Version tested: PC
Hell, by Painkiller's estimation, is other people running endlessly towards you. Mad axe-monks, skeletal WW1 soldiers in gas masks, children splayed in two by shotgun blasts and men eternally trapped in their duvet covers come laundry day: all desperate for a meet and greet with hero Daniel Garner's whirring blade.
Hell & Damnation is a modern reincarnation of what Polish developer People Can Fly, now responsible for Gears of War: Judgment, ushered onto our mortal plane back in 2004. Theirs was a deranged shooter that saw Serious Sam infused with equal parts of Hieronymus Bosch and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Lunatic fire-and-forget gameplay, back-flipping hoodlums, goliath bosses and some astoundingly beautiful panoramas of the underworld all conspired to create a game that was, arguably, a more direct successor to Doom than the (then forthcoming) Doom 3.
Opinion was split over the relative charms of that first Painkiller (your correspondent sometimes felt quite alone in his worship of the stake-gun) but a loyal fanbase and the longevity granted by back-to-basics twitch multiplayer gave it an extended lifespan. If a pact was signed to keep the Painkiller brand alive, however, it must have been a little Faustian. It's been roughly abused by a range of different developers in the likes of Overdose, Resurrection, Redemption and Recurring Evil - so, this Halloween, The Farm 51's Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is out to right former wrongs with an Unreal Engine cover version.
It certainly looks and feels the part. 14 iconic levels from the original game (and its excellent expansion pack Battle out of Hell) have been reconstructed and filled out with a wide range of creatures from the Painkiller menagerie. What with the march of progress, meanwhile, these daisy-chains of oncoming bodily nightmares can be sliced, diced and impaled in far more gruesome ways than one's mind could contemplate a decade ago.
From the initial graveyard skellingtons through to the witches rocking out on stage in the Opera House, knife-wielding urchins in the orphanage and Battle Out of Hell's epic rollercoaster ride, Painkiller HD is chewing gum for the eyes and repetitive strain injury for your click-finger. The game's giant bosses now loom over early levels with pleasant menace, while the way circular saws fired from the new Soulcatcher weapon wedge into enemies is, more often than not, a delight. It's basic, stupid stuff - but it still works.
However, as Dorothy once said (perhaps having impaled a wicked witch right through the face): "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in 2004 anymore". Once upon a time, a primary appeal of Painkiller was its riotous use of physics. The remarkable stake gun, the clouds of flying bodies after rocket launcher strikes and the sheer marvel of truly explosive scenery could bring true shock and awe. With time, however, the 'wow' factor has been watered down to 'oh'.
"The endlessly looped rock riffs, the total mindlessness of the AI and a painful reprise of an already incomprehensible storyline won't sit pretty with anyone new to the realm of eternal suffering."
The endlessly looped rock riffs, the total mindlessness of the AI and a painful reprise of an already incomprehensible storyline won't sit pretty with anyone new to the realm of eternal suffering. In fact, it doesn't work brilliantly for anyone already ankle-deep in lava. A major problem with the original, meanwhile, remains untouched - waiting for bodies to turn into green souls for you to hoover is still a bugbear that breaks up the action for attentive players. On the flipside, the tarot card perk system is still over-geared to Painkiller obsessives. What's more, ammo caches are liberally sprayed through levels - so the ammo cache you carry often feels unbalanced with the tides of pain approaching.
Sadly, it doesn't end there. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation infuriates, more so than the original ever did, with final dribbles of enemies stuck in the back and beyond of levels who must be laboriously hunted down and murdered before the next area can unlock. The code supplied for review, meanwhile, was fairly buggy - notably with bosses getting caught on the scenery, occasional walking through walls and a frame-rate chug on more complex levels, like the visit to Battle out of Hell's worrisome theme park.
What can't be patched, however, is the fact that Painkiller: Hell and Damnation is a very short game - clockable in a normal difficulty at around five hours. It's what the developers consider the 'best bits' of People Can Fly-era Painkiller, but aficionados may well be saddened that some of their own cherished memories don't get a look-in.
"The return of own-brand Painkiller multiplayer and the introduction of co-op could perhaps have take the edge off the ache incurred by a short run-time. Unfortunately, neither quite goes far enough."
It often feels like watching the edited highlights of a football game you've already seen live. You sit there excitedly waiting to see your team's rare strike on goal (the medieval town level) only to find it mysteriously cut out in favour of something the Man U fans would rather see instead (the rubbish swamp boss). The lack of haunted houses, the big boss with the giganto-physics hammer and the fact that the Opera house chandelier can't be knocked down will irk the faithful. And there's not a sniff of the epic frozen-in-time warscape that acted as Painkiller's memorable closer.
The return of own-brand Painkiller multiplayer and the introduction of co-op could perhaps have take the edge off the ache incurred by a short run-time. Unfortunately, neither quite goes far enough.
Co-op, whether on LAN or over the net, sees the Duke Nukem-voiced Daniel Garner (yes, the inestimable John St John has been called in) accompanied by Eve, of 'Adam and' fame. She's only wearing a towel, but can still give hellspawn some welly - and it's certainly entirely pleasant to take a friend along for the ride so you can both take the piss out of the atrocious cut-scenes and creaky endgame. It isn't seamless (the way the Garner player spends most of the aforementioned rollercoaster staring up between Eve's flickering legs can attest to that), but it's entirely functional.
"If you're coming back to Painkiller for its no-nonsense competitive online shenanigans then you're likely not fussed by the graphics, so there seems little here that the original can't provide already."
As for competitive multiplayer, well, it feels quite airless compared to Painkiller deathmach of old - and it feels even harder to lock on a stake-gun kill. If you're coming back to Painkiller for its no-nonsense competitive online shenanigans then you're likely not fussed by the graphics, so there seems little here that the original can't provide already. Which, sadly, could also be extended to the whole of the game.
This might well be an admirable attempt to recreate former glories - especially in terms of its visuals - but ultimately those wanting to bathe in nostalgia need only purchase the £8.99 Painkiller: Black Edition. The original is guaranteed to feature your favourite levels, is comparatively huge in its play-time and, over time, has been patched to the nines.
Eight years in purgatory hasn't really been long enough to justify the move into down into the rosy red-tinted fires of Hell & Damnation. Sorry, Lucifer.
5 / 10