Painkiller: Resurrection Review

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I’ve been looking forward to playing through the Painkiller expansions for three reasons. One; I’ve never played them before. Two; I like the idea of more Painkiller. And three; I’m curious to see if they’re as bad as some people say. The original game is held in pretty high regard as far as I can tell and the Battle Out of Hell expansion is great and is even included with the original game in the Painkiller: Black Edition. These were followed up by several stand-alone expansions and the first is Painkiller: Overdose. A good overall Painkiller experience with some new and reskinned weapons, new enemies, and new levels. I find the Painkiller formula to be simple enough that fucking it up intrigues me. Well the next expansion does just that. Painkiller: Resurrection fucks it up.

Developed by HomeGrown Games and published by DreamCatcher Interactive, Painkiller: Resurrection was released for PC in October, 2009. I did install the Widescreen HUD Fix which corrects the stretched HUD present when running the game in a widescreen resolution and after I beat the campaign (which isn’t very long by the way), I installed the MEGAfix mod or unofficial patch and played through it again. The mod aims to fix many of the expansion’s issues and even scales down the difficulty which I found to be unnecessary.

As expected, the plot is yet another simple setup for the gameplay. It follows William “Bill” Sherman, an assassin who is killed by his own C4 payload which was intended for gangsters. The explosion also kills a bus full of innocent people. Stuck in purgatory, he’s given the chance to make things right by eliminating evil. This is another entry with multiple endings and the one you see will depend on the difficulty. The cut scenes are presented in a comic-book style and its tone is more in line with the original game than Overdose and is one of the few things I actually like about this expansion.

I like to think I’m a positive person and I actually do try to find the positives in whatever I play. Resurrection was really fighting me but, ultimately, it does have some good qualities. It retains the core mechanics the series is known for. Run, jump, aim and shoot complete with morphing into a demon and the return of Black Tarot Cards which offer bonuses. When the action gets going and the game isn’t bugging out or crashing, the gameplay can be fun. I also like the concept of more open-ended levels and the new weapon, Mr. Molotov. It can shoot stakes and launch fuel canisters, similar to the combo attack of the SMG/Flamethrower in Battle Out of Hell. The canisters can be blown up and the explosion will typically kill numerous nearby enemies making it a very satisfying, deadly, and useful weapon.

Painkiller: Resurrection has general design issues and is noticeably unpolished. This is an extremely buggy expansion and not even the MEGAfix resolves all the problems. Any time the game has to load is a gamble. I can’t tell you how many times I started a level only to fall to my death upon spawning in. I also can’t tell you how many times the game crashed at the loading screen. It would also randomly crash during gameplay.

Resurrection consists of only six levels and several of them are huge and can take up to an hour to complete if you really take your time and explore. Despite that, it still shouldn’t take you very long to get through the campaign. In fact, the fifth level, Hangar, can be completed in under five minutes and that’s actually the requirement for unlocking the level’s Tarot Card. Just like the previous installments, each level comes with a Black Tarot Card that can be unlocked by meeting certain requirements, although I can’t say I ever felt the need to use them. Granted, I did not play on the hardest difficulty, Trauma, but even so, I don’t think the challenge comes close to any of its predecessors on the Insomnia difficulty which I equate to normal. That’s not to say there are no challenging parts but in my experience, most challenges can be easily overcome through trial and error.

I think the two biggest problems are the level design and enemy spawn points. Resurrection features more open-ended levels than any of those in the previous games. Several levels are designed to appear a little more natural than anything we’ve seen before. Instead of progressing through a bunch of boxed rooms and areas and rectangular hallways, levels here feature a lot of open space with objects, buildings, structures, and different elevations of terrain. The levels showcase a kind of post-apocalyptic look and feel and the open-ended nature of the environments is somewhat refreshing. It just doesn’t mesh well with the gameplay.

The more open environments affects the pacing. Part of Painkiller’s charm is how much fun it is to run, jump, aim and shoot. That along with the mobs of foes and somewhat simple level design can make for a very fast-paced experience and running and jumping are a big part of that. However, in Resurrection, the environmental design can often hinder your progress and slow things down. Climbing up steep inclines is often slow and tedious, I would sometimes get stuck on things, and enemies frequently get stuck and have trouble navigating around everything.

You have to be mindful of your surroundings so you don’t fall off cliffs or ledges or into water to your death which can be easy to do if you’re running and jumping in the heat of battle. Plus, death means the game has to load a previous save which can result in a crash. Furthermore, it’s not always clear where you need to go. The arrow on your HUD will still point to the next checkpoint but there’s nothing stopping you from wandering off in a different direction where there’s more places to explore, secrets to find, items to collect, and possibly more enemies. The game doesn’t really do a good job at keeping you on course. It’s obvious you’re encouraged to explore but I sometimes found myself running around in circles and with no enemies to shoot because I just wasn’t sure where to go.

Painkiller’s enemies are stupid. Always have been. They’re clearly not programmed to do anything super intelligent. They just attack, rush you, and some unleash projectiles. That’s their whole thing. Very basic behavior. But this is okay in the previous entries because the challenge comes from overcoming the odds and they, along with the player, typically had plenty of space to maneuver. Resurrection gives you plenty of space but the enemies don’t know how to navigate around it properly. There’s a lot of obstacles and I often found them stuck behind things. Not only are the enemies stupid in general and not properly updated to navigate around the new open environments, but the spawn points seem to be haphazardly placed about. You’ll frequently see enemies spawn on top of each other and sometimes in spots they can’t get out of.

I really tried to enjoy Resurrection because I feel like the developers had good intentions and some neat ideas but the vanilla experience is just a mess. I initially had no intention of revisiting the levels after I beat the campaign but after I discovered the MEGAfix, I really wanted to try it. I wanted to know what the game would be like if it was fixed. Sadly, despite the title, it doesn’t fix everything. The fact that I was still encountering the same types of crashes repeatedly was very disappointing. What the mod does do is attempt to fix the expansion’s general design issues, and that includes enemy spawn points. It also replaces some enemies, features Xbox-style weapons, new visual effects, and scales down the difficulty which, to me, is the most odd change. Additional weapon pickups and a lot more ammo pickups were placed around the levels. Plus, some of the enemies were replaced with ones that are a little easier to eliminate.

The best thing about MEGAfix is the changes to the levels. For one thing, it features a closed map system so the action is more contained and the gameplay feels more like it did in the previous installments. The levels include more checkpoints so it’s easier to progress and areas now feature barriers so you don’t wander too far off during battles. MEGAfix also includes some teleports to make it easier to get from one location to another, specifically in the first level. There’s a section you need to climb and it’s unnecessarily tedious and the teleports let you bypass this entire section.

I do want to mention that I have read some comments that indicate the MEGAfix comes with issues including things that can make meeting certain requirements to unlock Tarot Cards impossible but I did not confirm if that’s true. Honestly, I stopped caring about the Tarot Cards by the time I got to the third level during my vanilla playthrough. Since I didn’t find the gameplay all that difficult and because the game is a buggy mess, I didn’t feel the Tarot Cards were worth it and I really didn’t want to have to reload saves or revisit levels and contend with more crashes and bugs, along with the expansion’s other problems, just to unlock them all. Again, they may prove to be more useful on the Trauma difficulty.

Resurrection showcases some really detailed environments which is cool but pop-in is very noticeable and does become an eyesore. The MEGAfix changes some textures and adds some new visual effects which adds a little more to the atmosphere. Although, I did witness some hideous effects with the mod installed which may or may not have been a bug. The mod also fixes some clipping issues and tries to tone down the pop-in although it is still noticeable in some areas. As for the soundtrack, Resurrection features some rocking songs and I liked some of the tunes heard in the levels Gloomy Mountains and The Haunted City. MEGAfix brings in some heavier metal riffs, similar to what you would hear in the original Painkiller. I did encounter some frame rate dips and stutters here and there and it was worse with the MEGAfix installed, specifically in The Haunted City.

Painkiller: Resurrection is as bad as they say. I was more upset with the bugs and crashes than I was with the design issues. Seeing ragdolls get stuck in mid-air, enemies stuck together, body parts glitching, clipping issues, spawning issues, and all the crashing is really what destroys this. But even if that was all fixed, Resurrection would still be problematic because the new open-ended nature doesn’t really work with the classic formula. Unless you know where to go, the pacing is inconsistent and some areas are just tedious to navigate. This kind of gameplay works best when the action is contained. Maybe if effort was put in to improve the enemy AI would it make for a better experience but as it stands, it just doesn’t work. I do think the MEGAfix is the way to go. It doesn’t fix everything but it does fix some major problems and as a result, I found it to be more enjoyable, overall.

I would not recommend Painkiller: Resurrection. Maybe if you can get it on sale and apply the MEGAfix would I recommend checking it out. But even then, you would be better off playing the previous installments. Ultimately, Painkiller: Resurrection is broken and poorly designed. It clearly needed more testing and polish. Somewhere under the pile of issues is a hint of some good ideas but in the end, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

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