Review: “Painkiller” (computer game)

“Painkiller” is a gothic fantasy/horror FPS game from 2004 by a studio called Dreamcatcher. Although I played a fair amount of this game about six years ago, I’ve only just got round to replaying it – so this review reflects my memories of the game and my impressions of the game so far.

You play as a man called Daniel Garner who dies in a car crash before the events of the game, his wife was also in the car at the time too. After he dies, he realises that his wife is nowhere to be seen and he isn’t exactly in heaven. But, surprisingly, he is approached by an angel who offers him a chance to go to heaven and see his wife if he kills four generals in Lucifer’s army(and anything else that gets in his way too) in order to prevent a war between heaven and hell.

Although the story isn’t central to the game, it is also expanded on in a series of fairly well-animated and well-written cutscenes between each “chapter” of the game.

Even though this game draws fairly heavily on Christian mythology, it isn’t a particularly religious game (so, don’t let the premise put you off from playing it if, like me, you’re not religious – although if you are religious, then you might be disappointed).

The gameplay mainly consists of killing all of the demons in a particular area of the level and then passing through a checkpoint to the next area of the level until you reach the end. These checkpoints only appear once all the enemies in a particular area are dead and, in many ways, the gameplay is pretty similar to what I’ve played of the “Serious Sam” games.

Whilst this game mechanic means that you won’t spend ages searching for keys, solving puzzles (well, apart from one sub-boss) or trying to complete missions, it can be slightly repetitive. However, there is a surprising variety of different enemies to fight (the manual lists 27 different enemy types), so you won’t be fighting the same enemies over and over again throughout the game.

Naturally, the level design is also fairly linear too – although there are secret areas and hidden items. Not to mention that many of the levels contain large open areas which are perfect for circle-strafing and for running away when you are face with large hordes of demons. This open style of level design is a refreshing change from the corridor-based design of many classic FPS games and, yet, the areas are never so large that you will end up getting lost either.

Although I can only remember a few levels from when I played it six years ago and I’ve only played less than half the game so far, most of the levels I’ve played look fairly gothic (in the traditional sense of the word). So, expect lots of old cathedrals, graveyards, catacombs, creepy 19th century mental asylums etc… The game also contains about twenty five levels, each of which will probably take you about 10-15 minutes to play, judging from what I’ve played so far.

One of the other interesting features is that the HUD contains a small compass which shows you where the demons are – so, you won’t get searching for that one last enemy you need to shoot in order to progress to the next part of the game. So, yes, the only times you’ll get stuck will be when you’re faced with large quantities of enemies and very little health.

The health system in “Painkiller” is pretty interesting too. Although you can pick up armour, the only health pickups you will find are small glowing green and gold orbs which enemies drop after they die. Picking up one of these will restore a small quantity of your health and, after you collect a certain number of them, you temporarily become invincible and extremely powerful (you can basically obliterate enemies with the power of your mind – this is amazingly fun).

Another cool thing about this feature is that you usually get a warning (the screen briefly flashes white and red) about two orbs before it happens – so, if you want to, you can wait until a later part of the level before you pick up the last orb you need to use to activate it.

In addition to this, you can earn “tarot cards” at the end of each level, which will give you certain powers. Each level has something different you’ve got to do to get a tarot card (eg: collect a certain number of items, use a certain weapon etc..) – so there is probably some replay value for people who want to collect all of them.

As for the weapons in this game, you apparently only get five of them. However, each one has a fairly useful (and very different) alternate fire mode. So, in practical terms, you have ten weapons and the focus on alternate fire modes means that you won’t have to waste valuable seconds switching weapons in the middle of battling a large horde of demons.

Whilst I’ve only found the first three weapons so far, they’re all fairly familiar, yet surprisingly innovative too. The default weapon is the “painkiller” – an ornate rotary saw- like weapon you can use to hack through less powerful enemies. However, the alternate fire allows you to fire the tip of it into a nearby wall or enemy and generate a powerful laser beam, provided that you keep the tip of the “painkiller” in your sights.

The shotgun is basically just that, a fairly standard videogame shotgun. Although one cool thing about it is that it will gib weaker enemies at close range. However, it has a really cool alternate fire which is fairly similar to the “freezethrower” from “Duke Nukem 3D”. Basically, you can temporarily freeze enemies and then shatter them with a single attack. Ammunition for the freeze gun is very slightly scarce though, although it isn’t rare enough to put you off from using it when you need to.

The third weapon I’ve found so far is a stake gun which you can use to impale enemies and/or pin them to the walls. This is pretty cool, although the rate of fire is very slightly on the slow side. The alternate fire is a pretty ordinary grenade launcher.

All in all, “Painkiller” is a no nonsense action FPS game. If you are looking for a few hours of mindless fun, then you can’t go wrong with it. Not to mention that, since it’s a fairly old game, you can probably get a new or second hand copy of it fairly cheaply too.

If I had to give “Painkiller” a rating out of five, then it would get a four.

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