Trudging Knee-Deep in Hell's Dead
Download Size: 3 GB
Time Played: 5 hrs.
Enemies Killed: ~3000
Enemies Stuck Behind Walls: 3 (including final boss)
Game Crashes: 1
What I'd Pay: $5
Steam Price (3/6/12): $10
There were 2 bastions of Doom-style FPSes in the early 2000s: Serious Sam and Painkiller. Serious Sam is one of my 3 favorite FPSes of all time (the other 2 are Marathon 2 and UT 2004), but I never got around to playing Painkiller. When I saw this standalone expansion to Painkiller hit Steam, I dived in with high expectations.
Upon download: "If this is as good as they said the original was, I'm gonna have fun!"
2 hours later: "GAHHHH makeitstop makeitstop! Not ANOTHER arena! *sob*"
The disjoint between what I had heard about the original Painkiller and what I experienced in Recurring Evil was so bad, I watched Let's Play videos of the original Painkiller to assure myself the original game was not like this. How does this expansion fall so short of the mark set by its predecessor?
Some really, really bad design decisions.
The basics are all there. You go from Point A to Point B and kill everything in your path with a variety of weaponry that has wildly different firing modes (ala Yahtzee's "shurikens and lightning" rant). In addition to secret areas, each level has tarot cards (buffs) you can unlock for future levels by fulfilling an objective (like only use the Painkiller for an entire level). What did they change in the formula?
Apparently, they doubled the level length, quadrupled the number of enemies, and stuffed it all into levels the same size as the original by making nearly every room a multi-wave locked arena. You go through a door, it locks, you fight several waves of a few dozen enemies each, next door unlocks, rinse, repeat, over and over and over. Sometimes you'll complete an arena just to hit a dead end, backtrack, and get locked in a room you just finished for another multi-wave arena. By the 2nd level, the "thousands of enemies" bullet point felt more like a threat than a feature. Sure, they provided plenty of ammo and refilled your health at every checkpoint, but it was just this constant trudge through hundreds of demons in small rooms, corridors, and (if you were lucky) a large arena or 2 with a bit of interesting terrain. Looking for large, sprawling locales that stretch out into the distance? Sorry, not here.
The longer level length plays havoc with the tarot card system, too. From what I saw, the original's levels ran about 15-20 minutes each, which is short enough that replaying a level for a card isn't a huge time sink. This expansion ups that to 30 to 40 minutes per level, which means you could spend a few hours trying to get its tarot card. ("Find all ammo in the level?! *groan*") Combine that with the monotonous arena shooting and getting tarot cards turns into a grind. I didn't even try; I just tried to finish the game without any tarot cards.
It's a pity the worst levels in the game are the first ones. The first level is a cathedral that feels small and cramped. The second level is a cracked and twisted highway that looks fun, but nearly all of the arenas are the same "long narrow corridor" setup. This level also has the first miniboss. Minibosses in this game have no health bar and barely show any indication you're doing damage to them until they keel over and die, so we are all very lucky none of them need to be hit in weak points or anything silly like that. After that, you have a warehouse level where they apparently dumped all the sci-fi enemies. The alien invaders and Terminator ripoffs would make a bit more sense if there was any indication it was in Area 51 or stored covert experiments, but no, it looks like a typical warehouse. The fourth and fifth levels (Graveyard and Ankhor respectively) are much more interesting, probably because they exchange the dark gritty tones and cramped confines of the first 3 levels for natural settings and larger arenas. I was actually beginning to enjoy myself there.
As I neared the end of Ankhor, there was a split path decision between a red glow and a blue glow. I chose the blue glow and was informed I had "choosen the path of Good" (sic). This was interesting; was there 2 different endings? Did it just affect the next area? I never found out; two rooms later, I reached the final boss of the game. The game informed me, "Boss can't be defeated until all enemies are dead." Then it sent a giant wave of enemies at me while the boss shot fireballs at me. (Well, when he wasn't getting stuck in the architecture.) I killed them all, another wave popped up. Then another. I was having trouble finding the stragglers, because the game had finally replaced my enemy tracker with a boss's health bar... when I couldn't even damage the boss before eliminating all the enemies.
I gave up after I died on the 4th wave of enemies on my 5th try. I had no idea how many waves I needed to kill, or how hard the actual boss was, and forcing to go through that multiwave arena before every attempt was the last straw.
Have you played and replayed every other Painkiller release and absolutely need more of it? Then buy this game. Otherwise, just play the original Painkiller and leave this one in purgatory.