Painkiller: How to mess up a demo

By Shamus
on Mar 4, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

The other day:

I’m surfing around and suddenly I see a bit about Painkiller. Hey, I remember that game. Sort of. Well, I remember hearing about it. I don’t know what it’s about, who made it, or what the setting is. It’s nearly three years old now. I do remember I wanted to check it out at the time, but I sort of forgot about it. I’ll bet I can pick it up for just a couple of bucks on Amazon.

Hmmmm. Before I go tossing money around, maybe I should play the demo?

Download. Install. Run. Easy.

Oooooh. Pentagrams. You know, that stuff was sort of edgy when I was young, but after the Doom & Quake games this Hell imagery seems kinda stale. It’s like the skit where John Lovitz is dressed up as an overly-litigous Prince of Darkness. Not spooky. Ah well. Let’s start a game and see what this thing is all about…

What the heck? The game just started. I mean, no cutscenes, no introduction, no text, no backstory. There wasn’t even anything on the loading screen. Where am I? Who am I? What time period?

Okay, I’m in some sort of partly burning / destroyed city. Looks roughly middle ages. There are things? Zombies I guess? I have this weapon, it looks like a modern gun but it shoots these wooden spikes the size of a baseball bat. It makes the zombies leave me alone. Still. What am I doing here? What is my goal? This is silly. Even the original DOOM spent two or three sentences outlining some sort of crude premise before it turned me loose on Mars.

(Grrr. The game lets me bind the keypad enter key to Jump, as has been my custom since time immemorial. Except, pressing that button does nothing, and I have to use some other button. Sloppy.)

There are an awful lot of zombies. This was kind of interesting, but the city is strictly of linear and I’m just fighting the same monster, over and over.

Woah! I’m dead? What happened? I was at full health, and then poof! The screen went red and I died. What, did I have a heart attack? Sigh. Of course, I haven’t saved yet, so I get to play the first ten minutes over again.

Yeah, I’m tired of these zombies by now.

Okay, I made it back to where I died. I want to save. I open the menu, and there is one button labeled “Load”. No button labeled “Save”. The tooltip for “Load” says “Save or Load the game.” The button is disabled.

I see what happened. In each area there are these doors that emerge from the street. Not that you see grooves in the cobblestones or anything, but somehow these ten-foot walls of spiked wood will suddenly jut upwards out of the street like Casper the friendly plot door, and stay there until I kill all the monsters. Once dead, the door slips back into the street without a trace. What happened (I think) was that I stopped as I saw a zombie, but I was standing on the spot where the door comes up. When it appeared, it skewered me. So very lame.

More zombies? Mercy already. It’s all just one street after another, filled with shambling undead. Every building in town is made from the same stuff. I haven’t seen this much beige and brown since the original Quake. This is not visually compelling.

Hey! A new foe! He’s like a skull-headed guy in a black robe. Okay, not the most original guy but at least he’s n-

Ooops. Dead again. I guess he hits really hard.

Okay, so I have to do the first twenty minutes all over again, because I can’t save. I make it back to skull head, and beat him down. I’m now half an hour into the game and I’ve fought zombies and a lich thing on a bunch of generic streets. Why am I here?

Okay, I beat the first level. It was the same scenery with the same foes with the same weapon for an hour. I need a break.

(Check the blog. Answer some email. Get coffee.)

Okay, I start up the game again and… I can’t get to the next level. Since there is no way to save the game, there is no way to… save the game! I can’t continue with level two, I have to do level one all over again. So, you must play the entire demo in a single sitting? Geeze. Some of us have lives and whatnot.

So there you have it. I played the demo. As far as I can tell, it’s a plotless game with highly monotonous scenery, two monsters, and one weapon. What a complete waste. I see the game has gotten many awards and much praise, but all I saw was a profound lack of imagination and a number of petty annoyances. I’ve always thought that game demos were supposed to act as a free “first hit”. Best foot forward, and all that. It’s supposed to whet your appetite and make you want more. My appetite remains un-whet. No, my appetite is gone. Not only do I no longer want to buy the game, I’m pretty sure if it materialized here on my desk for free I’d have trouble finding time to play it.

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10Just 10 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Polk says:

    Oh, see I happened to love that game. It was marketed as a shooter without a purpose. The claim was that at the time Painkiller was made, FPSs were becoming too story driven and there was a market available for a straight out shoot ’em up. Painkiller answered that call and if I recall did fairly well with that market.

    Now, of course, the idea is a little tired again, but when it first arrived it was a very fun game.

  2. Hal says:

    Hm, I don’t remember the demo being that hard to work with, but it’s been a while. Maybe it was.

    Polk is right, though, the premise was ultra-thin: You’re going to Hell to kill Satan. You have to mow through a gaggle (or a google, take your pick) of undead minions to get there, as well as ultra-sized bosses from time to time. No story, just like the original Quake; run through level, shoot everything that moves, rinse, repeat.

    It was the bosses that made things somewhat interesting, although as Polk said, that premise is somewhat old by now.

  3. Matt says:

    hell, I could do with a story-free game once in a while – just mowing through hordes of zombies sounds ok :P

  4. evilmrhenry says:

    Couple notes regarding the full game:
    The keypad Enter binding issue is fixed in 1.15
    It looks like you *should* be able to restart from level 2 after beating level 1 in the demo. (In any case, the full game doesn’t have the save/load issue.)

    I actually have the game on order right now, but I’m not expecting it for 2 weeks or so. If you like, I can check the full game for repetitiveness when it arrives, though. It would be a shame for you to miss out on a good game just because the demo has little to do with the full game.

  5. Shamus says:

    evilmrhenry: Thanks. I’m going to give it a while and see if I have the urge to try it again. We’ll see.

    It is nice to know the major annoyances aren’t part of the final game.

  6. evilmrhenry says:

    OK, I have the game now, and I played through the first two levels to approximate the demo content. Point-by-point:
    “Oooooh. Pentagrams”: I’m going to agree with you on that. I got a bit of a Doom 3 vibe from the game, with the hellish decor that just comes off corny.

    “no cutscenes”: I’m guessing they cut out the (short) beginning cutscene from the demo to save space. Shrug. Don’t play the game for the story.

    “There are an awful lot of zombies”: What I noticed from the first two levels is that there were 3 main enemies per level, with the more powerful ones introduced about 1/3 (takes an extra hit to kill) and 2/3 (more powerful attack) through the level, plus maybe a boss. The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of repetition between levels; the location and enemies change drastically between levels (checking a FAQ, this appears to be applicable to the game as a whole). I don’t know what the later levels are like, though you can expect to spend around 15 minutes on the early levels facing the same three enemies.

    “Woah! I’m dead? What happened?”: I tried to reproduce this, but was unable to. Either this was a beta thing, or a one-time bug.

    “I haven’t seen this much beige and brown since the original Quake. This is not visually compelling.”: The two levels I went through are at least acceptable, and the second one did’t have the brown/gray look. (The first one way a graveyard at night, and was still suprisingly easy to see in.)

    Now, some other somewhat random thoughts:

    350MB for a patch? (1.61) That’s a new record for me. Dial-up users, beware.

    In the first level, in a graveyard, you have 2 weapons, 3 enemy types, and a boss.
    In the second level, in an abandoned church, you have 1 more weapon, 3 enemy types (all different from level 1), and no boss. (Just a few numbers)

    There’s a lot of swarming going on in the game. In most rooms, you go in, the doors close, and several enemies spawn and attack. More and more enemies keep spawning, until the preset limit is reached, and after killing them all, the next door opens. While that’s fun, I’m unsure if I would want an entire game of that.

    The optional tarot card objectives seem to add a bit of replay value. (example objective: destroy all objects in the level)

    Really, from playing the first two levels, I’d say that if you don’t mind the whole “doors close, enemies attack” concept being overused a bit, the game should be enjoyable.

  7. Shamus says:

    Thanks for this. It gives a better picture of what the game is like than the demo. :)

  8. Felblood says:

    Ooh. If I’d know there was an entry on painkiller, I wouldn’t have mentioned it earlier. (I been rolling the the archives adding my 2 cents wherever it looks appropriate.)

    My final word on painkiller: I wanted the whole game to be nothing but waves of constantly spawning zombies with ever stronger attacks and special power, but the fangled it all up with some lame puzzles and some rediculously horrible puzzle bosses.

  9. Iscariote says:

    Each level is set in a completely different setting, so no “brown-ish” here. As an add, each level introduces 2-3 new monsters to the game… So if you play just one level, is completely normal that it looks all the same and has few monsters all around.

  10. Steve says:

    Oh I’ve heard about this and played the demo. Got bored, I don’t mind some backstory or story-driven but seriously, two monsters and a gun that shoots Shurikens and Lightning at the start that is bitchin’ but it bothers me that you only have this one gun and the demo is BORING and MONOTONOUS!(Repition never makes a game more fun in most cases) Gun is cool though. Demo is pain…killer…Sorry I couldn’t resist.

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