Pros: extremely fast paced, challenging and competitive; visuals, soundtrack, level and monster design are outstanding
ANSWER: a truly great fast paced first person shooter is the kind of game, that delivers an extremely well paced and balanced gameplay, is fast, has advanced movement techniques those require great skill, is challenging, is not aging, has great replay-ability, is technically sound, and most important - is professionally competitive in the arts of professional gaming.
That being said - Painkiller delivers all that with such a mighty blow, that there has not been released a more sound fast paced shooter yet!
Of course, Painkiller is not the first game to climb into that elite category.
It all started with the original Quake - the first game ever, that delivered all the requirements for a truly great fast paced shooter. And many more games of that category have been released since 1996 till 2004. The truly last great game of this type was Serious Sam, with the exception that it was not professionally competitive. As of now, many games tried to best Painkiller - and in some aspects they did, but non of them truly bested Painkiller at it's heart and took the crown from him as the next big thing.
Painkiller does not bring a story worth mentioning, the game is not about that, but the presentation is very nice. There are lots of movies between the chapters, as well as a nice intro and outro. Suffice to say, that later Painkiller games were never that good at initial presentation.
The game has 4 difficulty settings - daydream, insomnia, nightmare, trauma.
The standard setting is nightmare - is it described as a normal difficulty mode, therefore should be recommended for any player, who is experienced in these types of games. Players without experience should start on insomnia.. I have to say that daydream level is ridiculously easy and shameful - i would not recommend it even for the biggest n00b around.
Trauma difficulty is different in the sense that it actually has a different ending, opposed to the normal version. Some of the levels in the game can not be opened on certain difficulty settings, so one thing for sure - you will have to play Painkiller on every difficulty for full experience...
Painkiller has got one of the most exciting single player gameplay experiences when it comes to pure adrenaline rushed fast and challenging brainless shooting action without the need of the story. I will be immediately comparing him to some other known games..
The first thing you will notice once you will start Painkiller and crank it up to the max, is that it is easy on requirements and looks very good, having in mind, it is a DirectX 8.1 game. The game runs very smooth in both - FPS rate and movement physics. It runs perfect on max settings on video cards like GeForce 6600GT or Radeon X800, but no less! Differenty from other games, where more than 30 FPS is considered enough, the minimum for Painkiller is actually 60 FPS. 120 FPS should be the standart setting to experience the max out of gameplay. A single core, highly clocked CPU is all it needs to deliver those smooth frames.
You will notice that Painkiller is very fast - something that was missed in many single player games since the release of Return To Castle Wolfenstein.
It's single player speed certainly is not as fast as in original Quake, but is still faster than in most games. The hidden speed is in Painkiller's mutliplayer... Singleplayer allows you to gain max speed to the value of "15" - and you will feel bunny-hoping like a madman, fairly faster than Doom 3 or Serious Sam can deliver, but still slower than Quake.. However the speed in Painkiller mutliplayer is extended to value "28" and if you though that it was fast with 15, think again! Now it becomes a truly a worthy successor to Quake. We will talk about multilayer later...
Since Painkiller is a fast game, you can execute all sorts of difficult movement techniques. Once you will gain the momentum of speed, just like in Quake, you fill find yourself performing crazy jumps on various obstacles, between the elevated objects, or circling around corners.
Indeed Painkiller brings some revolutionary movement techniques. Some of them are worth explaining. The most important and quite most easy is bunnyhoping - it's not the same as strafing however.. While you keep jumping FW, you gain speed and momentum. Once you reach the max speed, you will have the momentum to over-jump difficult obstacles, what look like impossible from the first glance. Second important technique is air control - once you have the max momentum, you can perform a jump around the corner in a hyperbola like pattern. Or you can use air control to land from high altitude down with amazing precision.. The third crucial technique is wall climbing - you can climb the walls in this game, which would be impossible to access in any other game. This technique depends on several factors - most important is the 3D collision detection between you and the platform. As you know, when a map is being created in a 3D program like Maya or Max, any platform is rendered in polygons before it is textured. Polygons are like square pixels, which determine the density of collision detection between the subject and the platform. The more polygons are rendered on a platform, the greater collision detection.. Lets say the platform is 100 cm in X and Y lengths - 10000 square cm in size, and you had 10000 polygons rendered on it - it would mean the the object moving through the platform in one axis had to move over 100 polygons per X amount of time, where a single polygon had been 1X1 cm square. Now imagine that the polygon count had been just 2500 on the same platform... In other words 50 polygons in one axis and one polygon is now 2X2 cm square. This would mean that per same amout of X time the object could move over more polygons. In other words the object could have a longer "gait". So in Painkiller, where the polygon count is quite low on the walls, you move on the walls more easy than in other games due to the increased gait per same amount of time. Another factor is frames per second to move. So if you had 120 FPS rate to climb a wall, you could perform more operations on that wall per same amount of time than you could perform having just 60 FPS rate. So with the increased "operations" rate per same amount of time, you could overcome more polygons. However Painkiller has some places where the polygon count is very low, and if you have a very high frame rate there, you might fall through the 3D map into abyss...
So graphics are very well done - the creatures and shadow details might not look as realistic as those in Doom 3, but Painkiller's lightning effects and the realism details of it's architecture send Doom 3 to eat up chunks of trash when compared..
You will start killing monsters in various ways and will be delighted by the level of gore and destruction Painkiller brings. Havok physics code allows for some great eye candy when tossing up with monster bodies and objects. Between objects and monsters, the detail in monster animation and movement is certainly most appreciated and visually stunning. In fact, Painkiller does not have enough destroyable objects to really enjoy the destruction of environments like in Crysis of Battlefield Bad Company, however it certainly has enough of that in it's monsters, who are incorporated in ragdoll physics and arguably die in the most realistic way any game FPS has produced until 2004. After death they leave their spirits those you can consume as a health replenisher. Once you consume 66 of these spirits, you will transform into an invulnerable demon, that can destroy any monster with a single shot. Indeed as a transformed demon you see everything in dark/white colors and only the creatures those posses spirits glow in red haze - quite amazing.. No weapons needed - you just blast a wave of energy and your screen shivers from it. You return to normal person after some time. That being said we move to the weapons.
The weapons are a the key factor to game's success as a competitive performer as well as to it's challenge level and realism criteria. The weapons are what makes havok physics simply shine here. Every weapon has a primary attack and an alternative attack, and some have combos. You get 5 weapons, from which 2 are very common - the shotgun that also freezes monsters and a rocket launcher that also has an alternative chaingun option. However 3 other weapons are very unique. The main weapon - painkiller-gun, apart from shredding bodies to bloody pieces and retracting them with a beam (the same thing Scorpion does in Mortal Kombat) has a unique feature to do a painkiller-jump. This is a technique when using an object or a body you perform a jump against the gravity in the vertical direction. By using this technique you can execute shortcuts or find secret places. It is hard and requires great skill. Non of the games comes close with this feature. Quake 2 and Heretic 2 had a similar grappling hook, but it was used for retracting your body against the object, not but jumping with it vertically or using it as a weapon. Then Painkiller has a gun called the stakegun, which launches wooden stakes at a great distance and can either gib the monsters, if fired with great velocity, or pin them to the objects, if fired up close. This pinning to the walls alone is enough to install Painkiller as soon as possible. The stakegun is a sniper weapon, but differently from the famous railgun, fires it's stakes in a non-flat, parabola-like trajectory.. It requires a certain skill to use it.. Harder than a railgun for sure. Stakegun has grenades as an alternative option and has the best combo in the game - while you launch a grenade in the air, while it lands, you must pin the grenade with your stakegun in the air and then such stake will fly having an explosive warhead.. The damage done when hit with this combo is enormous. Last, but not least is the gun that fires shurikens and lighting... Need i say more? Yes - it has a combo - it fires a big fucing shuriken charged with lightning and everyone that comes near that big fucing shurinken is electrocuted. Somehow Yahtzee did not mention that.. All of the weapons look awesome and realistic..
Once you start a level you can see an empty statistics deck that needs to be filled while you progress; once you will finish the first level - a display of level statistics will appear on the screen. Again, great competitive games like Quake and Serious Sam offer these statistics and the end of the levels. You will notice how much challenge does Painkiller offer to you - first you can finish each level with the 5 stars rating - meaning you have to make something known as a perfect score, known in Quake games. Since every slain monster drops a spirit, you can make a spirit run, or you can make a gold-rush run, and try to acquire as much gold as possible. Gold is needed to buy tarot cards.. Of course an ordinary level speedrun or boss level time attack is the most logic challenge. You can make a tarot card unlocking challenge - one of the most obvious and popular challenges - just do what is told at the beginning of the level statistics and have that done in the end of the game. For example finish one level using a stakegun only or finish another level without grabbing an armor..
Although the game is linear in it's concept, it is never boring if you understand for what it is made. It will be boring if you are looking just to finish the game, especially if you will try to search for any sense in the story telling - than you better not touch the game at all and go play Half-Life 2 instead. But if you truly appreciate the various challenges, and the immerse, gore filled gameplay delivered by Painkiller, than you will understand that Painkiller's linear gameplay is the only logic way to ensure that there will be any competition between the players who will try to best the scores of the statistic tables. That being said, for example, - kill the monsters as fast as possible and show the maximum skill by doing so. The game has got tons of unintended shortcuts - almost in every level there are few of them, so the speedrun can never be linear here. Just as in the good old Quake..
So once you will see Painkiller's visuals, performance, weapons, challenge statistics, realistic physics and how fast it is, the next thing you will notice while exploring the game in the next rooms is the detail and accuracy in the level geometry and 3D design - especially gorgeous looking levels are the Cathedral, Atrium Complex, Opera House, Babel, Castle, Palace, Train Station, City On Water, Old Monastery and Hell; it is something that other FPS games released before 2004 can be only jealous of, perhaps with the exception of Serious Sam, where some of it's levels, like Babylon, were truly spectacularly made. Having that compared, not all of the Painkiller's levels look so amazing, some of them have a very linear and less attractive design - like the Military Base, Abandoned Factory or Docks - but on the other hand these less stylish levels offer greater gameplay value for the decreased looks (fighting in these levels are on a bigger scale and harder when compared to the beautiful levels). So Painkiller levels are very well balanced between each other, and there is not a case where a level is "out of the picture". The most amazing thing about the levels, which most of you don't even realize is that many of the them represent real world entities! There is an actual same looking Asylum somewhere in the US, same style Cemetery also in the US, same looking Train Station located in Austria, same looking Opera House somewhere in Spain - it can go on and on... Anyone who says that Painkiller has a bad level design is basically an idiot who does not have a clue of what he is talking... Not all of the levels are real copies of the known places in the world, but all of the Painkiller levels, except Hell have their counterparts, similar locations and installations in our earth, what can not be said about other fantasy FPS games, although games like Hexen 2 or Serious Sam did a great effort trying to realistically represent known historical designs and captured the beauty of excellent 3D geometry too.
The greatness of the levels does not just end with their geometry stuff. All the levels are filled with monsters, and each level has it's unique distinctive monster list. For example you will only find Lepper Monks and Walking Undead in levels like Town and Castle. So there is a certain sense of style that each level must have it's own kind of monsters.. And speaking of monster i can not forget to mention the bosses of this game. Without a shadow of a doubt - Painkiller has got the biggest bosses seen in any game. Other games have similar size bosses, but not 6 of them in the single game.. You first get the taste of what bosses are about in the level Cathedral where you face off against a giant vampire that is some 15 meters high. But he is nothing compared to Necrogiant, which is hands down, the largest ever boss in any game. You have to see to believe it. The bosses of course do not come cheap - they are extremely well textured and have some of the greatest animation seen in games. Your jaw truly drops on the floor..
It is easy to edit Painkiller settings - there is a cfg file located in the Painkiller/Bin directory, and even if you screw it up, you can delete it and it will be replaced by the default cfg. The game interface and HUD look awesome, many options to choose from, and you will never get lost in the game due to the fact, that the HUD has an enhanced arrow that leads you where to go..
Though you have many option in the menu, you have lots of more in the cfg.
Also there are lots of commands to be written in the console - i suggest increasing the FOV from it's default ugly 90 to something higher, and enabling the speedmeter, so that newcomers might learn about the speed of the game.
And of course there is the famous powermad utility, full it's powerfull tools, but most importantly - useful for fixing the game bugs and enabling some useful commands those are not present by default. Powermad is not just some mod to a game - it is a widely recognized and needed program that works like a patch. Without it Painkiller would be less attractive.
Another important aspect of the game is it's multiplayer: it might be weak on the net, because of it's bad netcode, but it sure feels good on LAN and it's level of skill needed for professional 1 VS 1 gaming is at the very top, togehter with the elite games like Quakeworld, Quake 2, Quake 3 Arena and Warsaw. No other games come close bringing the levels of speed, skill and competitiveness required for pro gaming.
Instead of being a jack-ass, i will simply quote some of the lines, the professional gamers had to say about PK:
Johnathan "fatal1ty" Wendel: - "for me Painkiller is the second greatest 1 VS 1 game after Quake 3 Arena"
Sander "Vo0" Kaasjager: -"my personal favorite choise, the fastest game that i have played"
Nomater how much i like the game, it is not perfect. Actually Painkiller is one of the more error-full games, and that just speaks about the fact that is has not been developed with first class materials. Bugs and crashes occur more often than wanted. Alone the lua application programing language is very irritating if you want to change some game scripts, there is quite a mess. Worst of all is that random lua based script errors occur just like that, without any explanation.. Adding to the bad development is the fact that lots of stuff is written in polish language.. Especially in the Pain Editor, which is used as a tool to modify maps. It only comes with a patch, however...
Another fault is that Painkiller does not have a cooperative, and although one can not blame the developers for that, the fact that almost every Raven Software game had it, as well as Serious Sam had, makes me cry.
Finally Painkiller might feel repetitive or boring for those, who do not appreciate these types of games - and there are many of such people, i know, even among the reviewers.. But this certainly is not a criteria in my case, so it won't affect the score.
Painkiller still has too much good in it to be anyhow affected by it's faults..
Final words: this game is a masterpiece, quite under-rated and somehow felt less popular than Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 by the time of it's release year. But certainly i prefer quality over quantity, and do not care for a incompetent opinions. Not everyone will appreciate Painkiller, but those who do, know why...