Halloween 2022 Gaming Special, Day 1: “Painkiller: Black Edition” (PC)

After last year’s Halloween gaming special week started off with Blood: Fresh Supply, it’s only natural to have People Can Fly‘s gory horror FPS Painkiller in its Black Edition start the freak show.

Painkiller: Black Edition (PC)
(Poland 2005, developer: People Can Fly, publishers: DreamCatcher Interactive (now defunct)/Prime Matter, platform: PC)

After being killed in a car crash with his wife, Daniel Garner finds himself in purgatory and has to prevent Lucifer from overthrowing hell so that he can follow his wife to heaven as a reward.

Between heaven and hell
The story and characters aren’t particularly memorable or deep, but they work in the context of creating a dark Gothic atmosphere. With the constant battle between good and evil in a world between heaven and hell, the few people or rather demons Daniel meets are weird, but fit the setting. While the over-sexualization of Eve is a bit questionable, it still makes sense in a game that doesn’t shy away from showing a very gloomy version of purgatory.

Good or bad people don’t matter
Daniel himself is more or less a regular guy who simply knows how to use all sorts of weapons, so he’s neither the Duke of the Dukem Nukem series or Serious Sam. Wisecracking and one-liners are comparable to Caleb’s comments in Blood: Fresh Supply, although Daniel still lacks a bit of identity to stick as a videogames icon. One demon, Asmodeus, who helps him is a bit more memorable, as he feels like a fun sidekick handing out the weapons for him, while Eve herself simply guides Daniel through the levels.

Chapters of damnation
There are a few twists and the overall presentation of the story is stylishly dark with over-the-top action sequences that makes one think of various comics like Constantine or Hellboy, even if the way how levels are connected isn’t explained much in these scenes. This doesn’t mean that the plot is complex, because one won’t remember much afterwards.

The base game is divided into five chapters with a boss at the end of each, while Battle Out of Hell adds 3 more chapters and bosses to the mix. There’s obviously less story in the latter and it only has an intro and outro, while the former has more cutscenes that barely hold together the levels. There’s also an alternative ending if one collects all the tarot cards (more about this later) on the highest difficulty. This (happy) ending is admittedly not canon, because otherwise the next games wouldn’t work, so it’s questionable if one will really do all the work to watch a cutscene that is wishful thinking for the main character.

Otherworldly scenes
The setting makes for some twisted variety in levels that usually have a Gothic or medieval theme, e.g. a castle or a surreal version of hell with buildings torn apart by war bombs and sunken ships in the background. There’s a creepy insane asylum and an atmospheric snow level (complete with balancing on lines from a cable car) in the base game, while a strange orphanage makes way to a Dawn of the Dead-like zombie infested city with an overrun shopping mall or a theme park that features an on-rails shooting segment on a nausea-inducing rollercoaster in Battle Out of Hell.

Despite lots of shooting, the expansion does a much better job to set the scene, as can be seen with the orphanage level in which darkness and strange sounds make the player scared of what actrocities he or she has to face soon. In general, despite not being very well connected to the barebones story, the levels feature impressive architecture and stay in one’s mind long after.

Smaller and bigger horrors to kill
Speaking of atrocities and weird things: The enemy design is varied and throws all sorts of creatures and human baddies at the player, as one fights off waves of clowns, deformed children, knights, bazooka-wielding maniacs, cultists, skeletons, spiders, tanks, soldiers and more.

The bigger enemies come in the form of boss battles which are found in the last part of a chapter. These are often impressively high and powerful, requiring a specific strategy to defeat. However, due to the lack of hints, one often runs around wildly without having a clue of how to do this.

Killing them usually involves the environment or special body parts that have to be hit. For example, in order to defeat a swamp monster, one has to destroy bubbles to make it vulnerable, while shooting at fires to put them out in an arena makes this possible with another boss, which is both stupid and nonsensical. This becomes even more head-scratchingly annoying with the final boss encounter in Battle out of Hell in which one has to hurt oneself, summon a golem that distracts the big boss who can then finally be attacked.

Killing it
The heart of the game isn’t in its storytelling or level design, but rather the satisfying guns or whatever else Daniel uses to dispose of enemy hordes. The usual suspects are a shotgun, but with a secondary function to freeze or a rocket launcher/chaingun. Being a game set in hellish environments, it makes sense to include a stakegun that can nail enemies to walls or anywhere else. Battle out of Hell adds a few more fun weapons, too, e.g. a nail rifle with zoom function.

If one is running out of ammunition, the first weapon of choice is the Painkiller which is a rotating saw or in the secondary fire mode a beam blade that can damage or kill enemies from afar. Needless to say, the game embraces the ultra-violence theme by making enemies explode into pieces and blood is seen everywhere, not only with the luckless baddies, but with corpses hanging from ceilings and other situations. It’s not nearly as obscene as in Blood: Fresh Supply or disturbing as in The Suffering and The Suffering: Ties That Bind, despite a few fun one-liners of the protagonist, but it’s still gratuitous.

Overkilling it
As if using all these sinister weapons wasn’t already guilty pleasure fun, then the Overkill mode changes things dramatically. Each killed enemy leaves behind a soul which can be picked up and after collecting a certain number of them, Overkill is activated: The hero becomes invincible, can move super-fast and kills every enemy from near or far away with one shot. As this only lasts a short time, it requires a bit of strategy when to pick up the last soul to do as much carnage as possible with the tougher opponents.

Reading devilish cards
Gameplay can also change with the use of tarot cards. These are obtained by unlocking challenges in each level, e.g. beating it with a specific weapon, a certain amount of health, etc. Some of these can often be difficult, as finding every secret or destroying all objects comes down to either too much exploration or overlooking parts of the environment. This becomes especially noticeable in Battle out of Hell. For example, finishing a level without being hit once is simply insane.

It’s possible to complete the games without the use of the tarot cards, but one won’t receive the alternative ending in the base game which also requires replaying it on a difficulty mode that is only unlocked after the first run. One can return to every level and use the acquired cards to make some challenges less difficult, though.

There are two types of tarot cards: silver and gold ones. The former can only be activated once per level (or more depending on another card) and last for a short time, while the latter adds a permanent perk. Their usefulness depends on play styles, but it’s obvious that some are better than others: enemy hits’ creating half of the normal damage or one’s own weapons can deal twice as much to them. Moving faster or in slow-motion makes some situations, especially boss battles, easier, too. As only a limited number of them can be placed and they also cost money which can be collected in levels, one has to think carefully which ones are worth it.

Frustrating times
With all the varied enemy designs, inventive weapons, tarot cards, and different levels, one might think that the game is a dream come true for FPS fans, especially since there aren’t any puzzles to think about. However, the gameplay itself becomes repetitive and also extremely unfair at times. This is down to the killing every enemy to progress to the next area where the same has to be done again and again. What makes things rather difficult is that enemies can spawn everywhere, resulting in even more chaotic fights. As one is rarely prepared for what’s to come, restarts are sometimes inevitable.

Battle out of Hell is particularly tough with countless zombies running up against the player in the Dead City level without giving him or her room and time to counter-act. In the same level one fights a big spider and later two, but while the first one can be killed with only a few shots, the others are inexplicably much more resilient, making one wonder if anyone had tested this level.

The same can be said about the Leningrad level where numerous tanks together with constantly spawning soldiers make it near impossible to survive, especially with sudden bombs from above that can’t be avoided if one doesn’t know it. Whoever thought that adding platforming segments in the Colisseum level was a good idea should have thought better about implementing it in a game that is otherwise a straight shooter.

Not all bugs killed
Despite having an arrow indicating where the next enemy or pentagram (that works as both a progress marker for a new area and replenishing one’s health) are, the game has quite a few bugs, e.g. enemies being stuck in walls and can’t be hit or a few graphical glitches. The later levels, at least in the base game, are even more annoying as one runs around from one part of the level to the next in the hope of finding a new area or enemy that wasn’t there before.

Still looking and sounding great
Even if the games are almost two decades old, the graphics are rather good, which is down to the enemy designs and level architecture. Granted, the cutscenes haven’t aged well, particularly in Battle out of Hell where the character models look even worse, in addition to the lack of lip sync, but overall compared to other 3D FPS titles, there are a few pretty moments, be it the many gorily detailed dismemberments or weather effects like falling snow.

Voice acting is surprisingly good for a game that isn’t much about story or character development, while the ambient sounds add to the atmosphere, especially in the expansion pack’s creepier surroundings. However, the real star is the heavy metal music, as it features many varied tracks that can easily compete with some bands of the genre. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the fast and furious action onscreen without getting old. There are few quieter music parts, but overall it’s metal through and through.

Back to the good old FPS times
Painkiller: Black Edition offers everything an old-school FPS fan craves for: a dark and not too complicated storyline, a badass protagonist, a varied arsenal of weapons, many crazy enemies on screen, and gory kills accompanied by a killer heavy metal soundtrack.

If all this sounds like heaven, then the way to frustation hell is only a stone throw away because of unfair spawning of enemies, numerous bugs, and levels in which one either has to go through repetitive mob or obscure boss fights. It’s a shame because the tarot cards add to personalized combat strategies and the playtime is also satisfying, even if the base game is much longer with its 9 hours than Battle out of Hell with its 4 hours.

Score: 7.5/10

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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3 Responses to Halloween 2022 Gaming Special, Day 1: “Painkiller: Black Edition” (PC)

  1. Pingback: Halloween 2022 Gaming Special, Day 2: “Painkiller: Overdose” (PC) | Emotional Multimedia Ride

  2. Pingback: Halloween 2022 Gaming Special, Day 3: “F.E.A.R. Platinum” (PC) | Emotional Multimedia Ride

  3. Pingback: Overview of (blog) life in October 2022 | Emotional Multimedia Ride

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