Demonic entities, fighting in Purgatory. What, you thought it was over?
First Person Shooters have become akin to people’s battle with their bulge: typically bloated, occasionally slimmed down, mostly full of …bad…stuff. Point is, if you’re not currently in grade school, you remember a time when shooters were there for the purpose of shooting things in the face, not following some narrative nonsense and trying to save the world. Remember those days? No? Go ask your parents. They’re reminisce with you by the glow of the games. If you do remember those days, think back to the franchises that started it all. Doom, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein 3D, Hexen, Heretic, etc. These were classic games, and all they asked of you was to shoot things. In the face. A lot. And it was glorious, and the angelic choirs sang their praise. Nowadays we’re stuck with epic narratives, plots that force us to save the world (for the umpteenth time), huge boss fights with fiddly mechanics. We don’t have any games that cater to the sole brain activity of shoot that sucker in the gob. Don’t get me wrong, Halo and CoD have their moments, but nothing of their ilk really embraces that visceral, unadulterated joy of blowing things to bits.
Before all of the flaming begins, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that times have changed, and that kind of gameplay, that style of game, doesn’t really work in today’s game worlds. People want/need/crave more than just a simple boom boom in the kaboom type of game. Gamers want more out of their shooters. Right? The original Painkiller brought us back to that truly visceral, shooting for shooting’s sake gameplay style, and it resonated with a lot of people. It felt like a serious version of (Not so)Serious Sam, and it was fun, and the people rejoiced. And now the fun returns.
Painkiller: Hell and Damnation brings the us back to the fight for Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. I’ve had the opportunity to try the Beta version of the game, and while it’s a bit skimpy on the features, there’s plenty to suggest it’ll be as fantastic as it’s legacy, and that it’ll bring back that classic shooter experience…as long as it works a little harder at being unique.
Painkiller: Hell and Damnation brings to the fold a gold currency that you can pickup from slain enemies, which allows you to purchase “Cards”, which are selectable/unlockable changes to the gameplay, like taking reduced damage, dealing more damage, etc. It’s a cool feature, and it allows for customization for your particular fps playstyle. It also replaces the traits/upgrades/extraneous nonsense that a lot of FPS games have to try to fake having depth (like an RPG). It’s a new take on a tired, enough-already mechanic. Thank goodness.
Weapons in Painkiller: Hell and Damnation are a bit of a letdown. There aren’t enough to keep the variety interesting, are the uniqueness of the guns in the form of secondary fire is mitigated by a distinct lack of secondary ammo drops.The guns that are there aren’t really all that unique; maybe I’ve just been spoiled by years of Serious Sam and Half Life, but I like my guns to have personality. Something cool, interesting. Something that would make me want to swap to it in the middle of a firefight. Instead, we get single shot/spread shot guns, with typical secondaries (grenade launching, primary infinite ammo gun). Don’t misunderstand though: it’s a good start, there just needs to be a little more of a meaningful reason to swap weapons instead of “I ran out of shotgun ammo, time to swap to the sawblades”. I would suggest they opt for 1 ammo type for primary/secondary fire, or Primary Ammo and Secondary Ammo that is universal among all weapons, and to have truly unique weapons. Give me a reason to swap. You’re fighting in Purgatory, why the hell not? (Pun totally intended).
Enemies were interesting, but a lack of bestiary or explanation/spell effects had me scratching my head when my screen would go dim in the middle of a fight, not realizing it was because of those witch ladies. The demonic theme carries is evident and well-presented, but there needs to be a little more in the visual effects area. The minimalist HUD idea is great, but that also means that enemy-specific information needs to be more apparent. As an example, adding an animation of the witches moving their hands and shooting out black clouds that envelop me would make the experience much better. Touching on the theme again, though, I have to say that the demonic style and allowing for historical styles to mesh with it (medieval armor, witches from post-colonial Salem Witch Trial days, etc) is really intriguing, and kept me interested visually. It’s a fantastic start, and I can only hope that all of the enemies in the retail version maintain that level of style.
Overall, it feels like a Demonic-themed Serious Sam. It doesn’t quite have enough to differentiate it from SS and classic Doom, despite having beautiful visuals, appropriate sound, and exciting gameplay. It needs that “something special” that gives it that unique “Painkiller” flavour. It’s a good start, but it needs to be a little more unique if it wants to attract consumers away from Serious Sam 3.