Want a movie-style pitching line to sum up Painkiller? We'd called it “Serious Damned”.
In fact it's a return to the good old days of Doom I and II with another graphical makeover like Serious Sam's. The paper thin plot has you in purgatory and conscripted into slaughtering the hordes of hell before you can ascend to heaven. That means 20 levels of eradicating (purifying?) everything that moves, and you'll be lunch for the Zombies or the throwing-star board for the undead Ninjas unless you're on the move yourself all the time.
The save system is the increasingly fashionable checkpoint system reminiscent of Halo rather than saving wherever you like and another radical departure from FPS convention, you don't have to reload, you pick up and exhaust a weapon before moving on to the next one you find. In case you think it's all too easy because you've done it before, a massive boss will rear its ugly head at least four times throughout the 20 levels of action.
The ten weapons' secondary fire modes are weird and wonderful to consider that you actually possess ten guns instead, like giving a double-barrelled shotgun a freeze ray so you can re-create the “Hasta La Vista, baby” scene from Terminator 2 ad infinitum by freezing enemies and shattering them with one blast. In a totally coincidental nod to the upcoming blockbuster Van Helsing you also possess a stake gun, which will pin victims to the wall. This wouldn't be a FPS game without a rocket launcher and the Havok physics and death animations mix nicely, so that when you see the after effect of a group strike, there'll be bodies everywhere. In addition, they'll leave behind health points in the form of souls, although you literally only get one. If they're different from the normal colour then that'll cost you health, a new twist on the incremental bonus idea.
The tarot card system also allows you to build up bonuses depending on card colour once again but sometimes you have to restrict yourself a single weapon and nothing bigger/more fun. Again it's not totally essential to the mass slaughter, but sometimes it'll help- providing Bullet Time slowdown as seen in The Matrix, Max Payne, Prince Of Persia and a cat food advert on television.
There is a multiplayer mode but it revolves purely around deathmatch and that's all, but the People Can Fly mode is an eccentric new addition where everyone has a rocket launcher but only mid-air kills increase your score, so everyone will be up in the air trying to aim at everyone else.
Painkiller's a good distraction if you've finished Far Cry but check the demo first and see if you're interested. Sensing the competition, most online retailers have dropped this to midrange price at launch and this is realistic for the kind of game you'd have played before Half Life six years ago. Graphics are competent to very good but the system requirements are comparatively low; a 1.5GHz processor with 384Mb RAM and 64Mb graphics cards will let any new PC owner of the past two years have a go. Now that teething problems regarding copy protection have been patched, the game will be reliable if you decide on taking another retro trip before seeing what the true Serious Sam sequel has to offer towards the end of the year. The extra point is for the value involved of a new game for £18 on the street rather than any claims regarding lastability.