Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Really, that title explains this game in a nutshell. This ain't a game for those of you who like their action-packed brawl-fests with a nice dollop of compelling plot and a side-order of tactical maneuvers. Instead, this is an action-packed brawl-fest with a side order of gore and an extra helping of balls-to-the-walls action.
THAT, dear readers, is Painkiller.
The story behind the game is that you are a guy who died in a car crash, along with his wife. The wife passed on, but he stayed behind in Purgatory and now has to 'repent' for something he did in his past by slaying the biggest demons that Hell can throw at him. Story over.
The action, on the other hand, is never over. There are 5 'scenarios' with several 'missions' in each one. The exact number of missions in each scenario changes, but they pretty much all play out the same way. Walk to checkpoint, kill badguys, get ammo, repeat. What stops it from getting stale is that each level is thematically different to the others. One mission you might be fighting reanimated skeleton knights in a cemetery, and the next you're taking out tortured inmates of an insane asylum. And, hoo boy is THAT a level. The Asylum level is short, but it's a lot more scary than most, if not all, of Doom 3.
Speaking of which, Painkiller is actually quite similar in execution to the first two Doom titles. I can see why it's called the unofficial Doom 3.
The weapons of Painkiller may be few and far between, but they are more than enough for the job, as their alternate fire modes tend to be a whole new gun in themselves. The first weapon is the Painkiller. It's your bog-standard meleé weapon, with a twist. Primary fire starts the blades up, which will dice anyone who gets too close. Alternate fire launches the blades while they're stationary, which will send weakened enemies ragdolling towards you. However, hitting the alternate fire WHILE using the primary fire launches the blades while they are spinning, dicing any enemies that get in the way. Not to mention that if you dig the blades into a wall, by looking at the blades in the wall a beam will form between you and them that damages any enemies that get in the way. Now THAT'S a Swiss army knife!
The other weapons include a gun that can fire shurikens and lightning (awesome), a gun that can pin guys to walls with giant stakes and fire grenades and a shotgun that can fire a freezing agent. I'm pretty sure there's more guns, but I don't know what they are. My copy of the game didn't come with a manual.
Not that I needed one. The controls are pretty basic FPS stuff. WASD for moving, mouse for aiming, mouse buttons for shooting. Although, you can bind specific gun firing modes to buttons, which means that you could be carving up some deoons with the shurikens, then tap Ctrl or something to instantly fire off the Painkiller and drag some poor demon over to you, Scorpion style. I also found it rather ingenious that you can bind buttons for Rocket Jumping and Forward Rocket Jumping. Of course I haven't gotten a rocket launcher in the game yet so I don't know if they work, but as I can never get the timing right on my own I'll definately use the buttons later.
That is, if I can keep a rocket on hand without launching it at a demon. There are quite a few forms of baddies for you to dismember in this game. They definately don't fall into the standard archetypes of enemies that a lot of games have, and are thematically adjusted to suit the levels they are in. You'll find demon monks in the Monastery level, tortured inmates in the Asylum, and undead townsfolk in the Town. They're pretty much all purposefully ugly (i.e. not ugly because the engine makes them look ugly), and all satisfying to pin to the wall with a tree trunk.
A pretty tree trunk, at that. The game engine, although a few years old now, still looks pretty good by today's standards. Not "Holy crap, this is so realistic!" good, but more of a "Wow, everything looks pretty good" good. Enemies look like enemies, levels look like what they say they are, and the guns look like they pack a whallop (which, they do). It's not the prettiest game, but it works for me.
Though, not entirely. I have a new Vista-grade laptop (it was a birthday present) and Painkiller runs OK on it, though I did have to turn the settings down a bit. Here's some advice: If you experience framerate drops, turn off the Dynamic Lighting and Weather Effects. That's what caused a lot of slowdown on my lappy, particularly on The Snow Bridge.
Painkiller is a pretty complete package, but to be honest it doesn't deliver as much as I would expect. My main gripe with the game is not what it does wrong, but what it does not do at all. The game has no co-op mode at all, which would go well with a brain-dead shoot-athon such as this. One would expect it in a game like this, but no dice, apparently. The game doesn't do that many things wrong at all, actually.
Still, if you want a good throwback to the days of old, where there was less think, more shoot, then this is it.