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Painkiller: Battle out of Hell

To many out there, Painkiller was one of the better first-person shooters released in 2004. It offered gamers unrelenting action coupled with a powerful graphics engine. The icing on the cake came in the form of a Havok physics engine that was utilized to find different ways of killing enemies besides just launching stakes into their heads. For me though, I wasnít as initially gripped with Painkiller. First off, Far Cry came out at roughly the same time, and though in the end I didnít like that game nearly as much, I found it to be many times more immersive. Then came a busy summer, and Painkiller just sort of sat there. The other day though, I received the expansion pack to Painkiller and knew that it was time to Battle out of Hell and finally get Painkiller done.

My biggest problem these days is that games need to have an engaging story to entertain me fully. I think thatís one of the biggest problems I had with Serious Sam. I really just donít like being tossed down into the shoes of a guy and being told to fight. Sure, it can be fun ñ I liked both the PS2 Gungrave games well enough ñ but at the end of the day, thatís not a game Iíll come back to enjoy. One of the best things about Halflife you really got behind Gordonís mission, and even in lesser games like Far Cry, you really get pulled into the role of Jack. Painkiller does have a storyline, and itís expansion Battle out of Hell does as well, but it seems tacked on, and itís never as immersive as it has the potential to be.

At first, I couldnít figure out why the game didnít seem as immersive, but by the seventh or eighth mission, it finally clicked: all of the levels feel like theyíre just there for show. The game opens up with a level inside a haunted mansion and then quickly moves to a theme park, with no real rhyme or reason as to why. You donít know how Daniel got there after he walked into the bright portal in the mansion; he just appears there and is set to kill things. This kind of jumping serves as a constant reminder that youíre playing a game in a day and age when everyone is trying to make it feel more like a real-life experience.

Ignoring that however, for the most part, Battle out of Hellís levels are solid. The game is all about unrelenting action, and in that department, it delivers nicely. Thereís plenty of ammo and plenty of things to kill. New weapons, like the flamethrower or the five-stake-shooting sniper crossbow are a whole lot of fun to tinker with. Thereís nothing quite like incinerating a group of enemies with some of the most realistic looking fire in video gaming. The game will bring back memories of Doom when you bring down massive enemies that are as tall as small skyscrapers. Painkiller feels just like an old-school run-and-gun FPS and it pulls this off fluidly.

At the same time however, Battle out of Hell tries a lot of things and falls nice and flat into a gutter on its face. One instance of this is a rollercoaster that you have to ride around the twisted amusement park second level. Youíll just spend the entire time getting shot and hit by enemies, because hitting them is next to impossible. Of course, it lasts for at least five minutes (or, at least it felt like that).

Thatís not all though. Battle out of Hell has some solid jumping puzzles on the third or forth level that require you to hit a platform that tosses you into the air at just the right angle. You have to do this three times to get up three levels, and of course, pipes and other things get in your way the whole time. This portion of the game would have worked much more nicely if I could have had some in-air control over Daniel, but instead he gets tossed up like a brick and lands like one too. This whole sequence took nearly thirty minutes and nearly ruined the game for me.

Another thing that really bothered me was how short the expansion is. Granted, itís a twenty dollar add-on and it includes the SDK for making new levels, but they could have released the SDK and I think people probably could have made just as good levels for the game. Some new multiplayer features, like Capture the Flag were included, which does add a bit more to the game, but at press time I found very few people online playing the game through the GameSpy service. Can anyone say Counter-Strike Source?

The single player game gets even shorter on the easier difficulty settings too. This is something that has always bothered me: why should game developers punish players who arenít as good. Resident Evil has done it with their save-game system for years, and exactly what do they gain? So, people who arenít skilled with games should miss out on the Tarot Card System, which allows Daniel to have enhanced abilities for a level. If you played on the easiest setting, you canít even play all of the levels of the game. Now, whoís losing in that scenario: the novice fan who missed out on a level or the company who wonít be getting a second purchase from that novice fan?

Thereís no denying that Battle out of Hell looks pretty. Itís actually one of the prettiest games Iíve ever played, with great animations and enemy designs. The few cutscenes look good too. The new flamethrower effects simply rock and the particle effects are stellar too. In the audio, the music picks up as the action does and serves its purpose well. As for the voice-acting, itís not so bad when you hear it, but itís fortunate that you donít hear it that often.

In the end, I donít think I fall into the target demographic for this game. Maybe I just want too much and canít appreciate the game for what itís worth, but I donít think so. I think Battle out of Hell is a fresh coat of paint for an old car that has a lot of unattended problems under the hood. Itís certainly pretty, and I bet if you liked the first one a whole lot youíll probably play through it, but I just canít recommend this one whole-heartedly.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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