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People Can Fly



M (Mature)



April 2004



- Rich, detailed architecture and levels

- Intense action

- Some optional gameplay elements

- Wide variety of different enemies

- Multiplayer modes bring something new



- Can feel repetitious after long play sessions

- Be sure to download the patch!



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Score: 8.5 / 10


It never bodes well for a game when you pull it out of the box, install it, then it refuses to start.  Instead, it supplies an error message.  This is the computer version of being on strike.  I offered concessions Ė higher wages, promises to use the calculator function more often, more down time, etc. Ė but it refused to run Painkiller.  So I grabbed the patch from the official site, the computer equivalent to a strikebreaker.  After that, Painkiller ran like a charm!


painkiller pc review          painkiller pc review


Maybe the most important aspect of any game is having it run properly right out of the box.  I can forgive the occasional crash to the desktop, but the file that starts the game should execute without problems.  It creates a bad first impression.  This initial stumble, as big as it is, is quickly overcome by the sheer Doom-esque, first-person, in your face, blast-o-thon that is Painkiller.


Somewhere between Heaven and Hell, you assume the role of Daniel Garner who, along with his girlfriend, was killed in a car accident 30-years previously.  Why heís in Limbo or Purgatory is a bit of mystery to him because he canít think of anything in his past that would have left him waiting for his soul to be purified so he can go to Heaven and join his girlfriend.  But heís given an offer he canít refuse: stop Luciferís four generals and heís in.  Apparently, Hell is amassing an army and it falls to him to stop the onslaught.




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In long stretches, Painkiller can become repetitive. (By long stretches, I mean two or more hours.)  Itís a shooter in the vein of Serious Sam or Doom: waves of enemies continuously attack and you have to deal them death.  What sets Painkiller apart is the stellar and sometimes gorgeous architecture, a tight selection of weapons, and a great assortment of enemies.



Be wary of the minimum requirements.  They are comparatively high, but if you can meet or exceed the recommended specs, Painkiller is one gorgeous game to watch particularly when you challenge the mammoth boss characters.  The architecture and level design is gorgeous from broken-down cemeteries to a cavernous opera house.  Heightening these aspects is the play of light and shadow.  The environments arenít particularly interactive (breaking urns and boxes to acquire gold coins, knocking down the occasional stone pillar, etc.), but bullet holes remain and blood splashes across every surface.


Painkiller avoids throwing cookie-cutter enemies at you.  Thereís a roster of 25+ different enemies to tackle (not including boss characters), which makes every encounter different and forces you to adopt different tactics.  Some enemies stand at a distance and shoot, while others leap around with an almost random nature then suddenly land at your feet for a couple of quick swipes.  In order to advance from one closed area to the next, you must wipe out every demon Ė failure to do so means you canít progress. (Thankfully, Painkiller includes a compass that directs you to any enemies you may have missed.)  Most of the enemies are small fry compared to the bosses.  Luciferís generals are huge, hulking monstrosities Ė like walking buildings that want to kill you.  (If someone wants to create a mod, please make one for the Stay-Puffed marshmallow man!)


To handle these demons, you have access to a mere five weapons: the Painkiller (a spinning bunch of blades), shotgun, stakegun, rocket launcher, and electrodriver.  Each has an alternate fire that can be put to use, but separate ammo must be collected for both primary and alternate firing (except the Painkiller).  In all practicality this means there are 10 weapons since the alternate fire for each is so different from the primary fire.  For example, the stakegun primarily fires stakes (that can pin enemies to walls) but punch the secondary fire and itís like you have a grenade launcher.  Itís a mix that works.


Using the weapons can be a joy (of some kind) thanks to the use of the Havoc 2.0 physics engine, which basically means enemies fly through the air, tumble down stairs, explode, hit walls, etc. in a realistic manner (more or less). As fun as it is to watch the effects of a well-placed rocket, youíll hanker for the ultimate weapon.


When you collect enough souls (from the fallen enemies) you become a demon for a short time.  This shift in perception basically means you can run rampant inflicting massive damage on anything you can lay your eyes on.


painkiller pc review          painkiller pc review


One completely optional feature is the use of Black Tarot cards.  In each level (depending on the difficultly level youíre playing) there are Tarot cards to find.  The effects of these Tarot cards are only felt if you apply them between stages.  There are two types of card: gold and silver.  The gold cards can only be used once during a level, but the effects of the silver cards remain active throughout the level.  At the expense of the gold coins you collect during a level, the cards can be placed in active slots (two for silver, three for gold).  As mentioned previously, itís a completely optional feature Ė you never have to use a card to finish the game but making use of the cards can make some parts of the game a lot easier.


As intense as Painkillerís single-player game is, the multiplayer just might equal it.  Besides the more traditional Free-for-All and Team Deathmatch modes, Painkiller throws in three more: People Can Fly, Voosh, and the Light Bearer.  People Can Fly (coincidentally the name of the developer) is only played on two maps and limits each player to the rocket launcher/chaingun.  The real challenge is that you canít frag anyone unless theyíre in the air.  This really is the most challenging multiplayer mode, but itís truly satisfying to pick off opponents as they fly through the air.  Voosh gives everyone the same weapon and at intervals the weapon randomly changes for everyone, so you donít get one player monopolizing the rocket launcher.  Then final mode is Light Bearer, which is kind of a blood-soaked version of one of Mario Kart: Double Dashís (for GameCube) multiplayer games.  One Rage powerup (basically quad damage) exists and the winner is whoever has the powerup as time expires (or hits the frag limit).  The multiplayer side also has some interesting server options, one of which is the power to limit bunnyhopping or, as itís more commonly known, strafe-jumping.


After Painkillerís initial stumble, the game as a whole really impressed me with its visuals, great action, optional gameplay elements, and solid multiplayer.  First-person shooter fans should be all over this.


- Omni

(April 25, 2004)


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