Review by Elbryan42

"Painkiller: Hell Wars... Heaven Has a Hitman... On XBox!"

Well, after a long two year wait, Painkiller: Hell Wars has finally been released on XBox. Was the wait worth it? The answer is an astounding yes. Within this review (like many of my reviews) will delve into the many parts of the game, the differences between this and the PC, and the overall product.

The Story

You play the role of Daniel Garner, a man who has died in a car crash with his wife. He is now stuck in purgatory, unable to cross over with his wife for reasons unknown. A deal is stuck. He must stop Lucifer's army from invading heaven. Only then will his soul be cleansed and he be granted passage to heaven.

The story, while cool, has no bearing on the action or the game. It just gives you a reason to blast demons in various locales. There's a few cutscenes after every chapter, and it does a competent job.

The Gameplay

Painkiller: Hell Wars is an action FPS game. It's very similar to Serious Sam, with a demonic feel to it. And yet, the feel of the game is very unique. Each level is stand alone, and you must get to the end alive. That's pretty much it. But as basic as it sounds, it's very fun, and never gets boring or dry. Each level has its own baddies, and a new strategy for each section.

You get six weapons, each with a primary fire and secondary fire. Each fire mode is completely different, however. So it basically means there's twelve completely different types of ways you can slaughter your enemies. The's the Painkiller (which doubles as a melee weapon and a laser seeking weapon thingy), the Shotgun/Freezer (you can freeze and shatter enemies), Stakegun/Grenade Launcher (the stakes can impale enemies on walls, very fun), the Electrodriver (shoots shurikens or shoots lightning), Rocket Launcher/Chaingun, and finally a Submachinegun/Flamethrower. All weapons are a blast, and are very well balanced.

There's some twists that really enhance the gameplay. First of all, you can morph into a demon. Each time you defeat an enemy, it leaves its soul behind. If you collect 33 souls, you transform into a demon, making mince meat of your enemies for a limited time.

Secondly, there's the use of Tarot Cards. Not only does it add strategy to the levels (completing certain objectives, like destroying all objetcts on a certain level, or beating a boss in a certain time, etc), but they let you customize the way you play. You equip your cards before the level (paid for by gold, collected in the levels). Silver cards define your attributes, like your max health, being able to collect souls easier, and more. Gold cards can be used at the touch of a button, mostly once per level. Gold cards last for a limited time, making you faster, more powerful, or even slow down the game world.

Much like Serious Sam, each time you enter a room, you're locked in and must defeat all of the enemies to proceed. Though it seems brainless to the casual gamer, different strategies for different enemies mean your strategy needs to change on the fly. The enemies will also work together to make life tougher for you.

Graphics & Sound

The graphics do a more than adequate job. The game engine was created approximately a half year to a year before Doom 3, so while it may not be jaw dropping, they graphics still look great to this day. Nice and sharp, and each level has a different set of colors and textures, changing with the atmosphere.

The sound is loud and great. Upon a battle commencing, a metal soundtrack kicks in, pumping you up for the fight.

Graphics and sound are great, but you won't find anything really revolutionary. When a lot happens on the screen, the action may pause for a split second, but nothing to really effect gameplay. Any sort of framerate drop or pauses are very rare.

PC vs XBox

In this section, I'll be ripping apart the game. But only for informative purposes. Those who find this important (like me) will appreciate this.

I'll put them in a list:

-Each level is divided up into sections as opposed to one huge level. This is due to the lower memory on the XBox. It's done very well though. Each section has it's own stats and before you move on, lets you collect any items you may of missed, any secrets to find, etc. When I played the demo, I was concerned with this, since certain Tarot Cards require very specific stuff, like all enemies, or all secrets, a certain amount of gold, and more. It's very important that you know where you stand before leaving a part of the level behind. And it's done surprisingly well. The loading screen is an animation much like the warping tube animation from Doom 3.

-The content in the game is from Painkiller and the expansion Painkiller: Battle Out of Hell. The majority of the game is from Painkiller itself. The first 4 chapters are comprised of the original levels. All but six levels are included (that's 18 levels). It's kind of disappointing that some great levels like Snowy Bridge and Train Station were cut, but the levels that stayed are just as amazing as on the PC. The fifth and last chapter is all from the expansion, with the exception of the boss level. That's almost half of the levels from the expansion. But besides Loony Park (too big for the XBox) the cut levels were nothing great. The best and most outstanding levels have been included. In the entire game, there's a total of 22 levels. Lastly one of two weapons from Battle Out of Hell are included. The Boltgun/Grenade Launcher didn't make it. Not bad of a weapon, but it's not really missed. Lastly, since there's less levels, there's less Tarot Cards. But those that have been cut are mostly useless anyways.

-Instead of having a full set of weapons at all times, three are available at once. The Painkiller, and two others. You can assign your remaining two weapons in a weapon assign screen. It kinda sucks pausing the action every once in a while, but it's perfectly workable when you get used to it. Don't know why they would've went to such a weird system...

-The impossible secrets from the PC have been made easier, and new secrets have been added. Nothing too hard to figure out. Thank goodness.

-Oddly, the flashlight is only available on the Asylum level. There's no zoom button, though the hints on the loading screens makes reference to it.

-Much like Serious Sam, and plenty of other PC to console ports, the game has been made easier. It now always takes 33 souls to transform in to a demon, as opposed to 66 on higher difficulties. Some enemies have less health as well. Nothing major though. The game still presents a bit of a challenge.

Overall, though you're losing some content, the feel of Painkiller, and the way the game is set up and played, it almost seems it's meant more for a console, and definitely feels amazing. I prefer the game on the XBox, if only for no more constant crashes to the desktop.

Presentation

Here's where the game excels. It's simple to get into the action. It's a pleasure to control, with plenty of alternative control styles to fit your needs. The choice of levels makes it feel like a director's cut. The game plays like a dream, and like I said, I prefer the game on the XBox to the PC.

There are, however, some bugs and glitches. The compass at the top of the screen sometimes doesn't work, but eventually starts working again. This usually happens toward the end of a battle The battle music sometimes stops in the progress of changing to a demon. And lastly the game may lock up on the map screen while scrolling through the levels. This however, doesn't screw up any saves, or really effects the game. This is mostly nitpicking though, as the gameplay itself is so involving that you never really notice any difference.

Multiplayer

Since I don't have XBox Live (never been a multiplayer guy), I can't comment on it. But from what I hear, it's smooth, mostly lag free, and if the PC multiplayer is any indictaion, a blast.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I must say any console FPS fan can't go wrong with Painkiller: Hell Wars. It's a great game that can't be missed.

If however, you own the PC version, unless you're an avid console gamer, there's not much new here to warrant a purchase. Back in the early stages of development, you may remember talk of new levels, and a weapon. Sadly, none of that is in the final product. From what I can tell, however, the PS2 and PSP versions of Hell Wars may still have new content (there's some screenies floating around). For PC gamers I give this game an 8/10.

It is, however, my personal opinion that with the amount of time this game has been in production, there should've been some sort of exclusive content. But due to the simplicity of the presentation and the feel of playing in an easy chair with surround sound and a big screen the XBox version is worth it. ;)

For a game standing on it's own, and for exclusive console gamers, I wholeheartedly give this game a 9-9.5/10. It's that great. They don't make games this fun, simple, and great, combined with true high production values.

Let's hope there's a sequel on the way...


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/06


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