Painkiller: Overdose PC Review

Remember back in 2004, the release of ID Software’s much hyped mega-sequel, Doom 3. Ten years in the making and released to a fair bit of critical acclaim, but somewhat less applause from the consumer. You see, Doom’s legendary intense and violent combat had been replaced with dark corridors, torchlight and jack-in-the-box style scares. The original’s utter disregard for story was replaced with cinematics, dialogue and a bunch of audiologs which told a story of a military base turned into the very worst kind of hell. Doom 3 was more of a “diet System Shock”, which under most circumstances is far from a bad thing, but it meant that Doom 3 just didn’t quite feel like a sequel to the two genre classics that came before it.

Enter Painkiller. Coming from the Serious Sam school of “Shoot absolutely everything”, combined with its hellbound setting, it was much more of a “spiritual sequel” to the Doom games, sharing many of the things that made them so compulsive. Sadly, it lacked a lot of the things that modern gamers want from their first person shooters, and subsequently failed to make a huge dent on the mainstream. It did, however, strike a chord with the more “hardcore” members of the FPS community, with the no-frills approach to deathmatches even being used for some major tournaments. The simple reason for Painkiller’s cult status is, quite simply, because OTT weaponry, masses of enemies and gigantic bosses are a lot of fun.

So, back to present day, and to start with, a little bad news – this is no Painkiller sequel. One can only imagine the sheer scale of a true next-gen Painkiller, with everything turned well and truly up to eleven. Overdose isn’t a case of “bigger, badder and better”, more of a slightly disappointing case of “more of the same”. It feels like an expansion pack, and started life as a fan mod, before the publisher quite rightly worked out that doing an expansion pack to a game that hardly sold millions to begin with isn’t exactly good business sense, and promptly had the game made to be standalone.

BUT WAIT! Before you go running off to tell your friends that Painkiller: Overdose is a load of rubbish, settle down and listen up. “More of the same” means more enemies, more weapons and more of those gigantic bosses. Needless to say, this means more of the same fun you were having the first time around, but hey, fun is fun. You play as Belial, some wisecracking devil/angel hybrid fella who breaks out of imprisonment to reap vengeance on those who put him there. The acts of the original game’s protagonist, Daniel, have some repercussions here in Overdose, but ultimately, it’s all just an excuse to start laying waste to hordes of enemies once again.

As it’s built upon a three year old game, Overdose is hardly on the bleeding edge graphically, but in the various stages – be it underworld catacombs, ancient monuments in a desert or feudal Japan – things are always kept interesting as you tear through your enemies. The sense of scale is also very impressive, as you climb huge structures and fight bosses there is always something that makes you go “woah”. The music is hardly worth writing home about, but the intense action is a great distraction from the game’s technical shortcomings.

A few little features keep Overdose out in front of more generic shooters. First are the souls – when you kill an enemy, you have a brief moment to collect their soul. Collect enough and you become insanely powerful, which in a game with this much carnage to begin with, is an awful lot of fun. There is also a rudimentary “achievements” system, where you can gain extra powerups and weaponry by completing certain objectives within a level, like only using a certain type of weapon.

The multiplayer is predictably slim on features. You’ve got the usual modes – deathmatch, team play and capture the flag, but no unique modes or elaborate game types. It’s a lean experience that may spark up a community in the same way the last one did, but we’re now living in a world where Counter Strike, Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 all battle for supremacy – the ship may have sailed on this one.

One thing that is truly indefensible are the load times. Even on one of DarkZero’s better hunks of machinery, the load times were still just over a minute long. In a game where death and reloading your game are par the course, this can lead to some serious time spent doing absolutely nothing. A shame, as it really goes against the balls-to-the-wall, fast-paced nature of the game.

Painkiller: Overdose may not set the world on fire, but among the millions of cutscene driven, set-piece filled FPS games that litter the shelves of every game store in the country, this may be the cure for any FPS hangovers you currently have. For better and for worse, it is free of a lot of things that are taken for granted in modern first person shooters, meaning you are either going to view Overdose as a very streamlined or limited experience, depending on your tastes. I know what mine are.

A slice of old school shooter action. You’ll love it or hate it.

7 out of 10
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