After “extended development time,” the Painkiller franchise has finally crept its way onto the Xbox in the form of Painkiller: Hell Wars. Don't let the name fool you, though, Hell Wars is essentially a port of the original PC game and its expansion. With the clock running out on Microsoft's aging console, the question arises: has Hell Wars arrived at the party too late, or does it provide Xbox FPS gamers with one last hurrah?
In Painkiller: Hell Wars, players fill the shoes of Daniel Garner, a man recently killed in a car accident, one stormy night, along with his wife, Catherine. Upon discovering that the gates of Heaven are closed to him, Daniel becomes enlisted in a war between Heaven and Hell. In order to purify his soul and be reunited with his wife, Daniel must confront the minions of Hell and destroy the generals of Lucifer's army of darkness.
Painkiller: Hell Wars is a throwback to old school first-person shooters the likes of DOOM and Wolfenstein. That's to say it presents a run-and-gun style of gameplay. You'll enter an area of a given level, triggering the game's heavy metal soundtrack along with a horde of minions. Your objective is simple: kill everything that moves. Once you've successfully done that, the next area of the level will open up. Rinse and repeat. There are no puzzles to contend with, no keys to hunt down and no way of getting lost. It really is the simplest element of a first-person shooter: the shooting.
So how does the game keep from getting repetitive? By offering more than 75 species of hellish creatures, that's how. The problem there is that the game only presents these enemies one or two at a time. You might encounter 50 enemies in one area, but only two different species, 25 of each. And when you get down to it, most of the creatures act the same in combat; they simply charge at you with abandon. That's where the run-and-gun theme comes into play because you'll end up strafing around the environment, firing countless rounds until the enemies are eliminated. Old school to be sure. The game also throws a few boss battles your way, featuring some absolutely monstrous monstrosities.
There are six weapons in Painkiller: Hell Wars to do battle with and each weapon is equipped with two firing modes. The shotgun for example, doubles as a freezer, launching a blast of super-cooled liquid nitrogen that temporarily freezes enemies in their tracks. There are long-range weapons, in the form of a wicked stakegun/grenade launcher, as well as the fan favorite rocket launcher/chaingun.
Painkiller: Hell Wars presents a few unique elements. Every time you kill a minion, its soul remains behind for a brief period. You'll want to collect as many of these souls as you can because for every 33 souls you accumulate, Daniel will temporarily morph into a demon with special powers. His vision will change into a sort of heat seeker and he'll be unharmed by normal attacks. There are also Black Tarot Cards hidden in each level as well as gold coins. Between levels, you can spend your coinage to bring the Tarot Cards into use during the next level, granting you bonus powers such as the ability to take only half-damage from enemies.
Visually, Painkiller: Hell Wars comes off a little dated. That's no surprise really when you consider its release was repeatedly delayed. The environments tend to get repetitive and the textures are entirely too bland. It's only towards the end of the game that the levels become a little more visually appealing. It is, however, impressive how many enemies appear on screen at one time, occasionally in tandem with a boss, without any noticeable slowdown.
A full compliment of multiplayer modes includes such classics as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Last Man Standing. There are also a couple of unique modes, including The Light Bearer, which features an almighty Quad Damage power-up, and Voosh, in which all players start out with the same weapon and infinite ammunition, only to see the weapons change at various intervals during the round. The multiplayer component unquestionably extends the playing time for this title, if you're into that spray-and-pray style competitive combat, though I struggled to locate active games.
In the end, your enjoyment of Painkiller: Hell Wars will depend largely on whether you still find the run-and-gun shooters of yesteryear, like DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D and Wolfenstein, appealing. Even then, Hell Wars suffers some from unintelligent enemies and bland environments. In terms of gameplay, it truly doesn't get any simpler than this, nor the pace more frantic. It's a fragfest to be sure and if you can dig that, you might find Painkiller: Hell Wars to be a fitting end to the Xbox era.