Available: March 2004
Best Price: N/A

Painkiller © People Can Fly / Dreamcatcher
Preview by: Kurt Knudsen

Painkiller is a new first person shooter game from People Can Fly and Dreamcatcher. The game revolves around the proprietary PAIN engine that is unmatched, at least in comparison with all other first person shooters currently available on the market. According to their website it can render 100x more polygons than others, approximately 350,000 polygons per map. Also the game features Havok 2.0 physics engine, excellent for rag dolls and realistic environments.

So how is the game? In short: excellent. Frankly speaking it scared the crap out of me. The preview copy I received dropped me right into the thick of it. Now a little background on myself, I hate horror stuff; that’s not to say that’s all this game offers. It starts off in a pitch black graveyard... “Oh wonderful” I’m thinking. Walking around searching for the place to go I get confronted with about 30 armored freaks. These monsters just pop out of the ground and chase me down! What did I do to them? Blew em’ back to hell!

The graphics in the game are fantastic. I must say they are pretty flawless, everything runs smooth as silk. The levels were well put together and the weapons look killer. The official site states that no two levels use the same textures. From the five maps I’ve played that were included in this pre-alpha build I can confirm this, and each map seemed quite different anyway. The weapons have lighting and shadows on them to give them a more realistic look. The animations on them are flawless as well. Each gun reacts differently and offers a unique way to dominate your opponent. Hands down some of the best weapon models I have ever seen in any game on any platform.

There's lots of different enemies in the game, each one with his own unique design. The enemies' animations are excellent as well. The physics on the models are extremely cool, as rag doll animation has always been. You can blow a monster's leg off and watch him tumble down the stairs, or shoot him point blank and blast him against the wall. You also have the option to turn on bullet-time, which as we all know slows things down a bit. This time it’s quite a bit different than before though; the enemies slow down but you can still move lightning fast. Although I feel this might be a bug or just a goof, since your gun is extremely slow as well. The game uses full shadows, but in the beginning it is far too dark to see them, which works out because it's dark. Under lighting, however, their transparency doesn't seem to darken, the shadows just seem too soft to be real. However seeing the general quality of the graphics, I certainly expect it to be tweaked in the upcoming 4 months that we'll have to wait for the final version.

The music and sounds give this game a very eerie feel. Of course the fact that the game is very dark helps too. The sound effects from guns and the like sound on spot. They are very well done so far, although the voice acting is lacking. The person who designed the background music for this game has to be demented. I mean they have a girl crying ‘Please don’t kill me’, or that’s what I believe she’s saying. The dog howls and other ambient sounds give this game a very dark and gothic feel, which works out very well. Despite me being on the verge of wetting myself, I pushed forward through the hordes of enemies.

Game play wise Painkiller has what it takes to be a hit. It revolves around a man that is dead and trapped between heaven and hell. Wanting to get entry to heaven your character pushes through hordes of enemies to stop an unholy war. Starting off in this preview copy I was dropped in the middle of a cemetery. It seems the game is concentrated on sections, meaning that you go to this room and fight these guys and then continue. This idea works well from what I’ve played. Your next objective is highlighted by a big red glowing thing, I don’t know exactly what it is, but once you pass it the next onslaught begins.

The multiplayer aspect of Painkiller looks promising. Since it was optimized for LAN I could only experience a small portion of the MP aspect. I had a colleague join, and the fun began, for me. Although on his end he claimed that playing it was still pretty hard due to some heavy lag – which would be expected, as we were warned that the netcode is not optimized at all. I only talk about this because I didn’t get to enjoy the full multiplayer experience, I am sure that this will be fixed in the final version. The two maps I played were very well done and quite unique.

Painkiller's multiplayer mode is powered by GameSpy for in-game and external server browsing. The developers are currently targeting 32-player servers with the following 5 modes:

Deathmatch - The objective in Deathmatch is to kill as many opponents as possible. The player is on his own, playing in "me against the world" fashion.

Team Deathmatch - A mutation of Deathmatch, in which the competition is between teams made up of a number of players, trying to outkill the other teams.

People Can Fly - A modification of Deathmatch 1 on 1. In this mode both players have only the Rocket Launchers. The damage to the other player can be done only when he is airborne: it can be done by shooting the rocket exactly under the enemy's feet.

Voosh – Voosh is a multiplayer mode in which each player has the same weapon. After a certain period of time each player's weapon is switched to either the next in line (set by the server), or a random one.). All weapons have infinite ammo.

The Light Bearer - This mode assumes that Quad Damage never wears off. The first player who takes the Quad, can use it as long as he stays alive. Also, with every successful frag, the player gets +10 HP. When he is dead, he drops the Quad, and another player can pick it up. The winner is a person who has the Quad at the end of the game. However, every time someone picks up the Quad, the limit time is raised by 30 seconds, to make it possible for other players to get their chance.

While we see the two classics, we also see 3 new modes for play. Unfortunately CTF seems to be unavailable, definitely my popular mode of play. Whether or not these new modes of play will work with the target audience is yet to be seen. I couldn’t test these modes because they didn’t seem to work; everything seemed to have been defaulted to Deathmatch.


Overall the experience I got from this game was a good one. I am very much anticipating this game's release. The graphics are some of the best yet, and screenshots just don’t do this game any justice. The music sets the mood of the game right from the load screen. Sound effects are as realistic as one would expect from the type of gun you're using. Painkiller is definitely fun and will surely be a hit when it comes out in Spring 2004. If the kind folks at Dreamcatcher want to hand me a newer build until then, I’m all for that.