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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