People love--no, they need--to make comparisons. Comparing and evaluating is pretty much hardwired into the brain of most living things, and it certainly helped us evolve from the primordial Campbell's into the sophisticated, Jackass-watching species we are today (fruit=good; rock shaped like fruit=not so much). But there is a downside to this tendency to place things side-by-side (as my penis enlargement spam points out ad nauseum): we can lose sight of the unique qualities of something if all we focus on is how it stacks up against the competition.
Well, no matter. This hoary trope aside, there is simply no way to evaluate Painkiller: Overdose without comparing it not just to the original Painkiller, but to the stellar shooters that have appeared in the past few months. While Overdose, like its parent game, is unapologetically old-school, we have to wonder whether the time has passed for this kind of FPS when there are so many more satisfying games vying for our time and money. Gamers raised on Doom and Quake have presumably grown into mature adults with more sophisticated expectations for a shooter.
Overdose (developed by Paradox and published by JoWood) a standalone sequel/expansion to Painkiller, began life as a user-created mod and unfortunately, the slightly amateurish vibe is everywhere, from the uninspired level design to the lame humor and repetitive script, from the herky-jerky pacing to the utterly incomprehensible back story which ultimately has no influence on the gameplay. In a landscape populated by such brilliant titles as Bioshock, Half Life 2, or even Halo 3, Overdose's lack of dimensionality and depth are huge liabilities.
Just about every art form moves through cycles of simplicity and complexity, and like a blast of three chord punk rock in an elevator of MOR, the original, 2004 Painkiller (along with the Serious Sam games) showed us that there was still life left in the Doom-model FPS: insane pacing, lots of gore, wild enemies, and clever design could be just as satisfying as the more cerebral shooters such as Half Life 2. But Painkiller's simplicity was only skin-deep; underneath was a lot of polish, well-conceived levels, great physics, and a consistent vision. It didn't appeal to everyone, but it made a convincing argument for retro shooters.
Like a kid who can play some killer riffs but can never quite assemble them into an actual song, Overdose seemingly gives us the elements of the elemental shooter--waves of brainless enemies, utterly linear levels, lots of crimson geysers--but it keeps subverting itself at every turn. The sixteen levels are colorful and the settings are varied, but there is no logical connection between them, and there is virtually no use of vertical or architectural space: ultimately the levels are dull. The pacing can be insanely fast and frenetic, but the rhythm of the game is uneven and the load times excruciating. The forty enemies are varied in their style of attack, but the player's forgettable weapons are limited to six (with alternate modes) and are less than punchy. Belial, the half angel/half demon whose junior high-level fantasy this is, quips like a tired Duke Nukem and the labyrinthine story has almost no connection with the gameplay, which is simply: enter a room, survive long enough to clear the space, and repeat. Played in half-hour segments, it's ok. Beyond that it becomes mind-numbingly repetitive.
If Overdose was a free download, it would definitely be worth checking out, but at nearly-full priced $39, it is hard to recommend it, with so many truly awesome shooters on the shelves.