Before reviewing Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, it is important to understand the game in its context. The original Painkiller was released eight years ago, and received rather high acclaim. It was a different era for first-person shooters, and where today we complain about the genre being oversaturated by modern military romps all trying to dethrone Call of Duty, back then pretty much every second game released was accused, and often guilty, of being a “Doom clone.”
Painkiller did enough to differentiate itself from the herd, although it still stuck pretty close to the Doom formula, with demon riddled, cramped interior locations being the order of the day. It had its own character though, and was a lot of fun to play, so gamers for the most part responded well to it. What happened following its release was a travesty though, as numerous expansions, mods-turned-retail-releases and ports watered down the franchise to a point of virtual non-recognition.
Fast-forward almost a decade, and we have Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, which is essentially a very good recreation of People Can Fly’s classic shooter. At its core, Painkiller is still a great game, so by extension, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, if you take it for what it is, is also a really cool experience. The original’s great level design, fantastic enemy variety, and awesome weapon arsenal are all still there. Hell & Damnation also brings bunny hopping back, which is totally awesome not only if you grew up mastering this ancient practice, but also if you missed out on that era of gaming entirely.
Having said all that, Hell & Damnation does drop the ball in a few ways that made me really sad. Some of the original game’s best levels are missing, but at the same time, some of its worst are also gone. In fact, developer Farm 51 trimmed the original game down from 24 to 14 levels, leaving the entire experience feeling a little on the short side. On the plus side though, mouse scroll now works, and other minor but welcome control tweaks have also been made.
It’s not just an HD rehash though, because Farm 51 introduces a few new enemy types and weapons, the best being the Soulcatcher: a gun that fires saw blades that are able to slice through lines of weaker enemies. Actually, apart from these relatively minor editions, it really is just an HD rehash, with some of the fat trimmed and a number of welcome interface tweaks made. You will move from arena to arena, slaying all manner of hideous demon-beast creatures until you finally hit a boss, which is often as frustrating an experience as it was in the original game. Maybe I’ve become jaded or lazy in my older age, but when I was younger this frustration was totally expected and I didn’t even consider the possibility that it sucked. In Hell & Damnation, these experiences would often frustrate me after a few minutes and I would simply stop playing.
In terms of visuals, Hell & Damnation doesn’t do badly at all, thanks to the Unreal Engine 3 which perfectly complements the game’s dark, dreary aesthetic. Enemies and environments are rendered with impressive detail, and the game’s ragdoll physics are brilliantly executed.
Ultimately, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is an interesting prospect for fans of the game, as well as those who missed it. It boasts much of what fans loved about the original, dressed up with snazzy current generation tech. On the downside, it is significantly shorter than the original game, so some might feel a little cheated. At the end of the day, its relatively soft price tag of $19.99 (R180) on Steam makes it a decent value proposition.