In 2004, the FPS genre was in the midst of an evolution. Games like Half-Life 2 were setting the precedent still followed today for the triple-A FPS and it was an interesting time to be a gamer. It was here, in this time, that Painkiller first reared its lovably obnoxious head and threw itself at the unsuspecting PC players of the world. However unlike Valve’s bar setting classic, Painkiller was attempting to remind players of how shooters used to be back when games like DOOM ruled the roost, before games became more cinematic. It was in a sense a throwback and a well received one at that, appealing to the more basic part of our gaming brain that just wants to shoot a lot of stuff and not worry about much else. But there usually comes a time when an old game becomes impossible to modernise without a lot of work, and unfortunately Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is a prime example of this in action.
Set as both a pseudo -remake and sequel, Hell & Damnation finds the series’ protagonist Daniel Garner once again in a battle to save his lost Catherine, this time through familiar terrain. After making a deal with death, Daniel must collect 7000 souls to free his beloved, set across remade maps and boss-fights from the series history. It is a narrative dynamic that lends itself to the remake whilst still maintaining the series chronology and stands as a feature sure to please fans.
Right from the word go, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation feels dated…really dated. The controls are strangely mapped and Daniel himself is very limited in how he moves. I would go as far as to say that without turning the sensitivity up in the options, Hell & Damnation feels almost unplayable on the console and even needs some tweaking on the PC version. This, the basic layout of each map and the games structure really does show the franchises’ age.
Almost every stage here is a flat, relatively bland affair which although is bound by the franchises traditions to an extent, it really doesn’t do enough to make itself interesting for the player. Most of the time you will simply find yourself following the arrow and looking for the next bunch of enemies to kill in order to progress.
Unfortunately the dynamic of killing so many enemies and moving to the next small, arena-like part of the stage to rinse and repeat makes up the majority of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation’s structure. Despite a variety of enemy types, this structure simply instils boredom in the player very quickly. As well as this, Hell & Damnation also suffers from incredibly poor AI, meaning that the act of killing enemies will soon feel more of a chore than an opportunity.
Breaking up this repetition however is some initially impressive boss fights and creature design for the larger enemies. The feeling however doesn’t last once the fight begins. Many fights can feel epic at first due to the scale of the creature, however the game’s poor AI does still permeate these areas of the game making for a less than impressive end result. Most bosses have few attacks and are not dynamic in their approach meaning that more often than not they just amble slowly toward you or telegraph an attack long before its execution.
Graphically Hell & Damnation is a decent, if not awe inspiring update. The FMV sequences between chapters are quite impressive and the textures have been updated relatively well, however this is not enough to save the aged design of many other aspects of the game. The voice acting and sound work is also a nice update, somehow retaining the feel of the franchise without compromising on the sound quality. Sure some of the voice acting sounds a little stilted, but Painkiller has always been that way and it never feels out of place here.
One area where Painkiller has always shined bright is in its weaponry, and Hell & Damnation is no exception. Many of the weapons here are well designed and incredibly fun to use, making for a great selection of the weird and wonderful that never feel out of place in this universe. Hell & Damnation has also added a co-op mode and survival mode for local play (as well as online) which can go a long way to making you forget some of the game’s flaws. Killing waves of enemies with your friends can entertain (at least for a short while) and has always been a favoured past time of many-a-gamer.
As well as this there is also a full online multiplayer suite included here with all the usual modes (Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch etc). Unfortunately it is also incredibly unbalanced, buggy and unstable. Add to this that it is also one of the most under-populated online modes in recent memory and its almost not worth even including.
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation went through a lot of delays in its development and it is unfortunately very easy to see why. Despite the best intentions and some impressively updated visuals, it is still just too dated in so many elements to feel cohesive as an experience. Painkiller was a homage to what came before back in 2004 and the wrong elements of that throwback have unfortunately been kept in Hell & Damnation. For those out there that want to relive Painkiller’s glory days, you are better off with the original Painkiller: Black Edition than Hell & Damnation, and for those who are just looking for a good FPS, there is very little for you here.