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Painkiller PC Game

There seems to be a growing rift lately among FPS. On the one hand there are the fans of the reality based shooters such as Half-Life, Thief, & Red Cell while on the other hand there are the fans of the old school style shoot em ups such as Doom, DukeNukem 3D, & Serious Sam. Among these groups there is a fair amount of animosity regarding FPS game design and fans of the first style are often not fans of the second style and vice-versa.

Personally, I am a fan of both, although I tend to lean towards the old school style. Realism, you see, is not as important to me in a shooter as pure arcade-type fun. Painkiller, the game we are reviewing, today lies squarely in the middle of the old school style. So if you hate old school shooters, Painkiller may not be for you, since it probably won't change your opinion of twitch shooters. But if you are either a fan of this style or a gamer who actually enjoys both of the above FPS styles, then hold on, because you are in for an exciting--if at times--frustrating ride.

In Painkiller you play Daniel Garner involved in a terrible car crash that leaves him and his wife dead. Now Daniel is stuck in purgatory as well as being a pawn in the middle of a battle brewing between good and evil for earth. The story, such as it is, advances through several between-level cut scenes, in which Daniel is offered a chance at redemption--as well as averting the oncoming war between the forces of good and evil should he manage to dispatch all four of Lucifer's generals. Should he complete all of these tasks he will be reunited with his wife in heaven.

Painkiller PR Pic

I learned the hard way that even though Painkiller is an old school style shooter you shouldn't neglect to at least glance at the manual before playing this title. Although it is pretty standard fare, if I would have looked at the manual I would likely have noticed that the reason why I couldn't get the game to start for the first half hour I was fooling around with it after loading is that it is disc three, and not disc one that is the play disc. The manual also contains other useful information on the Tarot cards and morphing, two fairly unique game play elements you need to be familiar with that we will be talking about later.

The graphics in Painkiller are very good if a little too dark in places. In fact the only games that come to mind that look better than Painkiller is Doom 3, and FarCry, rare praise indeed. High polygons, bump mapping, water reflections, volumetric light and fog, specular lighting--all the next generation eye candy effects are here. All this graphics goodness does come at a price, though, so pay close attention to the recommended minimum system specs of 1.5 GHz Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor, 384 MB memory, 64 MB Direct X 8.1 video card With Hardware T&L. If you don't at least meet these then think long and hard before you buy this game, because you might find yourself reduced to looking at a very pretty 24 level slide show.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

Another area where Painkiller excels is sound. For instance, if you were to close your eyes while walking through the Asylum level you will notice that the sound effects and subtle background music compares more to a good Hollywood horror film than to a normal FPS. Even the cheesy “Battle Music” that plays during combat works here, and for some reason seems to fit the adrenaline-filled game play.

Painkiller is also the first game I have played which uses the Havok 2 physics engine. If you are not familiar with this physics engine, as I wasn't, you are in for a rare treat. What this means to the player is that objects tend to behave in a much more realistic manner than in most other FPS. Some examples of this are bodies tumbling down stairs in a believable fashion, shattered glass exploding outward rather than merely falling to the ground, and punctured oxygen tanks careening around you in an unpredictable manner.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

There are five weapons to use in Painkiller, each weapon has both a primary and secondary fire mode. Many of these weapons such as the shotgun, chaingun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher you will instantly recognize as standard FPS fare. While these are fully functional with one or two exceptions, most seem rather uninspired. That's really too bad, too. Since most of the focus of this game is killing as many enemies as you can, it would have been nice to have some more interesting ways to dispatch them.

The painkiller itself, the default weapon in Painkiller acts as both a melee and ranged weapon. In primary fire mode it is a spinning cutting weapon that quickly chews up most enemies. In secondary fire mode the painkiller shoots a spike (the manual calls this a warhead) that sticks in nearby surfaces. Between this spike and the weapon itself runs a beam of electricity (the manual calls this a beam of light) which will damage any enemy that breaks the beam. Nearby dead monsters can also be bounced up into the air by rapidly firing the painkiller in secondary fire mode into their corpse, resulting in them dropping a jewel worth 15 gold.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

At close range the shotgun is quite effective in dishing out damage. With its 100 round magazine you don't have to stop to reload in the middle of a firefight, either. Secondary fire mode is the freezer which will freeze most enemies, allowing them to be easily shattered with minimal firepower. Slow reload times limits its effectiveness in a crowd, though.

The other weapon I found that stood out was the stake gun. Although it has a slow rate of fire, it does a huge amount of damage, and if aimed properly is effective to a very long distance, where it also will even ignite and do additional damage. The graphic macabre effect it has on enemies is muted by the hilarity of not only being able to use it to nail enemies to the wall, each other, but also the ability to line them up and shoot them all at once in a row, like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies. Doing this is a lot more amusing than it sounds. Secondary fire mode here is the grenade launcher, which is a useful compliment to the stake gun should you start to find yourself overwhelmed by a large group of enemies.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

Typical for this type of weapon the rocket launcher has a huge blast radius, so make sure you are clear before you start firing. The Painkiller rocket launcher also fires faster than most other rocket launchers I have used in other games. Secondary fire mode is the greedy ammo-sucking chaingun, the weapon of choice for quickly clearing a room. The chaingun is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the game at medium to long distances.

The electodriver launches shurikens (ninja throwing stars) in rapid succession. This weapon isn't really very effective against the undead and their minions. Secondary fire mode for this weapon is an electricity blast which will damage your enemies as long as it remains in your sights. This weapon feels a lot like a clone of the Quake lightning gun.

Speaking of weapons, on all but the Trauma difficulty level, when you kill an enemy his soul briefly remains. Walk over it and it grants you a one point health increase. After you collect 66 souls in this manner you briefly morph into an invincible demon. The screen then turns black and white, and your enemies are lit up in flames. This is way cool, but since this effect doesn't last long try, to save it until you are in the middle of a large group of enemies.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

Between levels you can also place tarot cards you have earned on the black tarot board. Doing so costs a varying amount of gold depending on the card. There are two types of tarot cards you can earn: gold or silver. The effects of the gold cards are temporary and can be used once per level, while the effects of the gold cards are permanent and last for the duration of the level. Your black tarot board holds three temporary, and two permanent cards. Collecting all the tarot cards, which is quite difficult, grants you access to a little publicized alternate ending (no I am not going to tell you what it is).

There are four major bosses, who are huge and wonderfully detailed, and unlike the other 25+ low level monsters you will encounter in Painkiller the boss level AI is actually quite good. All the boss level monsters have a certain weakness; to get past them you must discover what that weakness is and exploit it to your benefit.

Painkiller Screenshot     Painkiller Screenshot

Even though as noted earlier I am for the most part a fan of the style of game play presented here things are not without problems. For instance, this isn't Jazz Jackrabbit; although, in places you could be forgiven for thinking that, since there are entirely too many stupid jumping puzzles which tend to make a pancake out of you (even when in god mode). Also, when you enter a room, frequently a door will slam shut behind you, or something else will immediately block your way neither allowing you to fight a defensive battle nor retreat when injured. This seems to be used to cover some suspect enemy AI, as many of the enemies seem programmed to do nothing but blindly run in your direction and attempt to pummel you. For some reason getting in the water instantly kills you, too (even when in god mode). Any extra ammo you might have saved up during the level is also mysteriously taken from you when you start a new level.

If after reading this review you are still undecided about whether or not to buy this game, you might want to consider downloading and spending a few hours playing one, (or maybe all) of the four Painkiller demos (three single player, one multi player). Between them they offer up more than enough game play to allow you to fairly judge the game for yourself. If all of this is still not enough, there has also been a Painkiller expansion pack titled Battle out of Hell. Rest assured, I will be picking up a copy myself.


  • Great graphics as well as sound effects
  • Not a short game, many hours of play here
  • Many varied environments
  • Cheap (I found it in the bargain bin for 19.99)!


  • High system requirements
  • Enemy AI not the greatest
  • Some frustrating game play elements

Added: February 5th 2005
Reviewer: JimAdkins
Score: 8  
Hits: 15144
Language: english


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