Before People Can Fly became part of Epic Games, they created a game called Painkiller for the PC in 2004. FPS games were about to undergo a transition, becoming bigger and more scripted - but before that revolution took over the original Painkiller made its mark. What Painkiller offered was something that seemed to stick with people - literally - the stake gun. Pinning enemies to the wall with a giant wooden stake never got old. Now in 2012 the Painkiller franchise returns with Painkiller Hell and Damnation, developed by Polish studio The Farm 51. The game without a doubt pays homage to its classic roots of more arcade style gameplay and yes, the stake gun.
Painkiller Hell and Damnation continues the story of Daniel. After being screwed over by Satan while attempting to bring his girlfriend back from the world of the dead, he’s offered another chance by a demon who apparently has a gambling problem. Your task: collect 7000 souls and in return the demon will reunite you with your love. Isn’t that sweet. You’ll be greeted with several cut scenes throughout the story, all done in engine, and all voiced by Duke Nukem...err...Jon St. John - which just feels downright bizarre.
Built on the Unreal Engine 3, Painkiller HD is gorgeous and there’s plenty of different environments around to keep things fresh. A few standout areas include the inside of a giant theater and a giant swamp with an eery castle at the center. One of the game’s strengths is the ability to switch between a tight corridor shooter to a more open area shooter with plenty of space for circle strafing. Its in these bigger areas that you’ll encounter the game’s many large boss fights - and I do mean large. These creatures are the size of small buildings, but thankfully, a few dozen shotgun blasts does the job.
The core of the game revolves around killing numerous waves of enemies, waiting for their green souls to appear, collect them, and then look for the glowing red checkpoint which restores your health before restarting the whole process over again. The soul mechanic makes things interesting by keeping you conflicted. The tendency in a game like this is to push forward, to keep on the move to avoid enemies. But the five seconds or so delay after killing an enemy to when their soul appears forces you to stay within your victims death radius, which at times, causes you to get overwhelmed. This is balanced out by a special mode that gets activated with every 66 souls collected, turning you into a demon capable of destroying any enemy in one shot.
There are some other minor collection elements at play as well, including finding money and valuable items and tarot cards. These are used between levels to buy temporary abilities like half damage or double speed. In my playthrough, which took about 4 hours, I used exactly one tarot card, I just didn’t feel the need to use them.
There’s a solid 10 weapons to use in the game, and each has an alternate fire mode to help mix things up. For instance the shotgun can alt fire a freeze blast which is good to combo enemies quickly. There’s another gun that shoots spinning razors in rapid fire, but the alt fire will actually fire an electric beam that binds enemies together. Your main weapon is a soul collecting gun that serves a few purposes. The biggest is obviously to suck the souls out of the enemies, but if you collect enough to charge the gun you can perform a tertiary ability that’ll turn enemies to fight on your side. Turning the tide mid battle by recruiting a larger enemy is extremely satisfying - it’s like giving a big virtual middle finger to the undead.