Developers have a nasty habit of referring to their games as ‘old school’ when they know that they may not be very good by modern standards. Pitched as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and designed to serve as both a remake and a sequel to 2004’s Painkiller, does Painkiller: Hell & Damnation dance with the devil or get its legs in a tangle?
If you’ve experienced any of the Serious Sam-era games from ten years ago, then you’ve played it all before. Gravel-voiced protagonist Daniel has had his wife cruelly taken from him by the devil, and is subsequently tricked when trying to recapture her. Shortly after this, he enters into an agreement with Death to be reunited with her once more, provided he harvest 7,000 souls.
What Death doesn't stipulate – though we doubt that Daniel would have read the fine print anyway – is that these souls must be collected in increasingly tiresome locations, where the doors lock behind you, forcing you to murder myriad mirrored foes before you can progress.
From the way that the screen bobs up and down as you move, right down to the suspicious lack of iron sights, everything about this game feels dated. The combat, which essentially involves running to one end of a room and picking off all of your enemies, quickly grows tiresome, and even the introduction of massive, God of War-like mega bosses boil down to simply strafing and emptying your ammo clips.
That being said, there are some interesting weapon and enemy designs, although the initial sense of awe at the firearms, and disgust at the adversaries, quickly wears thin as you take down your 56th Grim Reaper-esque guy with your new spinning sawblade gun. Depending on how proficient you are at taking down the game’s limited enemy types, you can earn tarot cards that provide you with buffs to make things a little easier. These range from enhanced health to slower enemies, but aren’t really necessary.
When you harvest 66 souls – dropped by enemies upon their death – you turn into a demon yourself, becoming invulnerable for a time and earning a one-hit kill attack. While this ability is time-limited, we found it more of a burden, as it obscures your vision, and makes it tricky to find your way out of the large, empty environments when there's nothing left to kill.
Indeed, these sterile, vacant areas only compound the game’s graphical issues, and are far too large for the amount of enemies that you face, with a lot of the scenery seeming overwhelmingly familiar. The character models aren’t much better, as when you view them up close, they feature jagged edges and unfocused textures, causing the cutscenes that they appear in to feel even tackier than they already are. If there’s one thing that the cinematics do a great job of, it’s showcasing the developer’s lack of attention to detail, and underlining just how uninteresting the “narrative” really is.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can tackle the campaign as a twosome in the game’s local co-op mode, but there’s no real improvement here. While the idea that co-op makes everything better is certainly a sound one, we’d be surprised if anyone were to play through the entire campaign with a friend and enjoy themselves.
As was a recurring theme for titles of this ilk in the teenage years of PC gaming, there’s also an online multiplayer component should you fancy it. Standard game modes all make an appearance, such as capture the flag and deathmatch, but there’s nothing here that stands out. Furthermore, we only managed to find one game during the course of this review, so the longevity of the servers is something to bear in mind.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing – but in some cases it can be problematic. The industry has certainly moved on from the days when games such as Painkiller: Hell & Damnation were commonplace, and while it's not unreasonable to look back on these times with fondness, that doesn't mean that this lazy rehash deserves your attention. This is a shining example of corner-cutting, outdated ideas, and, in truth, is a complete waste of your time.