Painkiller: Hell & Damnation – Preview

Title   Painkiller: Hell & Damnation
Developer  The Farm 51
Publisher  Nordic Games
Platform  Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac
Genre  First-Person Shooter
Release Date  31st October 2012 (PC/Mac/360), 2013 (PS3)
Official Site

Over the last few years I’ve found my affections toward the FPS genre start to wane. When we first met and we were in the Goldeneye stage of our relationship, I couldn’t have been happier; we’d be together several times a day, and inviting other people to join in was half the fun. It was never going to last, and over the years we entered the slow, mechanical stage of our relationship, and apart from a renewed vigour around the time of both Bioshock games, I’ve found the FPS become less attractive of late. Thanks to its insistence on becoming gritty, obsessed with modern combat and demanding more multiplayer, we’re going through a trial separation. I can’t help but blame myself a little though; making that move to consoles was always going to deprive me of some of the riskier options to save our relationship, with one title in particular being named by several of my PC-playing friends: Painkiller.

Painkiller, they told me, would help rekindle my love for what was, in my head, an ailing genre. It was jam-packed with hordes of seemingly never-ending enemies, a threadbare plot that was simply an excuse to put the player in ludicrous scenarios against screen-filling bosses and a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning bolts. While it passed me by back in the days of old, Nordic Games have taken it upon themselves to take the cult classic, put it in the Unreal 3 engine and give players like me a chance to relive the magic in their re-interpretation of People Can Fly’s first foray. As they are now wholly owned by Epic, Nordic have instead tasked The Farm 51 with production of Hell & Damnation, as the company was created in part by former Painkiller devs, meaning that they’re more ideally placed to keep the remake true to the original while branching out in more inventive directions. Their graphical refinement alone was quoted as a ratio of a thousand to one, as they lamented they couldn’t prove the claim with a side-by-side comparison at that point in time because the graphics hadn’t yet been finalised, with some of the weapons going through an extensive re-modelling.

What little there is of the story involves your protagonist Daniel Garner being involved in a car crash that instantly kills both himself and his wife Catherine. They say opposites attract, and such an adage must be true for the couple, as Catherine is sent to Heaven while Daniel is forced to languish in Purgatory. A chance to be reunited manifests alongside a reaper, who offers Daniel a chance of salvation if he dispatches several of Lucifer’s generals and prevents a war between the master of trickery and the angels. If you want to stand a chance against the demonic hordes, then much like Keanu “Plankface” Reeves, you’re going to need guns. Lots of guns.

One of my overriding complaints with the FPS genre is that, for the most part, the weapons are a bit of a damp squib. Once you get past the range of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, grenades and machine guns, there’s often very little left to mechanically differentiate titles, and so there’s very little left to appeal. Luckily, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is not one of those games, as it’s both mechanically quite different thanks to the lack of cover that forces players to never stop moving and think on their toes, and the weapons are absolutely ballistic. Take that shuriken and lightning bolt gun I mentioned earlier, for example. You’d just expect me to reiterate that the gun fires shurikens and lightning bolts and tell you that’s enough reason to reach for your wallet. Well, what if I told you that all the weapons in Painkiller have a primary, secondary and tertiary fire mode, and that activating the latter lets you fire lightning shurikens? Go grab your credit card, this preview can wait.

Other tools in your arsenal include a stake gun that, in lieu of any vampires, can be used to knock the block off several enemies at a time – though if you’re feeling particularly malicious then you can also use it to pin enemies to the landscape, as was demonstrated when one stake splintered through an enemy’s skull and sent him flying across the map to a brick-wall resting place. Also of particular note is the Soul Catcher, which can be used to drain the life force out of enemies or use them to do your bidding at the behest of the tertiary fire button to the tune of German metal. All of the music has been specifically made for Painkiller, and is also notable as the player can customise it to either omit the vocals or make the songs a capella.

Outside of the single-player experience, Nordic are pushing to make Hell & Damnation the next big name in eSports; there’s a sixteen to eighteen month road-map planned out for the game post-launch, aiming to tweak, patch and provide new maps for players on a consistent basis in order to cultivate and encourage the competitive scene. This is an especially prevalent desire as the original Painkiller was itself a popular eSports title for a time, and thanks to the resurgence of the scene in recent years, the same happening for Hell & Damnation would keep it on the map for a long time to come.

The multiplayer isn’t just confined to a competitive nature though, thanks to the co-operative modes that will be present in the final product. To demonstrate this, we were shown a boss so massive that you couldn’t physically confine his entirety to a single screen. Said monster seemed pretty safe from the protagonist’s onslaught, almost laughing off the ammunition being steadily plugged into him. Alone, you’d have your work cut out for you, but were told that co-operatively you’d have a range of tactics available at your disposal to cut him down to size.

It was unknown if you’d be able to do so locally, as at the time of the presentation Nordic were unsure as to whether or not local split-screen would be confirmed for any version of Hell & Damnation. Whilst it was being developed and focused on in the final stages of development, no one present was sure if it’d remain intact when the time came for the game to go gold. It seems likely that were any version to have the mode omitted, it would be the Xbox 360 version; both the forthcoming PC and Mac versions would theoretically be able to patch it in post-release, and the PS3 version isn’t arriving until some time next year, giving the devs ample time to make sure it’s ready come launch day. It won’t be too tough a sell either; it’s being released at a budget price of £20 or £25 for the Collector’s Edition, which should encourage more than enough players – whether veterans or those delving into the madness for the first time – to splash their cash down for Painkiller: Hell & Damnation come October 31st.

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