previews\ Jun 8, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Painkiller - PC - Preview 2

I was fortunate to go to E3 this year, and of course was absolutely stoked about seeing all of the new FPS titles that were in the works for release this year. There was no shortage of them, and lots of things ranging from WWII to futuristic style shooting games are going to be heading to consoles and PC’s before the end of 2003 and early into 2004. One of these that really caught my eye was a title called Painkiller by Dreamcatcher and it really stood out in my opinion due to a couple of things.


The story behind Painkiller as I understand it revolves around a mercenary style hero. He and his wife are killed in a fatal car accident one night, and while she is permitted to enter the Promised Land due to the life she led, you on the other hand apparently had quite a shady past and instead are to remain in purgatory. While there, you are made an offer by a higher power … it seems that the armies of Hell are uprising and planning an attack, and if you can stop the growing threat you will be reunited with your wife and permitted to enter Heaven. Well, it wouldn’t make much of a game if you declined, so you head off to the world of the damned packing some serious firepower and some serious attitude in your quest for redemption.


I loved the storyline, since it reminded me of a Spawn type of scenario (one of my favorite comic characters). As you can imagine, the three levels that I got to play through were seriously dark and spooky looking, and contained such things as a ruined and desecrated cathedral, a Taj Mahal kind of wasteland, and some really forbidding looking ruins as I went up against one of the nastiest and biggest boss creatures I have seen to date in an FPS title. While these may sound pretty neat (and they were), this is all thanks to a new graphics engine that Dreamcatcher developed known as the Pain engine.


The Pain engine is really what makes this title unique in its looks and physics modeling and sets it apart from other games. While a lot of other titles offered a “rag doll” effect in targets to make them drop and go limp when killed or shot, the Pain engine focuses on other aspects of modeling such as the behaviors and reactions of clothing. For example, one of the first enemies that I encountered were mindless demons wearing monk’s robes. As I drilled rounds into their chest or head, the cloth would actually flip and wave like you would expect it to in real life … which is not only cool, but makes it a heck of a lot more realistic.


Painkiller’s collision detection was also shaping up to be great thanks to Pain, and interaction between both live and non living targets is already showing promising signs of adding a little bit more strategy than your normal, mind numbing run and gun shooter. As an example of this point, the same level with the evil monks contains explosive barrels and coffins scattered throughout the stage. In your traditional FPS game, these would be stationary but could be blown up. In Painkiller however, they can be kicked over and rolled, which enabled me to set traps for waves of monsters that were heading my direction and take multiple ones out with a few shots rather than exhausting clips of ammo trying to stay alive. In addition, the collision detection was down pat enough even in this early build that at one point a flying enemy crashed into another one and actually knocked him sideways. There were a couple of other things too, like them falling over each other if one lay dying, crates toppling over realistically if a bottom one was shot out, or one enemy getting pinned by his head to a column after a grenade went off at his feet, but those are the kinds of things that you can be looking forward to with this title.


The Pain engine also plays some part in the graphics, which are already looking pretty fantastic aside from the cool physics and modeling mentioned above. Light and shadows play off the environment realistically, and I haven’t seen a fading effect on environmental shadows in a while like they have done in Painkiller when you look at your gun barrel or roll objects under flickering torchlight or flashing lightning overhead. The Pain engine also has the ability to make note of environments that it’s already rendered or used which will cut back on redundancy, so you won’t be wandering numerous hallways that all look the same here since it will make changes and what not to avoid being repetitious or boring.


Even in this early stage of it’s development, Painkiller is shaping up to be one great looking FPS title, and I still hold my opinion about it being one of the most impressive ones I got to see at E3 this year and that I have played in a while. I’ve already put a few hours into just the three levels I have been able to play, and keep on doing them over just so I can go back and play them again. There have been amazing FPS games out there both in graphics and gameplay, but Painkiller takes the crown … hands down.  


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