Painkiller: Hell & Damnation and DLC for PC Review

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The original Painkiller was released in 2004 and then got out of control with expansions and new editions. I’ve only played the Painkiller: Black Edition but never actually beat it. Like both Doom and Serious Sam that came before it, Painkiller is all about running, gunning, circle strafing, and killing a shit-ton of enemies. There’s no keys, mazes, puzzles, or tactical thinking required. You just need to understand your arsenal, know what weapons to use and when. I would say the gameplay in Painkiller resembles Serious Sam more than it does Doom, but the aesthetic and atmosphere are more Doom-like. However, Painkiller isn’t exactly a replica of either series. While Serious Sam is more about getting swarmed by entire legions of enemies and learning how to deal with them all at once, it doesn’t get quite that intense in Painkiller. Painkiller is more about getting overwhelmed, for lack of a better word. Many levels in Serious Sam have you going from one massive open area to another while Painkiller is similar with smaller, more confined areas. Developed by The Farm 51 and published by Nordic Games, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation was released for PC in October, 2012. Hell & Damnation is interesting because it’s both a remake and a sequel to the original Painkiller. How exactly that’s supposed to work, I’m not sure, but in a game like this, it doesn’t matter. I did beat Hell & Damnation a while ago, I believe before any DLC dropped, and thought it was pretty good, although rather short, with my time clocking in at about four hours. Now with all of the DLC, I thought it was a good time to jump back in and play it again. Every now and then I yearn for a more simple shooter. I love these types of shooters in general and they’re great for when you come home from a hard day, want to kick back with a Pepsi, and just keep your finger firmly pressed on the left mouse button, as you stare at the screen and watch destruction unleash.

The story in Hell & Damnation is forgettable, unremarkable, and accompanied by awful voice acting across the board. I vaguely remember the story in the original Painkiller but I remember it being a bit more interesting. Just like in Doom and Serious Sam, the story is more of a backdrop for the gameplay and, no, you don’t really need to have prior knowledge of the original game’s story to enjoy this. Unless you’re a hardcore Painkiller fan, maybe, but you’re not missing much. In fact, I’ll give you the overview. You play as Daniel Garner. In the original game the story goes that he and his wife died in a tragic car accident. His wife made it to Heaven and Daniel became trapped in Purgatory, between Heaven and Hell. He made a deal with an angel to receive purification. He needed to kill four of Lucifer’s generals to prevent a war between Heaven and Hell. Along the way he met Eve, another soul trapped in Purgatory. The story in Hell & Damnation takes place after the events of the first game and its expansions. Daniel was denied seeing his wife and has lost all hope. Suddenly, Death, himself, appears and offers Daniel a new deal. He can reunite with his wife in exchange for seven thousand souls. Eve also appears during the story to warn Daniel that Death cannot be trusted and in all honesty, her presence doesn’t seem necessary. But if you play co-operatively with a friend, the second player will play as Eve. The story has kind of a “been there, done that” vibe and the voice acting is so bad that the game probably would have been better off without a storyline. There’s no emotion in any of the performances and all of the voice work sounds phoned in. I wouldn’t even say it’s campy. It’s just bad. Laughably bad. The main campaign is made up of four chapters consisting of fourteen levels total, including one bonus level. And of course there’s all the extra levels. There’s absolutely no emphasis on story in the DLC levels. No cut scenes, no voice acting, just pure carnage. The second DLC chapter decided to mix things up with overhead levels rather than stick with the first-person perspective. The change in perspective did kind of throw me off at first and it felt like I was playing Gauntlet.

Painkiller: Hell & Damnation retains the same core gameplay as the previous game. You run around and shoot enemies with a wide array of powerful weapons. There’s no crouching and you bunny hop to move faster. I’d prefer a sprint button over bunny hopping but it is what it is. There’s four difficulty modes – Daydream, Insomnia, Nightmare, and Trauma. Trauma can only be unlocked by beating the campaign on Nightmare. You go from area to area killing hordes of demons. Once you’ve cleared an area of enemies, you proceed to the red marker, which acts as a checkpoint, and must clear the next area, rinse and repeat, until you reach the end of the level and run through the exit portal. The final level in each chapter normally requires you to defeat a massive boss. At the top of your HUD is a compass with an arrow to point you in the right direction but many times it feels useless like when the arrow disappears when you’re too far from enemies and have no idea where they are. Or in one area where it doesn’t point you where you need to go for some reason. The bodies of fallen enemies will eventually disappear leaving behind green orbs, or souls, that grant you health when collected. After collecting sixty six souls you automatically enter Demon Mode for a limited time. Enemies are highlighted in red, you can kill most of them in one shot, and you’re invincible. Unfortunately, you have no control over Demon Mode which is one of the game’s biggest issues. It’s a problem because many times I found myself entering Demon Mode at the end of an onslaught when there’s not many enemies left, making it a waste. I would often try to avoid collecting that final green orb until the start of the next area. Also, there’s no compass in Demon Mode so you won’t know where the next area is until you return back to normal or have memorized the levels. It would be better if you could just activate Demon Mode manually after collecting the sixty six souls. The fact that you can’t seems like a very bad design choice. Now you can find other colored orbs that grant you more health and you can also acquire armor and ammo scattered throughout the environments. You’re also equipped with a flashlight to help you see in dark areas and breaking objects usually rewards you with gold. Although, it’s not always clear what objects can be destroyed. You need to be careful when shooting barrels because they will explode and if you’re too close, you’ll die. It’s best to lure enemies near barrels before blowing them up.

One of the more unique aspects of Painkiller and this entry is the Tarot cards. There’s two types of Tarot cards, Silver and Gold, and these grant you perks. You can equip three Silver cards and three Gold cards before starting each level. However, I really should say you can only equip two Silver cards because, for some reason, you cannot remove the one already equipped called Blade Kicker. It grants the Soul Catcher weapon double the damage. I don’t know why you can’t remove it but it’s really annoying and odd that you can’t. Silver cards are passive meaning they’re always active during gameplay and Gold cards need to be activated manually. Another thing I don’t like is that you have no control over activating the Gold cards. You either activate them all at once or none at all. Some cards require a certain amount of gold to be equipped and unless you equip a card that dictates otherwise, you can only activate the Gold cards once per level. The silver cards grant perks like regenerating health and armor, increased maximum health, increased the amount of ammo acquired upon pickup, and other stuff like that. The gold cards grant perks like increased damage for specific weapons, faster reload speed, and even slowing down time, among others. These perks are actually very helpful when you’re caught in a tight spot and you’ll want to be sure to activate them at the right time because if you don’t, you could find yourself in a frustrating situation later on that feels impossible to get out of. There’s a ton of Tarot cards to unlock and one or more cards can be unlocked in each level. You must meet specific requirements like destroying all objects, finish the level within a specific amount of time, collect a specific amount of souls, things like that. Some of these requirements are a bit ridiculous and even tedious, which I believe was the case in the original game as well. Considering how long some of the levels can be, I think putting Tarot cards in the levels as hidden items would have been a much better idea. Regardless, Tarot cards are good incentive to replay if you enjoy these types of shooters and experimenting with different card combinations can be fun.

The arsenal in Painkiller has always been unique and yet also standard for a first-person shooter. What do I mean when I say “standard”? Well I mean you’ve got your standard first-person shooter weaponry. You’ve got your shotgun, submachine gun, chaingun, and even a rocket launcher among other types. Every weapon has an alternate fire mode and many weapons allow you to combine both fire modes for a more devastating attack. Several DLC levels contain a power-up that enables you to dual wield most weapons for a limited time. The Painkiller is the standard melee weapon that can shred enemies to pieces with its spinning blades. You can fire the tip at enemies and retract it back on command and you can also fire the spinning blade like a projectile which will also return back to you. The shotgun doubles as a freeze weapon and is probably the most useful weapon in the game. It won’t freeze some of the larger demons but any frozen enemy can be shattered and killed in one shot. The Stakegun fires wooden stakes and also doubles as a grenade launcher. This weapon is one of the most satisfying because the stakes can impale enemies and stick them to surfaces which is pretty cool to see. The Boltgun can also impale enemies but it fires multiple bolts at once, you can zoom in, essentially making it a sniper rifle, and it can also fire a bunch of small grenades that do massive damage, great for clearing out multiple enemies at once. I guess you could say the Electrodriver is like an assault rifle. It fires shurikens and can also be used to electrocute enemies. The SMG fires bullets in short bursts and also doubles as a flamethrower. The rocket launcher doubles as a chaingun, making it a very useful weapon, especially late in the game. New to Hell & Damnation is the Soul Catcher. This thing fires blades that will shred enemies to pieces and its alternate fire is a beam that sucks the souls from its victims. Combine the two attacks and it will force enemies to fight for you. The DLC adds two new weapons that seem to be specific to certain chapters. The Cannon fires cannon balls that can easily kill most enemies in one shot but it can also fire a freeze ball that will freeze any enemies caught in the blast radius. Then there’s the melee weapon called the Morgenstern. It looks like a badass mace that can be used to bash enemies to death. Its alternate attack consists of you swinging it rapidly, charging it up, and when it’s fully charged you can fire the tip that will stick to enemies and surfaces before exploding. All of the weapons do serve a purpose and knowing when to use them is the key to survival. Luckily, they feel very satisfying to use and watching enemies explode into gibs, with blood and body parts flying every which way, never gets old.

The main campaign consists of several levels from the previous game and even a new demonic carnival level. You can replay any already completed level and you must unlock later levels by completing previous ones. Most levels consist of one or more hidden areas and finding them can be a challenge. They’re well hidden and these secret areas are also where you’re more likely to find Holy Items which just grant you bonus gold. Most of the levels are large with big open areas and plenty of obstacles to use as cover. Some environments consist of unique elements like jump pads to reach higher platforms, a roller coaster, and even hazards like crushers and spikes. Some of the DLC levels contain stationary weapons scattered throughout the environments like massive cannons and turrets that can be fired by pressing or shooting a button. The main campaign levels are pretty straightforward but the DLC ones are sometimes more involved and intricate. I did find myself getting lost a few times mainly because the compass arrow didn’t point to any remaining enemies because they were too far away. However the final chapter of the DLC contains one of the coolest levels in the entire game, Stalingrad. The city is in rubble with tanks to contend with, undead skeleton soldiers, and even planes flying overhead. It feels like some of kind of crazy demonic warzone and it’s awesome. Several levels are not part of any chapter and can be selected from the level select menu including the three holiday levels for Christmas, Halloween, and Easter. I love Holiday themed levels and with Christmas being my favorite holiday, I jumped into that one first. It’s basically a reskin of a main campaign level with snow falling, enemies that look like elves and angels, weird reindeer-looking creatures, and you’re required to destroy all the massive boxes and kill the enemies inside, which is not immediately apparent, making it easy to get confused if you’re used to the game’s normal straightforward nature. The level finally concludes with a battle against a demonic Santa. The other two holiday levels follow this trend as well. The Halloween level is also a reskinned campaign level requiring you to destroy pumpkins to collect candy before ending with a fight against a larger enemy reskinned as a scarecrow. The Easter level kind of blows. You’re on a set of islands covered in fog and it’s just bland to look at. You need to destroy the chests to collect the eggs and you get to shoot demonic rabbits among other enemies. Naturally, the boss is a demonic Easter bunny or basically just a larger version of the rabbits. While the main campaign feels really short and can easily be beaten in about four hours, if you have all the DLC, you’ll get plenty more content. I think it took me longer to beat all of the DLC levels and after beating them it’s kind of sad to realize that the base game is really lacking in content and just feels like a super condensed version of the original game. The DLC is well worth it but I do question why they couldn’t wait to put some or all of the DLC in the base game. It would have been a much more appealing package at launch. The top down levels added in the DLC are also my least favorite. The novelty of the new perspective wears off after the first level and it’s just not as fun as playing in first-person. For some reason the developers decided to add puzzle elements to these levels which are not in line with the rest of the game since there’s really no thinking required in Painkiller. Also, this top down chapter consists of five levels, making it the longest chapter in the entire game. It just drags on, it doesn’t feel like Painkiller, and if I wanted to play a game like this, I would just play Gauntlet.

In addition to the campaign and DLC levels is the Survival mode. Survival consists of quite a few maps to play through, each with their own difficulty and requirements for success. There is no traditional survival, like seeing how long you can survive before dying, which kind of sucks actually. But nonetheless, what is here is still fun. The maps are based on the campaign levels and depending on the map, you must meet specific requirements or fail. And, obviously, if you die or use up all of your lives, you fail. You’re also timed in every map. Some maps require you to survive for a certain amount of time, sometimes with limited ammo and lives. Other maps require you to work your way to the boss and then defeat it. Now I only played through solo survival and some of these feel borderline impossible. I’m sure many players out there have completed these but it does feel like this mode was designed with co-op in mind. Some of these maps have you in small areas, getting swarmed by some of the tougher enemies, and it turns into a matter of trial and error when playing solo. If you’re limited on ammo, many maps can feel tedious and even unfair at times. Still, with all of the campaign levels, difficulties, and the Survival mode, there’s plenty of replay value here.

Now Hell & Damnation consists of all different kinds of demonic enemies. You’ll be shooting skeletons, enemies with shields, undead soldiers with rifles, demonic children, demonic clowns, and all types of other over-the-top evil creatures. Each campaign chapter ends with a unique end boss and it’s not always clear what you need to do to defeat them. The bosses also look more threatening than they actually are. Once you figure out how to defeat them, it’s not hard to take them down. Some levels consist of large enemies with a health gauge so I guess these guys act as sub-bosses. The DLC levels introduce new enemies and bosses, including a UFO. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense but because the story is basically shit and even nonexistent in the DLC, it feels like the developers did whatever the hell they wanted with the levels and enemies. It’s not really a bad thing because the gameplay is quite fun and I welcome any excuse to shoot shit. The AI isn’t too bright since enemies basically just charge at you or stand in one spot and fire projectiles. Many of the later DLC levels consist of a lot of projectile-based enemies. In fact, sometimes there’s a bit too many. In the fourth DLC chapter, you’ll primarily be killing zombie-like enemies because everyone in this day and age seems to think zombies are the greatest enemy type ever. In reality, zombies kind of suck and these levels are just boring compared to the others. This chapter also contains these small flying creatures that hurl flaming projectiles and they’re just annoying to deal with. There’s several sequences in the game where you need to fight this large fat enemy. Most of the time you just keep shooting him until he dies but during one sequence, after about a minute of constantly shooting him, I questioned why he’s wasn’t dying and realized I was just wasting ammo. Apparently you need to kill all of the other enemies in the area first. However, there’s no way to know that and the first time I encountered this, he was all alone in a room. I had no idea you had to move to the next room and deal with the enemies in there first. There’s no explanation for this and it doesn’t really make sense.

I think Hell & Damnation looked pretty good for 2012. Not amazing by any means, but good, and it obviously looks better than the original. The lighting is solid and I would often turn off the flashlight to watch the gunfire illuminate dark areas. In several levels you can see the chapter’s boss towering overhead in the background which is pretty cool. Destroyed objects will explode into debris that flies through the air as you quickly navigate around an area, rapidly firing at enemies, and it can be quite the spectacle. Blood will splatter, body parts will fly, and some enemies will scream in agony before dying. It’s satisfying stuff. The gun models look good, the texture work is well done, and overall, this is a decent looking game. However, this is also a very buggy game. Thankfully, it’s not broken. Enemies will get stuck in the environment, usually on objects, but sometimes an enemy will just get stuck out in the open. There’s also some weird shadowing going on with black shadows coming from objects on the other side of walls. I don’t know if that’s really a bug but it looks weird. I noticed some clipping here and there and the ragdoll animations can sometimes freak out. Now the audio work is one of the highlights of the game. Guns sound powerful, enemies growl, roar, and moan, and the music is metal as fuck. Each level consist of a metal tune, usually with excellent memorable riffs. The music sounds very much like speed or thrash metal but sadly, there’s no Slayer. Hell & Damnation contains a fantastic soundtrack and I would highly recommend turning the music volume all the way up. On the technical side the game ran smooth most of the time but I did notice the frame rate dip a few times, more so in the final DLC campaign levels. Usually when there was a lot of enemies, gibs, and explosions on the screen. Also, the split-screen co-op has some noticeable stuttering and frame rate dips that were annoying enough to make us lower all graphical options down a notch. I should also mention that Hell & Damnation has some terrible or just lazy controller implementation. I really hope the console versions aren’t like this. With a controller, aiming speeds vary depending on the direction and if you must aim diagonally, it’ll move at what feels like a snail’s pace. I think we were able to increase the speed by adjusting the mouse speed but that’s terrible and there’s no real controller options.

When I first played Painkiller: Hell & Damnation several years back I was disappointed that it was so short. At that time I would have just recommended the Painkiller: Black Edition, maybe even the Painkiller Collection, since it contains the original game and all of the expansions. But now that I’ve revisited Hell & Damnation with all of the DLC, I found it extremely enjoyable and fun. I would recommend you get all of the DLC along with the base game. The base game feels like a very condensed version of the original but the DLC adds enough content and then some, making it feel like a complete package. I think over the years, Painkiller has attracted more of a cult following than a massive fan base. I’m not sure why because I would lump this series with games like Doom and Serious Sam. It’s easily the weakest of the three but it does offer fun and fast gameplay that fans of these types of shooters would enjoy. There’s also plenty of replay value here. The story blows, the game is a bit buggy, and some design choices are questionable but in the end I found myself getting hooked, not realizing how much time had passed during each session. So I can’t really say I didn’t enjoy it but I do think several elements need work. There is online multiplayer which I didn’t try, co-op, and even Steam Workshop support which is always great. Although, it’s sad to see a lack of workshop content. Hell & Damnation is advertised as a reboot and a sequel but in all honesty you don’t need any prior knowledge of the previous game. You can obtain the Painkiller: Black Edition on Steam for cheaper but both are viable options if you’re looking to get into the series.

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