The sheer amount of delays faced by the console release of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation might lead any logical human being to draw the conclusion that Nordic Games should have axed the project entirely for fear of ending up in a similar situation as last year’s severely botched reformatting of Risen 2: Dark Waters. Apparently, neither the publisher nor the developers at The Farm 51 caught wind of Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes’s grave blunder, ignoring the cardinal and unspoken meta-commandment of PC-to-PS3 ports: Thou shall not attempt to retool a clearly unsalvageable product. Hell & Damnation is being billed as both a remake of and a prequel to 2004’s Painkiller, a game that fed off the then-feverish desire for Doom- and Quake-inspired FPS nostalgia, escaping instant panning due to its, at the time, cutting-edge Havok 2.0 physics engine and a boatload of expansion packs. It’s now 2013, and unfortunately, for everyone involved in the production of Hell & Damnation, the hankering for yet another modernization of something in the vein of Unreal Tournament or Serious Sam has waned considerably. Not only is Hell & Damnation an unsightly, tedious, and mind-numbingly dimwitted distraction, it’s also completely unnecessary—a nearly bottomless descent into uncompromising mediocrity.
Players once again assume the role of sullen, stubble-ridden Daniel Garner, who had his wife, Catherine, unexpectedly seized from him at the end of our hero’s last infernal escapade. At the beginning of Hell & Damnation, Death swoops down and offers a dispirited Daniel a deal: 7,000 souls in exchange for his lovely bride. Daniel, who essentially has nothing left to lose but his own life, accepts the offer and quickly gets to monster-slaying. That’s basically what the game is from start to finish: a rigidly mundane succession of artless killing sprees carried out by a protagonist who has about as much personality as a rotten corpse. The gameplay is just as stale, never feeling anything but antiquated, forcing you to run-and-gun across blandly designed rooms and corridors, slaughtering countless congregations of vapid peon enemies as you go. The occasional massive Big Bad will turn up to sprinkle a helping of much-needed spice to the proceedings, giving you a brief respite from hordes of hooded ghouls and disgruntled skeletons.
A game like Hell & Damnation could allow for some of its numerous flaws to be overlooked if it had delivered an innovative, exciting arsenal of ultra-violent weaponry, but much of Daniel’s diabolical armaments are pulled straight from the action-gaming-artillery recycle bin. The titular Painkiller returns, as well as the Electrodriver, Stakethrower, and faithful shotgun, but even the new additions are lacking in creativity. The Soulcatcher, for instance, is a poorly executed rip-off of every buzzsaw-firing/beam-style piece of offensive hardware that has come before in video games past, a cumbersome dual-functioning gat that does little to raise Daniel’s dwindling level of badassery. Similarly, it doesn’t help matters when the game’s myriad of annoying glitches, from sporadic lagginess to texture tears, pop up in the middle of an already unstable battle. Power boosts from collectible tarot cards, as well as the capacity to morph into a one-hit-kill-capable demon creature almost feel like afterthoughts, especially the latter, which adds a confusing layer of motion blur over the environments, making navigation in tight spaces temporarily burdensome.
Derivative multiplayer scenarios have been shoehorned into Hell & Damnation in an attempt to recapture the old-school magic the original Painkiller had in that department, but, as with almost every other crack this game takes at revamping dated first-person shooter mechanics, the execution falls flat. From a slipshod cooperative campaign option to archaic renditions of tired modes like capture the flag, deathmatch, and PvP duel, Hell & Damnation repeatedly puts its inability to adapt and get with the times on full display for all to see.