It almost killed the franchise, but it’s a guilty pleasure for some
Goodness, what happened to the Painkiller franchise? Once the darling of back-to-basics FPS design, the brand has steadily evolved into something of a joke in the industry. We keep getting standalone mods every few years, with each one seemingly worse than the last and all of them doing little to improve the dated engine or advance the rather thin plot. A notable example is Painkiller: Redemption, but does it really deserve its infamous reputation alongside its siblings?
This game has gotten a pretty negative reception and I can see why, but honestly I had quite a lot of fun with it. And I say that as somebody who considers himself a massive Painkiller fan and who has played all of the titles in the series, good and bad alike. Ironically, it lives up to its name and offers a bit in the way of redeeming itself, which is more than I can say for the other abysmal efforts on offer such as Painkiller: Resurrection.
First, the bad. There’s virtually nothing new here. No new guns or weapons. No new monsters. It’s a hodgepodge of enemies and weapons from the first Painkiller and Painkiller Overdose. Level design is nowhere near as inspired as the original game, consisting largely of a series of boxed rooms with very little in the way of unifying theme or variety. It’s essentially a bunch of multiplayer maps, remixed and filled to the absolute brim with endless waves of monsters. Most offensively, I encountered crashes, especially when I tried to load save games in the later levels.
But for all its faults and blatant lack of polish, I found myself rather enjoying the experience. It’s certainly thrilling and occasionally frustrating to be cramped inside a small space while facing dozens of enemies at once. The shooting action is fast and as frantic as ever, perhaps even more so than its predecessors. The Painkiller brand is often compared to Serious Sam, and this title easily comes closest to fitting that bill. The only difference is that it trades wide open spaces for restricted rooms and Sam’s bright, humorous theme for something dark, occultic, and gothic.
Interestingly, players alternate between Daniel and Belial from Painkiller Overdose. There’s an attempt at an story at how the two cross paths, but it’s just small blurbs of text between levels and I honestly couldn’t bring myself to care. I must say I prefer Belial’s inventory and I find it fits the cramped gunplay far better than Daniel’s. Sadly, both Belial and Daniel have diminished arsenals, with the former lacking his sword and dragon eggs and the latter being robbed of his Battle Out Of Hell additions. A pity, because I feel they would have worked really well here. Nonetheless, what’s on offer works and sometimes the lack of guns can add an interesting challenge.
As before, the black tarot cards are back and their requirements aren’t too hefty. Unlocking them adds a bit of depth and challenge to the experience and definitely helps later against the more hectic monster encounters. Though, the inclusion of some cards are baffling. One example is a once-off instant demon morph, which seems to offer little in the way of tactical or even logical placement. Its requirement, too, is a bit too steep and aggravating, and particularly pointless when one factors into account that it’s only available on the rather abrupt and unceremonious final level.
But one of the biggest offenders of the entire package is the lack of multiplayer. It’s especially disappointing seeing as that has always been one of Painkiller‘s highlights. It would have been additional fun to see players battle it out with a mixture of Belial and Daniel-themed weapons. Again, a missed chance and another addition to the overall feeling of this product being a rushed, fan-mad endeavor without much input or oversight from the original developers.
Do I recommend it? I do, sort of, but that recommendation comes with more than a few cautions and caveats. If you’re aching for some mindless shooting and stress relief, you can’t go wrong with this. If you’re a longtime Painkiller fan looking for more of the same, this might be for you, if you can look past the blatant lack of original content and refinement. If you’re looking for a polished FPS with depth, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you absolutely must have it, I would suggest that you grab this one either in a bundle or on sale. As for me, it’s one of the cheapest, guiltiest pleasures in my Steam library. You can add it to yours by checking out its official page.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: THQ Nordic ; Developer: Eggtooth Team ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 25 February, 2011.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a retail copy of Painkiller: Redemption.