Released way back in 2004, developer People can Fly’s (PCF) fast paced first person shooter, Painkiller, was an ode to Serious Sam. Only it was so much better. Painkiller’s draw without a doubt lay in its over-the-top, hyper kinetic gameplay where players faced off against legions of Hell’s minions at a single time from all sides. It was chaotic, bloody and extremely rewarding. The game also was visually appealing thanks to the incorporation of the Havok engine that allowed PCF to pull off some insanely satisfying ragdoll.
Now you have to understand this is 2004, so back then ragdoll was a big deal. I remember spending hours playing with the corpses of enemies (yes I know it sounds wrong), staking them to different parts of the environment. I also very clearly remember PKHASTE, the cheat code that slowed time down allowing me to create a well choreographed ballet of death.
Gameplay aside, Painkiller was also a very good looking game that boasted of a wicked art style populated by some truly dreary gothic set pieces. In case your memory’s a bit rusty, Painkiller took place in purgatory (the place between heaven and hell) where our protagonist, Daniel Gardner landed up after an unfortunate car accident. While he’s cooling his heels in a not-so-pleasant place, his wife who died in the same car crash with him is chilling in heaven. To be allowed through the pearly gates, he has to slaughter four of Lucifer’s generals to prevent all out war between Heaven and Hell. This set up allowed PCF to conjure up some terribly impressive boss fights straight out of hell (literally). Towering above players, these behemoths were a sight to behold as they could send you hundreds of feet in the air with the swipe of their hand. Unrealistic yes, but if you came here looking for authenticity, you were obviously barking up the wrong tree.
So why couldn’t PCF deliver another Painkiller which could be a gazillion times better considering the resources and tech at their disposal now. Unfortunately, the rights to the Painkiller IP never belonged to them. They stayed with the game’s publisher Dreamcatcher who shamelessly milked the franchise to some less than capable game studios resulting in the brand’s mutilation. You have to understand that even though I loved this game to death, it was no Unreal Tournament or Doom. It was still considered a “fluke” that appealed to a select niche of gamers. Now PCF have moved onto bigger things after being bought over by Epic Games, the makers of the Unreal Tournament and Gears of War series. Their last collaboration, Bulletstorm was kind of an ode to Painkiller but unfortunately it didn’t make a splash at sales. This brings me to the question. What now? Will they continue working on the Bulletstorm IP or will they be moved onto other projects? Or worse will they be cut off like a cancerous tumor with nowhere else to go.
But whatever their future may be, you can always grab Painkiller off Steam where it’s being bundled with its numerous expansion packs. Yes, the game looks outdated and yes, you probably won’t be able to play it for hours on end but there’s no doubt that even today, Painkiller is one of the most cathartic experiences out there.