Back when I was in college, the advent of fast local networks in the dorms made for long nights playing multiplayer shooters, most specifically Quake. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation reminds me a lot of those days, with its fast action and hard rock soundtrack. Unfortunately, the lack of an online player base limits it to being a single player title, but that doesn’t keep it from being a fun, if occasionally flawed, experience.
Painkiller is the story of Daniel Garner, an imperfect man who finds love, and then dies alongside his wife in a car accident. Daniel winds up in purgatory, where Death appears to strike a bargain – if he retrieves 7000 souls Daniel will be re-united with his love. Armed with some wild weaponry he ventures out to slay demons, collect their souls and work his way back to his wife.
Hell & Damnation makes it clear right up front what kind of experience this is. Movement is fast, as is the shooting. There is no reloading, just dumping round after round into the hordes of skeletons, hell knights and other creatures that attack. The game doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of the action, and it works well.
It has a very distinct old-style shooter vibe to it. Health orbs and armor can be collected, and there are several secret areas to be discovered in each level. Daniel carries a variety of weapons, each unique in their style and function. Most weapons have a secondary fire mode, which adds to the fun. Sure, a rocket launcher is great, but combine it with a chain gun and you’ve really got something. A large part of the fun in Hell & Damnation is dismembering enemies with Daniel’s arsenal.
Combat keeps up the nostalgic feel as well. Dispatching enemies often results in bloody gibs flying everywhere, as limbs are severed and bodies explode. The game is fairly simple: hordes of enemies will spawn in and attack, and once they’ve all been cleared out the player can proceed to a checkpoint and on to the next area. There’s not much variety to the game play, which is basically kill everything, reach checkpoint, repeat.
After collecting 66 souls Daniel morphs into a demon, making him super powerful and invulnerable for a short time. While the mechanic itself is fine, I wish I had control over when I transformed, as I always seemed to do it just as I finished clearing out an area, making it mostly useless. Collecting souls itself can be a bit tricky, since there’s a delay between an enemy’s death and the soul appearing, during which the fight often took me to the other side of the room. Once they’re out souls disappear pretty quickly, so I needed to make a real effort to collect them. Occasionally I would wind up in a spawn point, and get momentarily trapped as enemies spawned in on top of me, which was annoying.
The game is divided into four chapters, each with three to four areas, finishing with a boss fight. Bosses in the game are huge and fun to take down, but come at the expense of frame rate, as most of the slowdown I experienced during the game was in these encounters. Objectives can be completed in each area that unlock tarot cards, which can be equipped and used during levels to achieve different effects, like temporarily slowing enemies or doing double damage for a short time.
Aside from the slowdown during some of the boss fights Hell & Damnation runs smoothly throughout, even with many enemies on the screen. Both enemies and weapons are well modeled and look nice, and in general the areas throughout the game are well done. The music adds to the fun, and it was very satisfying to carve my way through legions of enemies to the hard rock soundtrack.
For as much as the game reminded me of my old LAN days, that’s one area where the experience falls short. In my several attempts to play online I discovered I was literally the only person in the game lobbies. It’s too bad, because I would have liked to try the fast action in a multiplayer setting, but those looking for a communal experience will not find one here. The game does support local and online co-op though, so players who have a friend available can still share the fun.
At its best, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is a fast, fun game where players can blast their way through waves of enemies while metal blares in the background. At its worst, it’s a somewhat repetitive game with little replay value due to the empty multiplayer. Overall it’s a good time, although it feels slightly overpriced for a game that has been out on the PC for over a year (and is currently $10 cheaper there). For those looking for some fast, nostalgic action it’s a solid choice, although a price drop would make it a more enticing package.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.