Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Review
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Box Art
System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Release: MONTH DAY, 2010
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p ESRB RATING
Return To Hell
by Angelo M. D’Argenio

Painkiller is a relic from years gone by, a holdover from the days when circle-strafing and mindless gore ruled the PC first-person shooter market. Fans still have fond memories of using their stakethrower to pin their enemies to the wall and messing with their dead bodies using the rest of their ludicrous arsenal.

However, we have moved away from the era of Doom-style shooters and have entered an age where it’s apparently far more gratifying to shoot a terrorist in the face than it is to destroy all of Hell with nothing but your own manliness and a shotgun. So the question is, does Painkiller hold up in the face of more modern shooter expectations? The answer is yes, as Painkiller: Black Edition has sold quite well on Steam. However, The Farm 51 and Nordic Games have decided to take Painkiller one step further by releasing Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, otherwise known as Painkiller HD. Get it?

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Screenshot

Yes, Hell & Damnation is yet another HD remake that leans heavily on its source material for sales. However, with the classic Black Edition easily acquirable through any digital distribution platform, is it really worth shelling out the extra bucks for the HD facelift?

The biggest upgrade to Painkiller HD is the game engine itself. Hell & Damnation runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which is a huge upgrade from the original PAIN Engine and Havok 2.0 physics. Unlike many other HD remakes, which smooth some textures and round out the edges of some polygons yet still look like they were made in an era of flat-faced robots of the uncanny valley, Painkiller HD really does upgrade its graphics for the modern day. It’s not the most graphically intense game out there (which is good, because that means older PCs can play it), but it’s certainly prettier than the original, and a huge step above every other HD remake on the market. So, if graphics are the only thing that matters to you, Painkiller HD is a must-buy.

The story is the same old Painkiller schlock that worked so well all those years ago. Daniel Garner (voiced by forever awesome voice of Duke Nukem, Jon St. John) and his wife have died in an unexpected car crash. Wifeypoo goes to Heaven, but Daniel is stuck in Purgatory and is given a penance before he can ascend into Heaven. That penance? To murder all of Hell! Man, Purgatory is a rough gig.

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Screenshot

The story has admittedly not held up over the years. While it’s told in a more cinematic style this time around, it’s still paper thin and feels like a cheesy 1980s horror/action hybrid movie. In fact, the story doesn’t really even matter in Painkiller HD’s levels, aside from giving you a thin framing for why you are shooting up the denizens of Hell. It likes to get out of the way and leave everything to gameplay, which is another issue the game has to wrestle with.

The best way to describe Painkiller HD’s gameplay is “fun but old.” It’s one of those old-timey twitch-based shooters that rewards circle-strafing, ammo management, and reflexes. Unfortunately, it feels as if these skills have been eroded by the aim-assist and cover-based shooting of newer releases like Call of Duty and Battlefield. It doesn’t help that Painkiller was a bit too difficult back when it first released, and that hasn’t changed. You’ll find yourself falling victim to any number of cheap deaths and nigh-unbeatable enemy hoards multiple times throughout the single-player campaign.

But, as I said before, the rampantly fast-fingered twitch shooter gameplay is still fun, and that’s partially due to the environment this all takes place in. Watching your enemies explode or ragdoll around the map after they are taken down is so much more satisfying in Unreal 3. Enemy bosses are so massive they give God of War’s monstrous foes a run for their money. Every press of the button causes another head to bloodily splat into a wall. It’s lowest-common-denominator, lizard-brain enjoyment.

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Screenshot

As much as Painkiller HD looks like a new game, not a whole lot has changed in terms of overall mechanics. Most of your favorite weapons have come back, including the stakethrower, the shotgun, and, of course, the electrodriver, which fires needles and lightning. A new weapon that shoots sawblades and sucks souls has been introduced, but there really isn’t a whole lot new in terms of armaments beyond that.

Stages are also mostly the same. A couple have been omitted, but most of the same locales have been given a facelift for the HD version.

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