Painkiller, released in 2004, wasa homage to the grand old days of first person shooters – where you didn't care about cut-scenes or your character's deepest, most tedious motivations, you could just shoot demons in the face until your eyes were square, your index finger horribly cramped, and your mum very angry because you'd missed the bus to school.
Painkiller Hell and Damnation (see what they did there?) is unashamedly old-fashioned: you'll be strafe jumping, bunny hopping and insta-gibbing your way through a host of varied environments, with the sole purpose of engaging in mindless murdering, and you'll never be short of anything to put in the centre of the crosshair. It tries to wrap you in waves of warm nostalgia, but it ends up reminding you that some things are best left in the past.
Painkiller HD (let’s just call it that from now on) takes what was a good game and gives it a modern-day facelift: visuals are enhanced, levels from the original and the Bat Out of Hell expansion are slightly redesigned, and more multiplayer options are added. You play cut-and-paste hero Daniel Garner, who is tasked with collecting 7000 souls for Death himself and, in return, will be reunited with his dead girlfriend, who he really misses very much. It's the start of a plot that's as paper thin as it sounds, although it’s not really designed to hold your interest: it's just there to provide a premise for you to enjoy the art of shooting things. Lots of things.
With Painkiller HD being all about combat, its weapons need to be up to scratch, and for the most part they are. Guns are big and beefy, and each one has an ‘alternate fire’ mode which makes them feel a little more interesting than your average pea shooter. The satisfying shotgun, for example, can also freeze enemies to give you the advantage in a tight spot, whilst the stake gun, which impales enemies allowing you to stick them to walls, can also fire explosive projectiles that can turn large groups of enemies into demonic mincemeat.
Unfortunately, the promising weapons you have at your disposal are ultimately wasted. The game throws a huge variety of enemies at you, from massive bosses that fill every corner of your screen to possessed children and skeleton knights that hunt you down in packs. Unfortunately, they’re all so mindless that you’re never really forced to change your approach to combat – you’ll simply end up using your superior manoeuvrability to evade your attackers whilst periodically blasting them to smithereens as they chase after you. It’s like one big game of cat and mouse, if the mouse was carrying a cheese powered bazooka and the cat was too stupid for its own good (a Tom and Jerry shooter, if you will).
It’s not true that the act of killing enemies is not satisfying – the guns are good enough to mean that it can be – but the fact that the action is so repetitive means you’ll get very bored very quickly. It doesn’t help that the game is far too easy – you’ll rarely be challenged until you reach the hardest difficulty, so racking up a seemingly endless number of kills gives you no real sense of achievement. You might be glad to know, therefore, that Painkiller HD’s campaign is criminally short (4-5 hours), and no amount of hidden areas, collectibles and ability boosting tarot cards – awarded for doing levels quickly and completely – will have you wanting to extend your experience.
The co-op will give you slightly more entertainment, albeit only because you and a friend will end up laughing at how corny the terrible cut scenes that punctuate the action are, but when the humour inevitably dries up, and only the tedious gameplay remains, you’ll both agree that maybe it’s time to go to the pub instead. Online multiplayer holds a similar story: the usual modes, including CTF and Deathmatch, are all present, and there is some initial fun to be had, but once the novelty of playing an old-school shooter has worn off you’ll revert back to your favourite online haunts and Painkiller HD will be forgotten forever. Besides, anyone who came for competitive twitch-fest may as well stick to the original or indulge in cheaper, but arguably better, alternatives such as Quake Live.
The fact that Painkiller HD only adds one gun – albeit it a very good one – to the original game’s arsenal is a big disappointment, and it feels like a great opportunity gone begging. In fact, there’s wasted potential seeping from every pore of Painkiller HD, from the fact that some of the original’s greatest moments are conspicuously absent – most notably its epic conclusion – to the fact that things that needed fixing have been left untouched (souls still take a good few seconds to pop out of dead bodies, which means you’ll miss a lot of them in hectic fights and be forced to wait around twiddling your thumbs at the end of drawn out skirmishes).
Painkiller HD leaves you with many questions. Questions like: ‘Dear God, why?’. It’s a sombre reminder to us all (as if we needed one) that taking a well-loved classic and updating a few textures does not a good game make. Given that you can buy Painkiller: Black Edition, which is essentially a bigger, more complete version of the same game, for a fraction of the price, Painkiller HD feels completely irrelevant and it’s hard to recommend, even to those who yearn for some old school frolics. Once the bodies have hit the floor and you’ve gathered as many souls as you can carry, you’ll realise that Painkiller has already had its day and, like your drunk granddad at Christmas, it’s time it was put to bed.