Comfortably numb

Life is a complicated mess, but if there’s one thing I know for sure it is that Painkiller is a sub-par game

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting amazement but I was at least expecting Serious Sam levels of slaughter and throughout this dribble you may find several unfair references to Serious Sam. Unfair because SS (unfortunate initials…I may stick with calling it Serious Sam) is a vastly superior game in almost every way.

In my opinion.

Also, as a brief aside, I do rather like the look of People Can Fly’s new game Bulletstorm and will follow it with interest. But for now, Painkiller is going to have an ire bath.

Painkiller, as a game in which you are entrusted to shoot many things, fails on numerous levels as a game where you shoot things. My mind is so aflame with its failure that I know not where to start. Well, as many journey’s start with a single step let’s start with walking: you are SLOW.

This may seem petty but this is supposed to be a fast-paced, frenetic kind of game and the protagonists’s pace just seems fractionally too slow. It feels like he’s walking around with two buckets of jelly attached to his feet. Of course, this is ludicrous as no-one with buckets on their feet could reach terminal velocity by bunny-hopping and this man can. In fact, hopping around like a maniac is possibly the only way to get some actual pace in the game.

And why do you need pace? Why, to go find monsters to shoot, of course. Now this is a large area, so let’s take things step by painfully slow step.

First up, the story is inconsequential. Blah blah hell shoot bang etc. Unimportant. What is important is how the story links in to ANYTHING you’re doing. Serious Sam had the story about you stopping some alien overlord by going back to a curiously unpopulated ancient egypt because aliens zzzz who cares. But at least the levels made sense! You start at one end of egypt and murder your way to the other. You follow a linear murder-path and the levels have descriptions (which you ignore; I mean really).

Painkiller’s first level – and I mean the first game, not Battle out of Hell; though the orphanage is…interesting – is in a graveyard. Why? Was that explained in the cutscene? Did you expect me to watch it? As it happens I think I have watched it and it is not explained why, after being hired as Heaven’s only hope again Hell, you’re dumped in a foggy graveyard armed with a glorified whisk and expected to kill skeletons.

And oh, you do kill a lot of skeletons. And witches. The first level has about three enemy types not including the boss; skeletones, tougher skeletons and witches. As I recall the first level of serious sam has maybe two or three variety of headless shooty dude, exploding headless dudes, biting one-eyed dudes and possibly something else. Variety is appreciated, guys.

As is more explanation. I know a lot of onus is placed on ‘brainless shooting’ but Painkiller is just ‘motivation-less shooting’. Yes, hell is bad, but what are these skeletons? Serious Sam has a whole little encyclopedia chip in your character’s head full of useless information about your enemies which at least gives you some purpose. Would it have been so hard to give the Painkiller guy some mystic tome that could say these skeleton were the Undying Legion of Kraxoth or something? Why should I shoot them? Just because they’re there? So is that gravestone!

And oh God the enemies don’t get much better. Fabulous designed and fully ragdolled yes, but dull and in many cases just stupid. Take the second level, where the bulk of your foes are large, axe-wielding monk-types. Daunting, no doubt, if you’re daunted by slow moving, unthreatening things for you to shoot but otherwise rather useless. My favourite part about them, however, is that they throw their axes at you. They only have one axe, however, and after they throw it they die. Who knew monks had so much in common with bees?

The weaponry of this game – much vaunted by some – I find underwhelming though this could possibly just be me. Hell, what am I saying, this is all me; let’s go nuts. The titular painkiller is pathetic and dropped from usage the moment (about five seconds in) that you acquire the shotgun; a weak gun that offers little satisfaction in the offing of bad guys. At one point in battle out of hell I stood, stock-still, with my finger on the mouse button while a screaming line of demonic children ran willingly into my rain of shot. A hero I was not.

And, more to the point, WHY WAS I SHOOTING DEMONIC CHILDREN IN A HELLISH ORPHANAGE?!

Ah but there are more guns beside; a stake gun that while powerful fires too slowly to be of much use against the games paltry hordes; the shuriken shooting lightning gun…thing that is basically a machinegun but…no, it’s a machinegun. Wihout enough ammo. The guns are functional. Not fun, but functional. Amazingly well designed, yes; they look a treat, but entertaining to use they are not. There’s not enough visceral feedback. Sometimes foes keel over, others they fly backwards and still other times they gib. There’s no connection to your actions. You could be somewhere else and they’d probably do that.

Hell, the monks are all up for killing themselves already.

I could go on. Bland levels (hey look, more hellish destruction! And grey!) – agreeably imaginative at times and with some nice touches – the INDESCRIBABLY ANNOYING soul-collecting aspect (seriously, why do they take so long to spawn?); the criteria to unlock the entirely superfluous cards (the requirements in the aforementioned orphanage level is to not get hit. You start the level with a melee weapon. Do you see the problem here? Yes I’m fully aware the painkiller has a ranged ability but seriously, if you’re contorting that much to earn this card what’s the point?) and more besides.

And yet, I’m still playing it. Heh, who would have thunk it?

Ah well, I’m probably wrong anyway. I just don’t get why it’s such a ‘cult classic’.

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