Painkiller: Hell & Damnation Review: An old school battle against Hell's minions
Despite the fact that franchises the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Borderlands have made massive attempts to evolve the FPS genre, some developers are content with leaving it as it once was. Games like Serious Sam 3: BFE and Rage are more old school than progressive, but that's not a bad thing, because with the proper contemporary refinements, you can definitely get a fun new FPS experience that tugs at your nostalgic heartstrings. Painkiller: Hell & Damnation is another such game, and though it's maybe not as great as either Serious Sam 3 or Rage, it still makes for a raucous good time.
This is a retro-style FPS romp right down to its story. You've got a gruff-voiced protagonist with no hope and nothing to lose. After our main character Daniel lost his wife to Satan himself, he makes a pact with Death to collect thousands of souls in order to bring her back. It's a dire situation, no doubt, and it's totally ludicrous, but it's ludicrous in a '90s-era way, so it's oddly entertaining. In any case, you're not playing Hell & Damnation for the story; you're playing it for the nonstop shooting action, which there's plenty of.
Like the Serious Sam games, this particular FPS likes to throw droves of enemies at you. You essentially enter an area, battle large waves of skeletal bad guys, move on to a new area, and repeat. If you're looking for something deeper, you likely won't dig the action offered here. If you have a penchant for the shooters of old, however, Hell & Damnation will deliver plenty of rewarding thrills and trigger-happy satisfaction.
One major element that separates this game from Serious Sam is the size of its environments. Instead of tossing you into huge wastelands filled to the brim with foes, you're confined to smaller areas with a bunch of enemies crammed in. While there are varying sizes for the game's many environments, you'll get a claustrophobic vibe the majority of the time you're playing. This creates a hectic sense of urgency, and you can't help but want to blast away as enemies come at you from every angle.
There are a few different weapons for you to get your hands on, and they mostly offer something unique from each other. Of course, if you find a specific weapon you're particularly fond of, chances are you'll stick to that one for the bulk of the campaign, as ammo is hardly ever sparse. Either way, there's really only so much a nice collection of firearms can do for a game that sticks to the same formula from start to finish.
Killing enemies spawns collectible souls. Aside from being the very objective bestowed upon you by Death, snagging 66 souls will turn you into a powerful beast. While in this altered state, you're invulnerable to enemy attacks, and you can dish out all of the one hit kills you desire before the ability fades. This special state does a decent job of making you feel unstoppable, but because it happens automatically once you accrue 66 souls, you're bound to transform at times when there are no enemies around, which is a waste of an otherwise neat ability.
You can take on the campaign with a buddy in two-player local co-op if you so desire, which is great if you have pals who are equally into old school FPS titles. Hell & Damnation also includes online multiplayer in the form of Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, though admittedly, I was never able to enter any matches. I guess no one's playing this game online, rendering this component pretty much dead.
Hell & Damnation is a nice game to look at, though that's mostly on a technical level. Graphically, the game captures a menacing and daunting vision of a demonic landscape with its rich levels. As far as enemy variety goes, however, there's just not too much there. You see a lot of the same enemies repeatedly, which makes for encounters that are fun to play yet drab to witness.
As far as the sound department is concerned, you've got the aforementioned stereotypically 90s voice acting, which you'll probably either like or feel indifferent about. There are also loud sounds, because, well, guns are loud, as are dying monsters. Then there's the wild guitar music, which is once again quite stereotypical yet makes sense within the context of a game like this. All in all, the sound design on hand is serviceable but nothing more.
Hell & Damnation is a good FPS that harkens back to an era that was all about shooting sh*t up and not giving a damn. In that sense, the game succeeds at giving you a blissfully bloody and brutally gore-soaked ride. There's little variety, the game sticks closely to a formula that fans of modern shooters won't dig, and at about four hours, it's painfully short. That said, if you like games like Serious Sam 3, Hell & Damnation is another one of those cool '90s throwbacks that's just really fun to play.
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