Painkiller: Hell & Damnation

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation – PC, Mac OS X, Linux, PS3, X360 (2012)

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Painkiller

While the Painkiller mod team experiment was going, someone somewhere decided what we needed was a remake or remaster, but also a sequel, and also a reboot. They only had the funds for one game, apparently, and just sort of did all of them at once, because why not. Daniel (now played by Jon St. John doing his best Cam Clark) has gone through the first game, Battle Out of Hell, and maybe the mod made sequels (it is unclear), but everybody betrayed him and he’s fed up with this Hell. Enter Death, who says Daniel is a freak who managed to kill a ridiculous amount of demons, and he wants him out of the afterlife because of it. The deal is he has to collect a bunch of souls for Death, mostly old foes in Hell (hey, where else were they supposed to go?), and then he’ll be reunited with Catherine at long last. Kill everything that moves, wife back. Eve is also back, and her relationship with Daniel is strained for stuff she did in Battle Out of Hell, but she comes with a warning Death is not to be trusted. Not as if Daniel is trusting anyone these days.

The story of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (H&D, very clever) isn’t bad but it’s definitely half baked, especially with some later revelations that feel completely unnecessary. Also, yet another sequel hook, while ignoring the last sequel hook entirely, because nothing can be simple anymore. It’s really just an excuse for the gameplay, more so than the first one, so it’s good that the gameplay is classic Painkiller. Ultra fast bunny hops, loads of monsters to dance around and blowup into chunks, and the signature systems like cards and demon morphs. It’s when we get into the details that problems start to appear.

First off, this entry was done by The Farm 51, a studio of former Painkiller devs, so they know what they’re doing when it comes to preserving the feel of the series. However, their previous project was NecroVisioN, which was a bit of a mess, to put it lightly. It was best described as Painkiller in World War 1 based around a southern US oldboy hitting zombies and demons with shovels, and then you become vampire Jesus and get the infinity war crimes gauntlet, and also beat up and ride a dragon (the first part happening off screen). It was sort of not quite finished, the story being a scrambled mess, and seems to have done poorly initially, so money was probably tight, and the studio didn’t quite have what they needed to really do justice to the original. This is probably why there’s only thirteen levels.

Well, that’s not quite right. Four of those are just boss fights and there’s one bonus level so it’s actually TEN LEVELS.

The campaign re-orders what levels you have, and also bosses in a very confusing manner (Hell’s top general is the second boss before the goopy swamp slime???), giving some levels two bonus objectives to unlock cards, which at least gives you a good set faster. But now you’re probably asking yourself that ten levels can’t be all there is for a remaster of an entire game. That would be a bonkers thing to release and would leave fans rightfully disappointed (a feeling they’ve been very familiar with since 2007).

You’re right, that isn’t all. All the other levels…are DLC.

To this day.

This is not a joke.

Several levels were chopped up into DLC that range from four to ten bucks, still priced that way on Steam, along with various doo-dads and updates. This is pretty gross for a DLC scheme, especially for a game that is mainly a remake of the original, nickel and dimeing you to play the old game with better textures and lighting – the joke of this being that the game also makes some changes to these levels that are very questionable. Most objects no longer having physics (gasp!) is the least of our issues, and yes that does remove a good few classic secrets.

The campaign starts on a baffling note with Daniel not having the Painkiller (you have to grab it at the start of level two), but a new weapon called the Soulcatcher. It’s secondary fire are buzz saws that require ammo, and main fire that has no ammo is a very low damage lightning ray, with a mind control shot on long cooldown that can very easily miss its target and affects only one enemy. There are also now even tougher skeleton knights on this level, a repeat of the starter cemetery, which can absorb your attacks with their big shields. This, in turns, means you will be using more ammo because they also get partnered with very fast regular skeletons, requiring more shooting while the knight skeletons will absorb some of your shots. Very fun!

This really kicks off the game on a sour note, and while it does improve, there’s still a lot of oddness to it as you go. Some levels have enemy change outs, like losing the creepy puppet creatures that spawn awful bug monsters for really standard witch reskins in evil clown dolls and non-threatening little Pinocchios. Some changes are good, like toning down the hitscanners, but the end result is that this doesn’t feel like the tightly designed, definitive version the game should have been. Even the look feels off at points, sometimes the added detail being impressive, and sometimes barely adding anything to the art direction.

You’re left wondering why this game exists. The most generous answer is that the developer just didn’t have the time or resources to really make what they wanted to make, a reality of game design in general. The more cynical take is that the publisher forced a call in order to make more money, which might have worked if the fact that The Farm 51 still exists and still make games today. The truth is probably in the middle.

Daniel says in the (admittedly awesome) opening cutscene of this game that there’s no way out of here, there’s no such thing in Hell as the end of pain, and when you think it’s over, it just gets worse. I think these are words the rights owners of Painkiller should remember. This franchise is a disaster, a bloated mess of half baked ideas, a lack of vision, a shambling corpse that has long forgotten how it got stuck in this mess to begin with. It crawls along, wishing for death, and never finding it, no matter how much it suffers and mutates.

So, of course, they’re making another one. Hope it’s good.

But, to quote Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, sometimes…dead is better. This pain might be better off killed for good.

Series Navigation<< Painkiller (Expansion Sequels)

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