Painkiller: Hell Wars

Painkiller soothes no one

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Shooting a demon in the face with a double-barreled shotgun once evoked a wonder misplaced amongst the post-Christmas tangle of wrapping paper and tinsel. The thrill of the wind as your bike escapes the shackles of training wheels. The moment before abbreviating the flaming dots on a birthday cake. What sad times we live in when shooting a demon has become as tedious as flossing during The View. Though graphical improvements arrive en masse, gaming stagnates into pushing the A button for a half-second orgy of flash and gore.

DreamCatcher Interactive's Painkiller, a port of a PC game for the Xbox, attempts innovation by taking the mediocre gameplay of today's first-person shooter and combining it with dated graphics of yesteryear. You play as the perpetually unshaven and undead Daniel Garner, hunting down the generals of Lucifer across the plains of purgatory. Outside, the battle between Judeo-Christian good and evil rages, all motivations remaining ambiguous in cheaply rendered cut scenes. Beginning with the most mundane opening of any video game, you begin with small talk in the car, before jerking into scenes where Daniel has become the great demon hunter for Jesus.

Well, maybe it's Ganesh. You can't quite tell through the murky graphics, where "too dark" has been mistaken for "atmospheric." Somewhere in that pixel fog covering generic levels, you blow a parade of cookie-cutter minions into blocks of flesh as they enthusiastically run towards you like you're at the Special Olympics with a breath mint stuck to your pants. The gameplay is so shallow you could tape a shoe to the controller, go and actually do something with your life, then return to find the game finished. You wouldn't get any of the bonus Tarrot cards, which supposedly give you additional powerups, but why put yourself through the tedium?

Whenever one of Lucifer's generals stomps onto the screen, the faint flicker of wonder comes back. Like sitting at the apex of an upswing on the playground or rolling down a hill without a helmet on. Then it's gone.

You're soon back to just mashing the A button repeatedly, hoping it'll break.