Hey hey! So last week, I wrote about an N64 game that didn't make it here until 2007.
This week brings us to a PC shooter, a cult favorite suggested by reader Aikage.
Painkiller came out in 2004 and was developed by People Can Fly, who would go on to develop Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment. You play as one Daniel Gardner, who dies in a car accident along with his wife. While his wife ascends to Heaven, Gardner is trapped in Purgatory, where he strikes a deal with an angel to kill four of Lucifer's generals in order to join his wife in Heaven.
You're not really playing for the story, though, as Painkiller's main attraction is it's deliberately old-school gameplay. Painkiller is a first-person shooter in the classic vein of Doom or Quake. The gameplay generally-well, only-entails charging through a level and blasting wave after wave of enemies-literally hundreds per level.
At first, you might find yourself ill-equipped to deal with the (numerous) minions of Hell. Painkiller boasts a selection of just five different weapons. You'll start with the titular Painkiller, which is a bladed staff, and a stakegun, which, well, shoots wooden stakes. Each weapon has an alternate fire, which varies so much from the primary fire, you can consider the total of weapons to be ten instead of five. The stakegun, for example, fires grenades as an alternate fire. Before you know it, you'll be using a gun that shoots shurikens and electricity, a shotgun/freeze gun...oh, and a ROCKET LAUNCHER CHAINGUN. In one gun. Hell yes. There's also a powered=up mode that you can go into when you collect enough orbs that enemies drop, but it's really not too useful, as you typically get it when there's not too many enemies around anyway.
As I've said, and I cannot stress enough, Painkiller plays like something from 1995. There's no gun reloading here, or even transitional animations when you switch guns. A wave of enemies appears, and you waste the entire lot. Any fan of old-school shooters will feel right at home here. No stealth, very light key hunts, but basically all shooting from start to finish. Giant boss battles break up the flow a bit.
The best part of Painkiller, for me, is the wildly variable environments. Each level of Painkiller is completely different from the last, likely as a result of the game taking place in Purgatory/Hell. This gives the game an incredible amount of diversity. You never get tired of the level design, because each level has a new aesthetic and art style, which extends to the enemies as well. Most of the enemies behave the same way, and they look the same in any given level, but there are new designs practically every level. It's a take on game design that's refreshing even today, as it's no worse than playing Brown Military Shooter #49.
Graphically, Painkiller is...okay. It's functional, but it's strength lies in its art, as explained above. It looked good for 2004, and today it sort of holds up, if you're running it in 1920x1080. But you won't mistake it for a current title like Bioshock Infinite.
The audio fares a bit better, though. The music is all aggressive metal that pounds out of your speakers whenever enemies attack. Sound effects are satisfying, too, from the sickening grind that plays when you use the spinning blades of the Painkiller, to the thunk when you fire a stake into an enemy...play Painkiller with the volume way up.
Painkiller is worth checking out today if you're looking for nothing but adrenaline-pumping action with little thought involved. It's a perfect game to just zone out in front of; something to play when you're not in the mood for deep, involving stories. Or when you just wanna vent some frustration. Check it out.
Thanks to the Internet at large for the screenshots.
Comments? Questions? Future article picks? Access codes to the Zion mainframe? Post 'em!
Also, how do you guys feel about a whole month of Game of The Week articles devoted to a single series? It's something I'm thinking of, but I can't decide whether to spread the games out or write about them over the course of February. It's a four-game series (kind of) so it would fit into February snugly. I'd appreciate some feedback!
Next week, one of the greatest games of all time...gets a portable prequel.