy. Whether the game fits as a cohesive whole, as opposed to a collection of fun levels, is yet to be seen; but for fast-paced FPS action that'll make you cackle, Painkiller is a very promising prospect.
Daniel and Catherine Garner's day hasn't ended so well. A car accident has taken their lives, and now Daniel's discovered he hasn't been as pure in life as his wife has. While she's headed to Heaven, Daniel finds himself somewhere in between, drawn into a titanic struggle between Heaven and Hell with very few choices. No choices, really. If he wants to be reunited with his wife, he'll need to carve his way through an army of hellspawn, and into the bowels of Hell itself.
Painkiller, the pilot effort from game designer People Can Fly and veteran distributor DreamCatcher Studios, certainly delivers a gripping, intense FPS, with enough interesting gameplay to take on some other titles you may be hearing a lot of hype about.
First, the goods: This is one beautifully detailed game. The game engine itself is excellent, and the designers have gone the extra mile with intensely realistic skin and landscape texture, range of motion, and fluid enemy movement. Levels are disturbingly morbid, with an ethereal feel, and are extremely thematic. While enemy AI isn't fantastic, the games designers seem to have taken the Serious Sam approach: Swarm after swarm of enemies from all fronts. An especially nice touch was the Painkiller weapon itself: with its combination ranged and melee attacks, it was an excellent combination, and extremely useful to boot. And cutscenes? Breathtaking, easily the most fluid and realistic characters I've seen in a game to date.
So with all of the goods, you're probably wondering 'why the Fans Only rating'? Here, the intangibles come into play. First, the game bundles with the GameSpy network, which I have become more and more averse to recently. Decent multiplay support outside of GameSpy would not be remiss. This game is also a system hog, and the machine I purchased last year as 'top of the line'? could barely keep up until I spent about another $100 to get my specs just over minimum (this game requires at least a P4 1.2GHz and 384MB RAM). Technical support was limited at best, and there are still quite a few glaring bugs such as lighting, texture, and clipping issues.
Still, all in all Painkiller is a visceral, intense shooter with well designed and realized levels, and certainly a 'must have'? title for FPS aficionados. A shade below Recommended Buy.