Besides being a neat showcase for Painkiller going HD, I was initially at a loss for what this entry’s title really represented. Is this a remake, reboot, remaster, retelling, reimagining, rehashing or at the very least related to the original game? I might not be a big fan of Painkiller due to its awkward gameplay and physics, but I love its style and am all for a sequel, restock or whatever this project is.
In fact, even the main developers had a hard time pinpointing what Hell & Damnation was going to be, as it was according to them: “equally a homage, continuation, and expansion of great ideas from the original game”. The executive producer of this project, Reinhard Pollice, stated that the team wanted to make this entry due to the lack of old school elements in 2012 and to give people action titles that did not rely on cinematic moments to make them feel like badasses. The passion is clearly there and I pray that my second run through Painkiller’s twisted world, will be a good one.
NB: To avoid any confusion, I will be referring to the original game simply as Painkiller and this remake as Hell & Damnation.
If End of Days was at least entertaining
Daniel Garner has been dead for so long, that his memories of who he once was are now just a blur. The only thing he is certain of, is that he was never a good enough person to be accepted into Heaven. Not to mention, after crushing the forces of Hell and Purgatory in the last title, his chances to reunite with his wife became slimmer. Death, however, sees potentials in his powers and offers a deal. Give him 7000 souls and Daniel will see his beloved Catherine again. Reluctantly, he accepts this task.
With returning characters and nothing having changed since Painkiller, I thought at first this was a retelling of its story, but this is actually a continuation of it. Despite this, you will be visiting familiar locations and encounter almost every monster from the original entry, making this setup feel redundant. Luckily, it is incredibly cheesy as well, with amusing B movie dialogues that make Daniel and the other characters memorable. A favourite example of mine, is when Daniel is arguing with Death and asks how he can be trusted. Death simply replies with: “There are only two things in the world that are certain; and you are talking to one of them”. Clever lines like this are always worth admiring.
However, this shooter does not have much of a strong plot in general and it all stops with a cliffhanger that is going to haunt me for ages. The lack of interesting events also makes this story forgettable, to the point that I wonder why cutscenes were even implemented besides making them seem visually important. These dialogue sequences could have just been done through gameplay, providing more immersion while you are fighting against hellish creatures. I commend the developers for making the characters enjoyable, but the story sadly goes nowhere.
Story Score: 5/10
Massacre with substance
Hell & Damnation takes you through most of Painkiller‘s levels, and could thus be considered a remake of it. I say most, as despite the original having 24 stages, this entry cuts some levels out, introduces some new ones, and adds in a couple that are reskins of others. In comparison, there are 19 reused stages, with six being bonus levels and those with visual alterations. However, I am 100% fine with this and I will let you know why as I go in depth with this title.
This arena shooter gives you tons of weapons to fire with, clear objectives on killing everyone before moving on to the next area, and reloading is nonexistent. Because of this, the carnage is at a constant and fast pace with the focus always being on the combat. However, this remake also makes some smart changes from the first game. Painkiller had tons of weapons that could be cycled through and all return for Hell & Damnation with one extra (and a couple from its DLCs). They are all different from one another and each includes a secondary shot. For example, your strong stakegun can also launch devastating bombs. Meanwhile, the shotgun with a spread shot can also shoot freezing bullets. This variety goes for all the firearms and it is simply enthralling to experiment with your entire arsenal!
However, unlike in the original title, this one throws tons of diverse monsters at you simultaneously and has rebalanced the weapons to make sure each is useful. You might have to blast your shotgun against plenty of minor enemies, before switching to the stakegun to take care of stronger foes, and then use the electrodriver on armoured archers just to get a breather. This sheer variety of firearms and their functionalities, makes every single one exhilarating and important to use, since unlike Painkiller; you will be forced to fight against hordes that actually can contain three or four different kinds of creatures. When all are hellbent on charging at you with whatever they got, you cannot be a sitting duck. You have to keep moving, with even the ability to bunny hop working as a neat form of a dodge mechanic!
It is fantastic how you have to consider who is going to do elemental attacks, run towards you, and be the one that takes the most damage to kill, as all opponents are varied in their stats and abilities. This is also supported by how much better designed this remake is technically! Gone is the need to be pinpoint precise due to awkward hit detection, making the rocket launcher practical for long distance massacres. All of this is thanks to the new engine Hell & Damnation uses. While Havok is one I adore, it became a complete nuisance in the first game, since you got stuck in any part of the scenery 80% of the time. This entry utilises instead Unreal Engine 3, where only huge walls can hinder your movement instead of just a dent in the road.
Another brilliant and subtle design is that the stages are smaller this time around, making the brain dead enemies a constant threat. Some levels are still large for some exciting shootouts, but you always have the compass to showcase where the last fiends are or the next checkpoint for saving and refilling health, which is nice for keeping up the mayhem. You can no longer save manually, but this helps to keep up the challenge, instead of letting you save and reload behind every meaningless cover. These save points are never too far apart either, making it so you do not have to endure a marathon whenever playing this shooter.
There are also more traps and dangerous hazards around which can affect both the opponents and you, making it fun to lure them into these setups for some quick kills and forces you to be more aware of the environments for your own benefits. Some stages are missing from the original, but most of these were ridiculous chores to get through due to having long and giant areas or empty hallways. I know some might miss the asylum or the catacombs, but the latter was a tiresome corridor and the former was only an average stroll that had pacing issues.
I am even happy for the return of the tarot cards! What were once an odd inclusion, add a lot of strategies to the combat this time thanks to the varied enemies. It is truly engaging to equip different sets of two active and three passive tarot cards for some intriguing effects, such as getting slowly healed automatically or be able to activate slow-mo. You get these trinkets through finishing levels with certain conditions, which are showcased at the level select. Indeed, you actually can prepare for what you have to do unlike in Painkiller, and the stages are short enough for making replays easy to do in case you failed a mission.
Outside of this, the levels are filled with hidden ammo and armour, making it important to scavenge for them whenever you can. Also returning from the first entry, are the souls that defeated enemies leave behind in order to refill your health. By collecting 66 of them, you will turn into an invincible beast where everything goes into slow motion and you can instantly kill monsters by clicking on them for a short time. Because of the amount of foes to deal with, considering when to pick up the last one will be significant, as it automatically activates when the 66th soul has been acquired. Another element that adds to a nice risk versus reward setup, is that these souls will eventually disappear and are usually found where there are already opponents to be aware of. Do you hold off to collect them in order to survive or take on the hordes right away?
All of these clever details within Hell & Damnation forces the player to strategies while they are in these shootouts and react accordingly to what needs to be done, making you feel like an action hero that gets your skills tested to their max. However, despite that this remake fixes a lot of the original’s issues, there are still oddities included. One is that you still have to use money in order to equip new cards, and even if getting enough currency was never a problem, this is just a strange concept that adds nothing to the campaign.
Although, the most problematic aspect to this game are the bosses. While none are tedious damage-sponges, they are rudimentary with simple tactics being required for taking them down. They can still be entertaining thanks to how dangerous their attacks are, the constant barrage of smaller enemies charging at you simultaneously, and containing cute gimmicks to them such as one boss where you must destroy the bubbles around it first in order to deal damage. Sadly, they are forgettable by being too easy and not nearly as engaging as the regular fights.
These are the only faults to this shooter and they do not change what an amazing adrenaline kick it provides. With tight controls, constant hordes of varied enemies, exciting levels to venture through, and creative firearms that tests your skills, I can definitely say that I see now what Painkiller was really supposed to be. Hell & Damnation took the original title and actually made it fun, with tense and insane battles that I could not get enough of.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Rusty, but still Metal!
This remake brings over the diverse locations from the first entry, with every single one being a perfect tribute to the horror genre and metal. Dark graveyards with skeletons, insane amusement parks with killer clowns, and an opera with plenty of mythical creatures, all are exhilarating places to visit that have fitting monsters to take down. While there are less stages this time around, the variety is still strong thanks to the many areas to visit and the included extra levels being a sweet treat.
The entire world is brimming with personalities and contains believable structures, making the immersion fierce and effective. Because of this, it can be legitimately terrifying to walk around and take in the beautiful scenery. This also comes from the lovely designs to the enemies that either relate to traditional tropes like WW skeletons, more bizarre concepts such as the puppets or just grotesque which perfectly describes the old hags. All have gotten a nice uplift artistically from Painkiller, which is a commendable effort from the developers. Skeletons now got shinier armours, the children have more diverse looks, and Daniel is quite buff in order to highlight the cheesy vibe this game is going for.
What is the most important enhancement within this remake, is the insane massacre you can create. It is mesmerising to see plenty of enemies caught in explosions, limbs flying around, and surreal amount of blood being splattered all over the place. Combine this with the different guns’ animations and otherworldly designs, and every shot became satisfying to witness. It all is further captivated by the sheer force the firearms convey through their sounds, with the different screams from anyone biting the dust adding to the atmosphere.
Complimenting this wonderful mayhem, is the gorgeous metal being played whenever there are fiends to kill. Both new tracks and some old ones from the original title are included, with them all having outstanding beats, diverse notes, and harsh instruments. This soundtrack truly gives every area their own tone and shows just how vast this genre of music can be. It also works as a neat contrast to the silent and environmental audio used whenever there are no one to shoot, making you listen carefully to when the music starts up again as a sign to get ready.
Unfortunately, while the CG cutscenes do look great, the in-game ones showcase some cut corners. Awkward and stiff characters, off lighting on some occasions, and despite the game being artistically pleasing, it is far from technically polished. Finally, the voice actors are an interesting subject, due to the voice of the Gremlins playing Death and Duke Nukem himself taking on the role as Daniel. All of the actors give entertaining performances, but Saint John sounds a bit tired, making his performance wooden. Overall though, this remake is rusty, but has aged nicely thanks to its art and gore.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Wanna do some carnage together?
Even if there are less stages to venture through compared to the first entry, I can say that every single one was enjoyable to not just play through once, but multiple times. By getting high scores and possibly unlocking more tarot cards through meeting certain conditions at the end of each stage, I ended up replaying them all of them just for the fun of it, forgetting at times that I tried to make it on the leaderboards. These challenges also made boss fights more engaging, as I had to change up my strategies in order to complete them, which was a smart move.
Doing this and solo survival, will give you a big rush by testing your skills and truly make you work for your achievements. Even better, is that you can venture through this shooter in co-op, with split-screen being also an option. If that was not enough, there is a huge setup for multiplayer, with survival, capture the flag, varied death match, and plenty of stages to choose from. These also have tons of options to tinker with, such as power-ups and toggling team damage on or off. If you are somehow still not satisfied, there are neat bonus levels to tackle, modding the game is easy, and the trauma difficulty is unlocked if you beat the campaign on nightmare.
In other words; Hell & Damnation has a great amount of content to offer, including with or against friends. There are DLCs, but despite that they have some cool levels and callbacks to Painkiller, they are rather decent upgrades to what could be tedious stages. Hit and miss, but can be aesthetically pleasing and decent for short bursts. Although, it is a shame that many of these feel like the developers are using nostalgia in order to make some extra money than anything else.
Extra Score: 9/10
This shooter is pure entertainment! It represents everything I love about B horror action projects: blood, gore, demonic creatures, explosions, creative weapons, and a badass who fights off hordes of enemies. Hell & Damnation removes so much unnecessary from the original to create a more focused experience, making every moment exhilarating. It is a fantastic and deep arena shooter filled with intriguing dialogues, incredible locations, and countless of reasons to come back for more. Despite that it has some clear issues, none made me lose my stupid grin. This one took every pain away.