Much like the talented folk at Croteam who introduced us to a bargain priced FPS called Serious Sam a few years ago, People Can Fly's Painkiller once again proves that quality can come from the fringes of the game industry every once in awhile. While Painkiller won't be winning awards for plot or innovative gameplay, it manages to look beautifully violent (gamers will know what I'm talking about) and will hold the attention of any shooter fan who has ever wielded a rocket launcher in the face of danger. Please note that like Serious Sam, Painkiller is more Doom than Half Life meaning less thinking and more bang bang.

You'll play as Daniel Garner, an unfortunate soul (literally) who is killed in a car accident and misses the boat to heaven. Stuck in Purgatory, Daniel learns of the devilish plot to overthrow the city beyond the Pearly Gates and is thrust into the role of sole Netherworld protector. The literary among us will have many ethical and religious questions when confronted with this B movie backdrop such as "What is God doing that he's too busy to defend Heaven's honor?" and "Why are there guns in Purgatory?" Unfortunately the story unfolds via drawn cutscenes which won't satiate the inquisitive so it's best to just go with the flow and shoot everything that moves or as we say in the gaming world "Please remove brain before entering".

You'd be forgiven if you assumed Painkiller would take place in that world you imagined Purgatory would look like since hearing about in Sunday school - you know: the jagged rocks, bleak sky, vendor selling "I was decent most of my life but all I got when I died was a one way ticket to Purgatory...AND this lousy t-shirt". People Can Fly decided to take it up a notch and with a wave of their artistic license wand, turned Purgatory into a wild place peppered with insane asylums, abandoned factories, castles and populated it with evil bikers, evil ninjas, evil knights and monsters. Notice how I didn't say "evil monsters"? They AREN'T evil, you labellers! They're just misunderstood, like the folks on Jerry Springer. But you can kill 'em anyway.

As I mentioned at the outset, Painkiller is beautifully violent and I meant that strictly in terms of graphical prowess and animation. Most normal folk would be horrified at the level of realism in this game, what with the body parts showering all over the place. But gamers are the audience I'm talking to right now and they know that games have been getting progressively better (or worse depending on how you look at it) in terms of physics, impact points and giblet expulsion. Painkiller is the pinnacle of dismemberment and if Soldier of Fortune turned your crank, this one will bowl you over. Everything blows up real good in this one. Body parts fly, blood splatters, bodies stick to walls with stakes (stakegun anyone?) explosions hurl enemies and lots of extraneous stuff can be shot to smithereens.

Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, it may not be what Bush has been looking for but there are five weapons in total. Five doesn't seem like much in the scheme of things, but each weapon has a secondary fire which dishes out justice equally as menacing as it's primary effort. In truth, the game has ten weapons because the secondary fire is virtually another weapon entirey. In fact, learn the correct techniques for each primary and secondary weapon and you'll be able to combo them - in effect making a third very powerful attack which can act like an altogether different assault item.

I know I said Painkiller wasn't innovative but that's not exactly true. There are some cool ideas put into action albeit by some old game conventions that are somewhat out of place within the FPS genre. The most gameplay altering would be the coin collecting which allows Garner to purchase Tarot cards at the beginning of a new level. However cards can only be unlocked if certain gameplay objectives are met on a particular level which inflates the replay value quite a bit. Once you have a few Tarot cards unlocked, you can use the newfound powers in the next level and even combine them to create some very nice upgrades.

Online Deathmatches are fast and furious, reminding one of the heydays of Quake. While certain matches seem to be illsuited for the particular weapon choices, there is enough variety offered so you'll locate something suits your bloodthirsty palette. My personal favorite "People Can Fly" (named after the developer) places opponents in a circular environment where everyone is bouncing around. To score a hit you'll have to nail an aerial enemy. It's addictive and quite challenging.

Although you may never notice the quality of the soundtrack or the voices in a game of this nature, Painkiller's audio should not be ignored. The sheer level of background noise which encompasses yelling and shreiking is not only creepy but adds to edge of your seat feeling while playing the game. Other times the game gets surprisingly silent which amps up the ambience tenfold. Definitely one of those "It's quiet....too quiet...." moments.

Unfortunately Painkiller isn't without it's problems and for some it might mean reaching for those over the counter painkillers to deal with the headache of installation. Dreamcatcher has already released a patch that will allow the game to install - but not before pissing off angry consumers who were sitting at home with a brand new game they couldn't play. As of this writing it appears that the patch has eliminated most of the installation problems. There are other bugs and glitches in this first release as well which I have encountered. Some of which were of the obscenity spewing kind and others were minor annoyances. A patch will be forthcoming shortly I've been told by Dreamcatcher, but as PC gamers you probably already knew that.

With Far Cry the only immediate competition, gamers looking for a new FPS fix will have to choose whether they want something a little more cerebral (Far Cry) or a little more frenetic (Painkiller). Some will argue that Painkiller's almost non-stop frontal assaults reach the yawn-o-meter at a rapid pace, while others will just be looking forward to seeing what People Can Fly has in store for them on the next level. I have to admit, that's really what kept me playing. You'll need a fairly souped up machine and graphics card to get the most out of Painkiller but if you have yearned for the return of games like Serious Sam, Doom and the original Quake your next stop is Purgatory. Tell 'em I sent you. You'll get a good seat.

Painkiller Preview By Chris

Painkiller is all about blasting the ghoulish creatures back to where they came from. A game loaded with over the top action and 19 levels to explore. The levels range from those you would expect to some that will surprise you for example a nice peaceful waterfall. The game will be full of surprises and that's the whole point of the game. Also the game will feature plenty of creatures to destroy and great graphics. There is of course a story just do not expect an epic tale here. The game is meant for those who would rather destroy things than get an earful of an exciting story. Some people like to let their actions tell the story and worry about the details later. Painkiller will allow you to do exactly that.

The basic story is simple this first-person horror shooter takes Painkiller, a mercenary for hire, and puts him smack dab in the middle of his favorite environment - the home of the undead. Unlike other survival-horror titles, in Painkiller it's the monsters that should be afraid of you. Collecting souls of the undead for cash, players tear through levels buying upgraded firepower as they go. But even with the most advanced weapons, gamers will be hard-pressed to stop the terror. Ultimately, the player must become his prey, transforming into a demon to beat Painkiller's evil dead at their own game. Due out in early 2004 this one does look interesting take a look at the screen shots on this on.

Painkiller Preview By Staff

Painkiller is a first-person horror shooter, designed to satisfy a gamer's hunger for intense, fast-paced action. It’s an adrenaline addict’s nightmare, where hellish monsters swarm in seemingly endless mobs.

Graphically, Painkiller is unmatched. Played out over more than 20 completely unique and different levels, the proprietary 3D engine puts out 100X the polygons of the latest shooters, while adding increased texture quality and the latest lighting and shadowing techniques.

Stranded in a place between Heaven and Hell, your time of judgment is at hand. The Underworld is on the verge of unholy war, and you are but a pawn in the infernal battle. As you fight for your purification, the truths behind the deceptions are revealed.


  • Intense gameplay: The player will be constantly outnumbered, fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Next-generation graphics: The game uses the proprietary 3D “PAIN Engine” capable of pumping out 100X the polygons of some of the latest shooters, while adding increased texture quality and the latest lighting and shadowing techniques.
  • Lasting replay value: Painkiller features a standard single player campaign, with
    additional modes to encourage replay. The game also features full multiplayer support.
  • Combo weapons: All weapons come in pairs, with a primary and secondary fire.
  • Morphing: Your unholy pact gives you the power to morph into a powerful possessed creature with every 100 souls collected.
  • Monster AI: Advanced AI coding will simulate group behaviours. Monsters don't spawn onto the map, they patrol. They are constantly aware of the player, and will coordinate their attacks by retreating, regrouping and counterattacking.
  • Physics Engine: Painkiller employs the Havok 2.0 physics engine, allowing for inverse kinematics ("rag-doll physics") and deformable, interactive environments
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System: PC
Pub: Dreamcatcher
Release: Apr 2004
Players: Multi-Player
Review by Vaughn