Taking a close look at the surroundings and creatures inhabiting them, there is visible a kind of acid-washed texture that grows over everything like moss, as if they were bathed in angry time and rotting at the touch. It seems wrong, terribly wrong. And given the premise of the game, nothing could be more appropriate.
When you talk about first person shooters, it is impossible to go without mentioning the mother of them all, Doom. Like Doom, Painkiller gains a certain frisson by incorporating demonic elements into its narrative. Rather than a gung-ho Marine, however, now you are enlisted by Heaven to route a massing army of demons in Purgatory. Things go a step further than Doom, where the realms were invented and fantastic; in Painkiller you recognise too well where you are and this creates a more resonant experience.
Because the settings are familiar, there have been complaints that Painkiller takes liberty with religious iconography. This argument doesn't stand up under scrutiny. Painkiller is no evangelical tool and is clearly not intended to convey an interpretation of religious experience. If there is a subtext at all -and I'm not saying there is, it is a game after all- it is not religious but political. You cannot play Painkiller to completion without being made aware of a bias, but it is one that has little to do with spirituality and seems more rooted in a deep sense of humanity.
Painkiller is stunning to look at, so much so that there are times I feel lost in a fresco. It's blessed by tremendous soundscapes as well, equal parts terror and serenity. Gameplay is easy and logical; weapons are very effective; movement is fluid (though I do wish you could crouch!). A lot of thought went into the creatures and the result is AI that has lots of character and unexpected humor in it. Overall, I have to say Painkiller is the best game to come out in a long time; not only is it fun to play once, it improves the more you revisit it.
But don't take my word for it. Play for yourself and see!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10, Originally Posted: 04/20/04