Painkiller: Overdose – PC (2007)
So, something weird happened. People Can Fly wouldn’t continue with Painkiller, working on another game called Come Midnight with THQ that was sadly canned, leading to Epic buying them up in 2007. You may have also noticed there are four Painkiller games listed above. You can blame this very serious crime on DreamCatcher Interactive, the IP owner and series publisher. They’ve done some good work, including creating The Adventure Company and helping games like Syberia and Still Life get more reach, but they are also responsible for allowing mod groups to make official Painkiller games they actually sold, which did not go well.
The fact that Overdose is probably the best of the bunch is already not the best note to start on. The idea of playing as a half-demon, half-angel badass named Belial getting some much wanted revenge on demons and one particular jerk of an angel named Samael (who’s villainous turn here fits better in continuity then you’d first think) is a good one, as is giving him a modified and unique load out to differentiate him from Daniel. It has a good intro, even with pretty amateur voice acting, and some good ideas in here, including a really cool looking level in space. Conceptually, this is a solid way to do a sort of expansion sequel, smaller in scale but with both the style of the original and flourishes of its own. It’s the execution where the problems crop up.
The developers understood the broad strokes of Painkiller‘s design, but struggled with the finer details. Several new enemy types lack damage feedback animations, like the living fire creatures in the first level, and a lot of Belial’s weapons use far more ammo with little to show for it in most cases. The mobs also feel more like Serious Sam mobs then Painkiller mobs, and you probably already saw the core problem with having larger mobs when you have guns that use too much ammo. The fact the game is so stingy with health is the real problem at its core, though, getting to the end of the level eventually becoming a frustrating chore as you limp onto the next half-hazard horde. There’s still plenty of fun here, but you need to be tolerant of the lack of resources. Definitely one to stick on normal.
Painkiller: Overdose Screens (More in side gallery)
Painkiller: Resurrection – PC (2009)
Resurrection is much worse, though also more charming. It’s sort of a different take on Daniel’s story, this time focusing on an assassin named Bill Sherman (who looks exactly like Daniel for some reason) fighting for a second chance after accidentally killing a bus of innocent people during a botched hit. It has almost cute little Max Payne comic cutscenes with full voice acting, a nice way to get around an FMV budget and still keep a memorable story telling tool. There’s even dialog in levels, giving bits of definition to Bill and his guide.
Problem is that the levels are very bad and so is everything else. Levels are obnoxiously long, and the new enemies the team bring to the table are remarkably cheap in their textures and animation, looking completely out of place with leftovers from the original. They’ll just pop in seemingly at random, no effect to hide the load in, often just piling on top of each other before the AI activates. There’s a lot of reused level assists, or just simply modded levels, though that’s kind of nice in how they remix some of the style of the original into a more moody and grim take. It’s just, you know, you have to play the game. Painkiller with Serious Sam 3 length levels and dicey graphics does not a fun time make. The first level locking a card behind beating the level with only the painkiller, when the level is this insanely long and often empty, is a good way to make a player not want to play more of your game.
Painkiller: Resurrection Screens
Painkiller: Redemption – PC (2010)
Redemption is somehow even worse, and you might be noticing a pattern forming here. The budget has vanished as we go into slideshows for cutscenes, and continuity is borked with Bill randomly entering the story to give Daniel and Belial weapon blessings and then leaves, which makes absolutely no sense with his story, especially because the next game takes place right at the end of his story. Bringing Daniel back for this feels like a cruel joke, just let him be with his wife already!
As for the game, it’s multiplayer maps that funnel you into absurdly large mobs into Serious Sam endgame level numbers, in absolute slog levels that go on and on for an eternity. Also, the levels don’t give you much ammo, which is a problem anytime you are playing as Belial due to his weapons taking too much bloody ammo, and also the ridiculous number of monsters you have to kill. The monsters also have rigid set waves, even folding into each other just to make the chaos all the more overwhelming. It’s kind of fun at first, but the novelty wears off very quick, even before you reach the halfway point of level one. Worth noting that all these sequels except Overdose have very low level counts because the levels refuse to end until they’ve sucked away your will to live. Roughly the same playtime with about 70% less variety.
Painkiller: Redemption Screens
Painkiller: Recurring Evil – PC (2011)
Recurring Evil has a tiny bit more level design (also Bill is playable again, just without his edgier weapon skins), but it’s otherwise a repeat performance, complete with slide show cutscenes that also seem to make mistakes this time, like realizing they didn’t have art for the villain and just reused Belial art. There’s less ambition as the two teams (yes, two of them!) just lean back into the old enemy types more, but you can feel how tired and clumsy this effort is in just about every facet, down to the first level spawning a shotgun in a barrel, but you’re not allowed to pick it up until the current enemy wave is done. For some reason. It is absolute slapdash garbage, the bottom of the creative barrel, and has the gall to end with yet another sequel hook.
You may have also noticed there’s been a publisher change, and may I just say shout out to Mark! DreamCatcher got bought up around this time and became part of Nordic Games, who would eventually become THQ Nordic and then Embracer Group and own every middle market video game IP ever made, so, you know, fun to see a surprise guest here! They publish Spongebob games! Sure! Why not! This industry might actually be Hell itself and there is no escape! The fact they have Eidos now because Square-Enix’s president wanted to invest more in internet funny money and NFTs is just…tiring. Painkiller helped them get that far and that just hurts to realize.
Painkiller: Recurring Evil Screens
Stephen King once said his idea of Hell was repetition and he was definitely onto something. They tried four times, a number signifying death in Japan (how fitting), to make this structure of giving modders access to the main series work and it just never did. Mindware ended up going on to make the broken Painkiller-like called Dreamkiller that didn’t work and was quickly delisted (though Nightmare Reaper has suspiciously similar story ideas). Homegrown ended up releasing a few indie games, one a trash shooter selling itself as trash (with sequel coming), and the other a goofy FMV adventure game poking fun at exploration, or “walking sim,” games. Med-Art did level design for the mobile game and Eggtooth did nothing. Honestly amazed it was the Resurrection team that survived all this.
This is all terrible, and unfortunately, we are not done. There is one more Painkiller game, one that had some of the original creators back, with a studio made of former developers for the series. It could have been great, but a few confounding decisions and also the studio’s last project being a three quarters finished flop resulted in a fun but confusing release, with one genuinely blood boiling decision.