When a retro title is retro itself, is it still fun?
The number one concern with any new Painkiller title is how far it strays from the legacy title – after becoming shorthand for overtly simplistic rehashing of a core principle, recent entries to the franchise have been, quite honestly, dire. Whilst it’s fair to say that the series as a whole was never much more than one solid idea cut into many basic pieces, the reason for the original titles success can be quite easily summated – it was a straight up, no holds barred shooter, evoking retro memories of big, badass creatures and meaty, gore-splattering weapons, where tactics were non-existent, and instead gamers could revel in the simple thrill of the kill. Well, in 2004, this worked wonders, as Painkiller quickly represented something that FPS titles of the time (and even today) failed to grasp – sometimes, you don’t care who you are, or your motives, you just want to carve up some bad guys with some mental weaponry. And Painkiller delivered in spades; with varied level styles, enemies supported by some killer weapons, Painkiller was wrapped in a nice, shiny, gory presentation layer which could nicely portray both ridiculously vast quantities of small foes and massive, sky-touching bosses with gay abandon. The varied art styles prevented the core mechanic becoming too boring – you played to see what weird ideas the designers had next, as opposed to the motives of your protagonist. And in that simple premise, an old style of gaming was reborn, and felt fresh – remember, this was the year of Call of Duty, Half Life 2, and Halo 2; good, top quality games, with deep storylines. Painkiller essentially flipped the bird to realism, and instead offered arcade styled, good old fashioned guns n gore. Apologies for the history lesson, but in the case of Hell and Damnation, it’s essential to understand why the original is so revered, as what this years instalment offers is basically a reboot. PK:H&D takes a “best-of” approach to the original title, and reworks a lot of key moments into the Unreal 3 engine, and therefore the key to success or failure is how well this new title fits today’s gaming landscape. Well, a lot has happened in gaming since, certainly in the FPS space – COD has rewritten the experience (for good or bad), multiplayer is king, and storylines are better blended into the campaign mode. And amidst all this, the truth is, PK:R&D doesn’t feel so much a retro title, as something simply outdated altogether. So, firstly, the positives – it looks very nice, and the classic idea of every level having a totally different feel holds up well. One minute you fight skeletons, the next possessed Nazis, and inbetween there’s some pretty epic boss fights. It looks nice too, with the updated engine looking pretty shiny, although a little behind the times. But hey, it’s more than good enough for the current retail price. There’s also a co-op mode, which works quite well, if feels a little disjointed – it’s hard to feel like it does much more than drop in another gun and simply up the bodycount, and in a title such as this, that doesn’t really add too much. There is also a very basic multiplayer suite – fun, but it won’t keep you away from your usual favourites for long. The weapons are good too, despite being plucked straight from previous games; the much-lauded lightning/ninja-star gun is back in the mix, the stake launcher is here too, and the only new addition is a buzzsaw/soul siphon combo, which is fun for a bit, but quickly dropped for something a little more meaty. The shame is, then, that all too quickly the problems become apparent – for a start, it’s laughably short, with the games 14 chapters beatable in about 4 hours. Also, the best-of feel is heavily arguable – most of the levels chosen seem to fail to tick the right boxes (why oh why was the swamp boss included?), and what was once a joyous, mindless blast is too apparent in it’s lack of intelligence this time around. Swarms of enemies homing in on you was retro in 2004, but todays gamer expects something a little more finessed – when even COD can boast more intelligent enemy behaviour (at least they take cover, for crying out loud), it’s very tricky to justify.
all the flashy effects and tweaks in the world don’t cover up the fact that this is a short, dated burst of gameplay
Also, the opportunities to iron out the wrinkles of old have been missed – a shining example is the horrible delay between slaying an enemy and the power-up-inducing soul to appear. Also, the ammo dumps feel far fewer, which, in an FOS version of bullet hell such as this, do nothing but add frustration if you get backed into a corner. The truth about PK:H&D can be summed up by the fact that anyone looking at this title would be better off buying the original for a lot less money and spending a little time monkeying around with patches and mods -you’ll get more game, and the retro feel will be the same, without the niggling doubts that your pants were pulled down with a modern title. The new engine does look nice, but it all the flashy effects and tweaks in the world don’t cover up the fact that this is a short, dated burst of gameplay. I really wanted to like it more, and, if I play in the shortest of bursts, I do – it’s just that today’s gamer expects so much more.
The Bad: Dated gameplay; laughably short; multiplayer and co-op don;t bring much to the table; all the old problems are present