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Oct 29, 2011

I'm in so much pain!

Painkiller Universe
Game Category: Action - First Person
Developer / Distributor: People Can Fly and Mindware Studios / Dreamcatcher and Jowood
Release Date: 8 Jul 2008
Rating: ESRB - Mature

Painkiller Universe
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The world of Painkiller is a dark one indeed. You'll need more than light to find your way around the many lairs and demesnes of depravity and evil. And, the Painkiller Universe collection brings together all the  carnage into one magnificent package worthy of your attention. There are three games in this box - the original Painkiller, the expansion Battle out of Hell, and the standalone offshoot Overdose.

The story starts off in Painkiller with the protagonist Daniel Garner getting killed in an automobile accident together with his wife. Instead of reaching the pearly gates of heaven, Daniel gets caught somewhere in between - the dreaded Purgatory. Before you know it, a really weird angel hires Daniel to take out Lucifer's four generals, in turn promising his chance at reuniting with his wife.

The action continues immediately in the Battle out of Hell expansion as Daniel takes on even more demons and nasty bosses.

The third game in the series takes on a different route altogether. Overdose has you cast in the role of Belial, the half-angel half-demon anti-hero. Freed from his prison by actions set off by Daniel Garner, Belial is now seeking revenge on the beings responsible for imprisoning him.

Come along into the Painkiller Universe as Hallow's eve draws closer. You will get to explore the things that go bump in the night, and also see why this is not one game to be played alone on this special night.

Sign on the dotted line please...
What you get
Like most any shooter, each release in the Painkiller series comes equipped with a single player campaign as well as a multiplayer aspect that allows you to participate in 16 player battles.

Painkiller's single player campaign will take you through 24 levels, while the Battle out of Hell expansion cashes in on a sweet 10 level experience. Overdose on the other hand lies somewhere in between the former two, clocking in with a total of 16 levels.

The Evil Dead walk again!
Multiplayer mode features 8 different styles of play on a LAN or over the Internet. They include Free-for-all, Duel (one on one), Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Last Man Standing.

That's the typical fare, but there's also People can Fly where you are restricted to using the Rocket Launcher weapon, Voosh where everyone starts out with the same weapon and infinite ammo at first but later everybody's weapons are switched at regular intervals, and finally The Light Bearer where you must be the player holding the Rage power-up at the end of the frag or time limit.

Preparing to instil pain on a couple of friends
The story in Painkiller follows Daniel Garner through five long chapters. Each chapter comprises about 4 to 6 levels, and each level is further sub-divided into many parts. A compass is available at the top of the screen to point you towards the next part of the level, so there is no possibility of getting lost in a huge level. A red glowing rune on the ground indicates an autosave checkpoint before you enter the next part.

Each part will inundate you with hordes of enemies that come at you wave after (almost) unceasing wave. The variety of monsters in Painkiller is vast and they include some of the coolest looking monsters I have ever seen. There's the ghoulish amputee who ambles around on the ground (as well as the ceiling), pulling itself along with its stumps, then there's the witch that makes the Wicked Witch of the West look bad, plus my favorite would be the Beast who cannonballs at you from a distance and is bound to catch you by surprise when you least expect it.

Humongous boss battles
A huge boss monster awaits you at the last level of every chapter in Painkiller. You must find his weak point and then defeat the boss monster to unlock the movie cinematic that tells the incredible story of Daniel's foray through Purgatory and into the very pits of Hell itself.

The game cinematic segues into the Battle out of Hell expansion nicely (although you will notice some rather unsubtle differences in the cinematics between Painkiller and the expansion). Despite sporting only 10 levels, the lack of quantity is undeniably offset by the creativity found here. Though the levels impressed me greatly in Painkiller, I thought that Loony Park and Leningrad from this expansion were some of the most spectacular I had ever seen. And the monsters are outstanding - there's the evil Clown (think of the evil twin to Stephen King's It), and the incredible Panzer Spider.

These guys belong in the loony bin
Although not developed by the original Polish company People Can Fly, Mindware Studios have done quite an admirable job in Overdose. Not wanting to invite a comparison to the previous expansion Battle out of Hell, the story now shifts its attention to that of Belial.

Plus, you get the added benefits of 6 new diabolical weapons and over 40 new monsters to battle against a backdrop of 16 huge levels. Monsters now come in a larger version, so don't gawk when you are attacked by huge Cyclops or the large Overseers in the very first level of a Pompeii stylized city with an evil version of Vesuvius looming in the background. Other locations include outstanding surprises like a Japanese town and an asteroid stocked with science fiction monsters waiting to tear your demonic limbs apart.

Shoot the cyclops dead in the eye
A prime game mechanic in the Painkiller series is the use of the Black Tarot board that you can access in between levels. You get a chance to unlock yourself a Tarot card for each level you play. To do so, you must complete the stated objective for winning the card. There may be simple objectives like - Kill all monsters, Finish the level without any armor, and Keep Hit Points above 50; the harder ones will keep you practising until you finally net the tarot card.

Tarot cards can be assigned on two rows of spaces on the board. The top row of two slots are for permanent (silver) cards while the bottom row of three slots are for temporary (golden) cards. The power from assigned permanent cards will stay with you throughout each level you play unless you exchange it for another permanent card. Powers include reducing damage inflicted upon you, delivering more damage, or even making you move faster than everything else in the game.

The Tarot Board
Finally, there are collectibles in the game. Every monster that dies drops a greenish glowing icon; this represents a soul. You also get to collect red souls in Overdose (from tougher monsters); these will reward you 6 souls. If you collect enough souls (66 to be exact), you will turn into a hideous demon with an ultra-powerful weapon that can destroy everything in its path. This power lasts only a short while so make the most of it while you can.

There are also objects such as vases, chests, boxes, crates, and so on, that must be destroyed. These objects hide coins you so desperately need. These coins are used to pay to equip cards on the Tarot Board, so make sure you don't miss any. You can unequip cards, but you only get back half the coins you spent.

This level really gives me the creeps
The graphics in Painkiller is impressive indeed. Let's look at each important element in turn.
  • Level design - There is a great range of level design styles being employed in the entire series. You will find cramped enclosed spaces, or vast open fields, depending on the theme. And, one thing is that the themes are absolutely rich. You will visit an Asylum, an Opera House (equipped with falling chandelier), a Venice styled city in Painkiller, a creepy Orphanage and the aforementioned Loony Park in Battle out of Hell, plus a Dead Marsh and a scary Village of the Damned level in Overdose.
  • Textures - The textures are very sharp and detailed, and there is good use of shaders throughout the game. I did notice some obvious slowdowns in Overdose though.
This looks too deserted...
  • Models - The models for the monsters are mostly very good. There were a couple of monsters I didn't particularly like only because they are stock type entities meant to populate a level for the sake of keeping you occupied. The bosses are outstanding, you will learn to hate every one of them, so remember to recognize their attack patterns. The rigging animation is outstanding and everything comes together to make it look very realistic and scary indeed.
  • Cinematics - The movies are really worth watching in the Painkiller series, so stick around and don't blink.
  • Menu Interface - I found the in-game interface to be clear and concise and not overly obtrusive. The user menu interface is also functional however I would have preferred a bloodier look instead of a sepia styled tone.
The cinematic that started an entire universe of pain
The music in the Painkiller series is riveting throughout. The soundtrack is mostly fast and frenetic, so you won't have much time to take a breather.

The sound effects are outstandingly creepy. Each monster comes with its own unique sound bite that you will be bound to recognize from afar. Some of the aural cues are so loud and frightening that they will very likely send shivers through your spine; especially if a monster starts to materialize right next to you.

The cinematic voiceovers are perhaps functional at best. I would have preferred more conviction in some of the lines. Daniel makes for a rather tragic hero, while Belial brings back life to the game by being a strong anti-hero.

These hallways are so claustrophobic
  • Some of the best first person shooting game play you will ever experience.
  • The game is so realistically creepy and the atmosphere so tense, you can even feel it in your fingers and taste it in the air.
  • There's a rich variety of monsters in the Painkiller series - most of them are visually stunning and animate superbly.
  • Some monster sound effects can truly curdle your blood from all that pent up fear.
  • You get some pretty cinematics to gawk at.
  • I know I didn't describe the weapons throughout the review, but suffice to say they are impressive. You also get alternate firing modes with them. The weapons selection in Overdose is extremely good.
  • There are four difficulty levels (Daydream, Insomnia, Nightmare, and Trauma), with the last level requiring extensive dedication to unlock.
  • The Painkiller Universe is a lengthy game that will take you many, many hours to complete.
  • Tarot cards are an excellent reward system.
You need to destroy all objects to nab the Tarot card
  • Graphic stutters when encountering certain monsters or playing in certain areas, especially in Overdose.
  • Loading times can be quite long on slower machines.
  • It sometimes feels like you are being led through different parts of a level in a prescribed manner. In this way, you could say that play tends to be linear from a macroscopic view.
It shall be Hallow's Eve soon, so what better way than to bunker down in the comfort zone of your lofty domicile to play several hours non-stop of the Painkiller Universe collection until the dawn breaks the next morning.

If you survive the ordeal, you rightfully deserve the accolade of Painkiller!

66 souls collected! Time to wreak havoc!
Daily PC Game Review Score for Painkiller Universe: 8 / 10
  • Painkiller: 8.5 / 10
  • Painkiller: Battle Out of Hell - 8 / 10
  • Painkiller: Overdose - 7.5 / 10
Review Date: 29 Oct 2011


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