Saturday, 23 January 2016

Painkiller: Black Edition (PC)

Developer:People Can Fly|Release Date:2004|Systems:Windows, Xbox, Android, iOS

This week on Super Adventures, I'm finally taking a look at Painkiller, a first person shooter made by Gears of War: Judgment developer Epic Games Poland back when they were still called People Can Fly. Oh hang on, they're back to being People Can Fly again now... and they still have the Bulletstorm license! They'd better be working on making me a sequel right now, I don't care how much the game bombed.

There's about a million different editions of Painkiller and just as many expansions, but as I understand it Black Edition is as close as you can get to the definitive version. It's the original 2004 Painkiller game plus the one expansion developed by People Can Fly, with a 'making of' video thrown in. The game later got a remake/sequel called Painkiller: Hell and Damnation (HD, get it?) but judging by the reviews I've read, seems Black Edition's the one to go for.

(Click the pictures to bring up a higher resolution image. It's not going to make them any more widescreen though I'm afraid.)

The pre-rendered story begins with Daniel Garner driving his wife Lara Croft to a birthday meal in the pouring rain. With the way he looks on the title screen I figured he was basically the Punisher, spending his time in our mortal realm emptying automatics and filling Purgatory with familiar faces, but I guess not. In fact now he looks more like RoboCop without his helmet on.

Dan's voice is the biggest surprise though. I remembered that he's played by someone I would recognise, but I wasn't expecting him to be Cam 'Leonardo, Kaneda, Liquid Snake' Clarke!

It's a fairly uneventful drive right up to the point where Dan glances over at his wife, takes his eyes off the road, and accidentally ploughs right into an oncoming truck. Or maybe it ploughed right into him, either way it has the same result: Daniel and his wife are both killed instantly. Should've been more careful driving around in a big red car with '666' on the licence plate.

Cut to a sepia toned cathedral, where Daniel's meeting with a mysterious figure bearing a gift. Wait... that's John Cygan, the guy who played Solidus Snake! Now we just need David Hayter and Kiefer Sutherland to show up and we've got the set.

The guy hands him a scroll that'll guide him to the generals of Lucifer's armies. They're organising for an attack you see and moving against them in force will just start the war early. But if Dan can pull a Doom and kill the worst that Hell has to throw at him, he'll force the armies to retreat and in return earn a trip to Heaven to be reunited with his wife. I keep expecting shots of who he's meant to kill, but nope the camera's happy enough panning across this same room over and over.
Daniel's a bit surprised to be offered this deal. Not because he isn't a badass, he's survived in Purgatory a while by this point, but because he's been a decent guy in life and should be up in Heaven already. Unless there's a DARK SECRET in his past he's repressing...

To be honest this cutscene looked more like this in game for me, as the video cut out and left me with just the sound. I had to alt-tab out and open up the video file to see it. Not really a great sign, but if that's all that's broken I'm sure I'll get over it. It's not exactly a story driven game.

Painkiller level select screen
Hey, that huge scroll he was given in the intro turns out to be a beautifully nasty looking level select screen! Seems I'll be fighting through five chapters with five or so levels in each, and I get to replay them all I want. Which is cool.

Shame the scroll's not entirely intuitive. If it wasn't for that text showing up in the bottom left I'd have no idea that the inverted pentagram down on the right brings me back to the main menu and clicking the red gem starts the game.

Hah, it says "PAINKILLER" when I start a level! More games need to a pull a Resident Evil and have a sinister voice announce their title.


Alright, the game's a first person shooter, I'm standing in a cemetery in Purgatory, and I'm armed with a spinning blade on a stick. Seems pretty quiet though really, except for the dead rising from their graves

Oh, the spinning blade can fire off from the stick! It gets the job done as well, slicing through skeleton knights in one direct hit before flying back and reconnecting. Or I can just run straight into them and pretend my blender's a chainsaw.

The music was all creepy and atmospheric a second ago, but as soon as these chaps started leaping out of the earth the distorted metal riffs kicked in and now it sounds like Quake II. In a good way.

Seems that fallen enemies soon disintegrate into collectable souls (that green thing on the left), but not quite soon enough for my liking. Plus souls quickly dissipate, so I have to hang around after a kill for longer than I'd like; it's hurting the flow. Why am I harvesting souls? I'm not sure yet, but there's probably a good reason for it.

Bloody hell there's a lot of enemies on this level.

Spinning blade on a stick is good, but this shotgun I just found is better. I'm running right up to the undead hordes, blasting them at point blank range for maximum damage, then stepping back again to let Dan cock the weapon (no reloading required). If I get close enough most enemies go down in just one hit and the rest go down in two, so these folks are the opposite of bullet sponges.

Dan speeds up after two consecutive jumps so I'm basically hopping circles around these guys and they can't touch me... unless I leap right into their attack like an idiot. No one I've ran into so far's been carrying a gun, but they like to spawn from all over the place so I do have to be careful about getting a sword up the ass as I'm backing away. 

Once I've wiped out of a wave of enemies the music calms back down again and the compass at the top of the screen starts flashing to point me in the right direction. Seems that the level is basically just a set of connected enclosed arenas. I walk up to the red thing to save my checkpoint and start the fight (and maybe get full health if I'm lucky), then the walls come up to lock me in, and the monsters come out.

Also featured on screen (I'm being efficient with my screenshots) is a coffin getting shattered to release the gold coins within. It's okay, no one was using the thing, this is Purgatory. Trouble is that the money's just as ephemeral as the souls, so I have to stick around to grab the coins before they're gone. Plus there's coffins stacked up all over the place and I'm not sure I've got the patience to go around wrecking them all. They've somehow made destruction tedious.


Oh hang on, the screen's gone black and white and wavy, that's kind of weird.

Right, I've figured it out. Collecting a certain number of souls turns the screen funny and lets me obliterate any foe I point my crosshair at in a single shot. It doesn't last long though and they were dying in one hit anyway, so it hasn't given me a massive advantage.

Each soul I collect also gets me a single hit point, which is handy seeing as I've no health regeneration and monsters constantly working to wear me down. If I want to survive I have to stay mobile and dart between enemies to harvest their fallen comrades.

Whoa there's a boss fight at the end of level 1? That ain't right. The guy's stomping around the inside of this church, shattering columns as he goes. A few months later Half-Life 2 used the licensed Havok physics engine for see-saw puzzles, this uses it to wreck shit and send limbs arcing gracefully through the air.

I've got a cunning plan to defeat this guy though, and all his little minions. The spinning blade stick (actually called the 'painkiller') has a secondary fire mode that launches the bladed end into a wall. When I point the stick at the embedded blades it creates a sustained beam of intense energy, continually burning any enemy who wanders into it! The tricky part is keeping the beam going as I'm dodging around, as it's easy to lose the other end behind the crowd of enemies.

Victory! Oh damn, that's no good. That's not what you want to see.

Well I've learned that the game has end level stats, but my own results are a mystery to me. I did unlock a card though apparently, for managing to finish the level.

Ah, alt-tabbing out and back in fixed the screen.

Turns out the Black Tarot card I earned is Endurance, which lets me take only half the damage... for a limited time only. If I remember right, cards like this can only be activated once per level, so I have to hang onto it until I really need it.


Level 2 has a new set of enemies and lots of explosive barrels but it's basically the same deal as before: shoot every enemy once, if that doesn't work shoot them twice. Eventually they stop spawning and the red swirly thing appears to point me towards the next zone where I do it all over again. It's all very Serious Sam.

The big difference is now I'm dodging axes and trying not to walk into the blue smoke given off by their staves. The stuff slows me right down and seeing that my movement speed is my big advantage that ain't a good thing.


Wow, the card unlock restrictions got tough all of a sudden. I have to destroy all objects on this level? But breaking objects is boring! Plus I really was trying to wreck everything on this stage ('cause most objects were exploding barrels), but I still fell short by like a dozen items.

At least I can check my stats at any time during the level to see how well I'm doing. Plus the game lists the unlock goals on the level select screen so I know what still needs doing for each stage to get my cards. They're not giving me much to complain about here.


Next level and I'm still cleaning out waves of skeleton knights with the shotgun. Looks cool though.

Like Serious Sam a couple of years before it, the game's got a homemade engine that managed to provide fantastic visuals and slick frame-rates on even humble game rigs. So I'm not entirely shocked that it runs like a dream on my semi-modern system with the settings maxed... except for a bit of tearing. Plus the menus keep falling to pieces and the videos won't play.

The shooty bit works though and People Can Fly's PAIN Engine gives it a slightly different feel to everything else out there (well aside from the mission packs and The Farm 51's NecroVisioN, which all use the same engine).

I've got a new gun! This thing is like F.E.A.R.'s HV Penetrator, as it's a spike launcher which nails enemies right to the wall in one shot. Takes a couple of seconds to reload, but I can live with that. The tricky thing is the firing arc, as I have to aim above the target I'm sniping. Oh plus it's a grenade launcher too! Me and this gun, we're going to get along just fine.


Oh hey, I CAN lose! Turns out that all I had to do was become complacent and get myself surrounded by angry abominations with swords. Daniel can't get more dead than he already is, but getting his soul dragged down to Hell puts an end to his demon assassination adventure.

It's my own fault I've been having an easy ride so far, seeing as I put the game on the default difficulty, but I know the thing's going to get bastard hard later and I want a fighting chance. Still, with checkpoints and quicksaves I'm unlikely to get hopelessly stuck.


Oh, this must be a proper boss fight. Plus he's one of those bloody puzzle bosses I can't beat by unloading all my ammo on him. Now I get to run laps of this cave trying to work out how to kill him, fun.

I can see that those are supposed to be skulls embedded in the wall to the left, but are those high-heeled boots coming out of the ground on the right? Sorry, I'm getting distracted now that I'm bored; the scenery I'm jumping over is becoming more interesting than the boss I can't hurt.


Okay, the big lava pit seems to be a clue but I can't figure out how to get him into it. I decided to run to the end of that precarious ledge protruding out over the pit, wait for him to come over, then leap over to the ladder on the right and let him follow me to his doom... but he didn't want to! Then I tried circling round behind him and giving him a shotgun blast at close range to topple him over, but he wouldn't even flinch.

I'm sure someone somewhere enjoys figuring this crap out, but I was liking the first person shooting a lot more and I'd like to get back to that as soon as possible, so I'm checking a walkthrough.

Oh, I had to shoot the wooden ceiling to shine light down onto the edge of the ledge, then lure him over and jump onto the ladder! I suppose I was supposed to use my gamer intuition to know he'd explode in sunlight.

I did figure something out by myself though: Daniel is fucking awesome at jumping. I mean I already knew that he could hop around like a mad hopping bastard, but I fell down into the fire pit once (or twice) and with sustained panic-jumping I made it back up the sloping wall and then up onto the top of the skulls! Stick him in an Elder Scrolls game and he'd be over those rocks and up those cliffs in seconds.

Painkiller tarot card screen
I completed the goal of killing 112 monsters on that level so I've gotten a new Black Tarot card!

Seems that this a different type of card though, one that's always active, which is good as the card makes souls stick around for longer. Souls are my glowing green medikits so it'll be nice not to have to have to rush in to collect them.

The thing is, placing cards in my deck costs money, so I need to keep accumulating wealth to equip my new powers.


Oh, NOW I'm on a proper boss fight. He's even turned my compass into a life meter!

There's only one thing I can do on this level and that's shoot this bastard. Well I suppose I could shoot the other enemies around his feet, if I felt like throwing my ammo away, but I don't. In fact I should probably switch to the shotgun and get between his pointy legs as I'm not sure the stake launcher even has the range to hit him from this distance. He is bloody huge.

And then when I got his health down he suddenly broke from his chains and spat a whirlwind at me and that was that. Well I could start the level again and this time quicksave every time I manage to strip away a chunk of his health without losing my own, but I've got a better idea... I'm taking a break and letting a friend take over, because I'm not even slightly enjoying this.

It's probably a perfectly adequate boss fight (probably), it's just not the kind of gameplay that appeals to me.

With the general successfully defeated (twice, because it glitched out the first time), I've reached another cutscene! This one introduces a new potential ally and establishes that no one sells bras in Purgatory.

Seems I'll be getting one of these between every chapter, each adding the next piece of the story. They're not really adding a whole lot to the game though especially considering how disconnected and video gamey each level is. I don't feel like what's going on in cutscenes has any relation to what's happening between them, especially as Dan keeps his mouth shut during his demon slaughtering.


I mean here I am fighting through an opera house shooting ninjas with blowpipes. Why? Because it looks cool, that's why.

Weirdly I've skipped right from level I-5 to level II-2, as the first level of the second chapter is locked. Seems I have to get here on a higher difficulty to play it, which is weird. Better that than being locked out of the good ending or something.

Oh hang on, I have been locked out of the good ending by not playing on the hardest difficulty! Well I know where the cutscene folder is, so check and mate Painkiller. I'm not actually that bothered to be honest, the story's not exactly a crucial component. I'm happy just blasting away at a roomful of evil ninjas and headcrabs.

Wait, headcrabs? What?

Facehuggers aren't exactly exclusive to Half-Life games, they show up in all kinds of first person shooters (like the 'Alien' games for instance, just to pick the first title that leaps to mind), but these creatures are straight-up headcrabs. And here's me without a crowbar.


The game likes to jump around all over the place, but I'd say its default setting is 'horror' and it certainly sounds creepy enough in the moments where nothing's going on. Of course even the most sinister asylum loses a bit of its foreboding when the repetitive metal starts up and I'm nailing the inhabitants to the walls and ceiling. But squint a bit (and take the giant shotgun off the screen) and this could be a screenshot from Silent Hill 2! Almost.


This on the other hand looks more like, I dunno... Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Except with demon ninjas instead of Nazis. I have no idea why I'm suddenly on a bridge up in the mountains, but I do know I'll be running up from one end back down to the other over and over until these dumbass ninjas are dead and it lets me out.

By the way, check out the one cartwheeling through the air in the background. This game has the best ragdoll corpses, especially when I'm using the stake launcher. It makes every shot a joy.

The gameplay really does have a classic shooter feel to it, but in structure it compares more to Serious Sam than it does to Doom, Quake or Unreal. Those games are set in mazes and if you see a stack of crates like this in them then you know you're going to be jumping all over them to get out (well maybe not in Doom, seeing as it doesn't have a jump key, but you know what I'm getting at). In Painkiller on the other hand, they're basically just scenery. Maybe there's a secret up on those boxes, it's certainly possible, but the path to get out actually takes me through corridors around the outside. Corridors full of spawning enemies.

It's basically a first person Robotron, or Smash TV without the hope of ever winning a dishwasher.

Whoa, it really is like Return to Castle Wolfenstein! I didn't expect Painkiller of all games to have a cable car level. And unlike every other joyless first person shooter, it's actually letting me get up on the cables and walk the whole way instead! The game's going out of its way to make me happy.


Hey, I think this is the level from the demo! I honestly can't remember if I've played the full version of Painkiller before or not, but I'm sure I visited this town in the demo, shooting witches with my stake launcher. The fog's working in the game's favour on this stage, adding a bit of additional eeriness.

Or maybe I actually came here in Dragon Age: Origins... either way it's nice to be back. These are some beautiful looking houses and it's a pleasure to pin zombies to their walls.


So there's going to be one of these bosses at the end of each chapter then? Oh duh, of course there is, I'm supposed to be assassinating 5 generals!

This guy's a transparent reflective bloke who likes to stomp around this corrosive liquid, shooting fireballs at me and slamming the ground with his arms. Those things take off a quarter of my health per hit, so when he puts his arms underwater I need to stop what I'm doing and spin around to see where they're coming back out from, so I can get to the other side of this tiny island.

But first I need to quicksave, because I'm having enough trouble figuring out what I'm meant to be doing without worrying about all this damage I'm taking as well. Sometimes he's invulnerable, other times he's not, and I think it's something to do with the exploding bubbles floating around, but maybe not and... oh it's just crashed to desktop. Well that's bloody fantastic. Though it does give me an excuse to stop playing and wrap this up already.

Wait, I didn't talk about the multiplayer mode yet! It has one, or at least it had one until GameSpy shut down. I'm sure you can still connect to other players directly but I didn't try it.


2004 was a bloody good year for first person shooters wasn't it? Far Cry, Doom³, Chronicles of Riddick, Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 within the same 12 months. But is Painkiller the best of them? Well it's the best arena-based horror-themed Serious Sam 'em up of the set. There ain't a whole lot of stealth or exploration going on here though and the AI is about as dumb as a homing missile.

Gameplay-wise I suppose you could compare it to Doom or Quake as the combat is all about movement: dodging incoming fire, closing in to get more powerful shots, and hopping through the crowd to grab souls. A few blokes with machine guns showed up in the third chapter to take the fun out of running around in the open, but mostly the idea of taking cover in this is ridiculous. There's no reloading, no crouching, no leaning, no audio diaries, no waiting for your squad to kick a door open so you can paint a target with that annoying satellite cam headset... but there's no key hunting or map button either. Sometimes the enclosed fighting arenas can resemble classic first person shooter levels, but they rarely come close to being as maze-like. Plus they've got some replay value with the level select and tarot cards goals, which is a feature classic shooters rarely provided.

It's all about applying guns to enemies and thankfully the guns feel satisfying to use, mostly because they get the job done. I didn't find a huge range of them, but at least they were all noticeably different and had different secondary attacks to double their usefulness. Also one of them is a Gatling gun that's also a rocket launcher (and another fires shurikens and lightning). Daniel can take a lot of punishment, but enemies aren't generally bullet sponges and a shot to the face tends to stop them in their tracks a moment, when it isn't launching them skywards. The game doesn't give out points for being creative with your kills like Bulletstorm does, but sending folks flying is its own reward.

So it plays like a game from 1996 and looks like a game from 2004, but I think it's aged pretty well. It's got a Greatest Hits compilation of video game levels and it's nice to watch them come apart when the explosions start, with pillars collapsing and walls coming down. Plus the audio's so good I'd sometimes spend a few seconds listening to the creepy ambience before triggering the next wave of monsters. It's rare to hear spinning metal blades hitting stone sound so right.

I'll give Painkiller a Not Crap star without hesitation, but I can't give it my highest accolade due to two reasons: 1. 1/5th of the levels are boss fights and I hate 'em. I hate 'em so much. 2. It gets crazy repetitive. Also 3: Smashing items to collect coins is rubbish.

Tune in next week for another great video game! Or maybe it's actually crap, that's what I'm going to find out.

As always I welcome your feedback, so drop comments, opinions and criticism in the box below and partake in the joyful act of self-expression.


  1. I must agree with your hateness about 2nd boss fight
    How come the Blob is weak to something in its own domain. That doesnt makes sense well (i know the bubbles explode)
    But overall Painkiller is good FPS games
    I see you dont stick to painkiller only in asylum level
    It will make level scarier and get new tarot
    I cant recommended 2nd because it harsh

    1. I didn't think to check the tarot goal on the asylum level, so I didn't know about it until after it was over. Next time I replay it though I'll try sticking to the painkiller and see how that works out.

  2. The tarot card mechanic in this game was awesome. 4X slow motion and 4X firespeed was my favourite combo.

    Too bad if you only saw the GUI glitches as this game had some odd bugs. When I played the retail cd version I had some frends over to see the game and I was showing of the levels by just reloading old saves from all over the game and the suddenly in some factory like stage this happens:
    The enemies all ignored me and they were just jumping around doing somersaults in almost coreographic formations, occasionaly ending up standing on eachother or slowly turning in place before jumping off again. They didn't react to being at shot and just continued their improptu dance routine until the game crashed.

    I have never managed to get it to happen again. Perfect dark (and golden eye I hear) on n64 would do something similar if you lifted the cardrige slightly in mid game.

    Another odd bug in the game I encountered in steam version. I was playing the original campain when after a quickload it suddenly gave me all the wepons in the game, including the expansion pack only guns! You would even get some ammo for them by finding those big gray crates.


Semi-Random Game Box