By Jin-yeong Yi
Painkiller was an unexpected discovery for me. I found the game on sale on GOG.com during one of their weekend promos. As a longtime fan of first person shooters who had recently rediscovered gaming, I was definitely eager to exercise my trigger finger again. So when I saw Painkiller, I thought, “A gory, M-rated FPS that has you starring as God’s hitman? Good enough for me.”
It’s about a man named Daniel Garner who was killed in a car accident along with his wife Catherine when he was taking her out to dinner for her birthday. Catherine goes straight to heaven, but Daniel is stuck in purgatory, fighting for his soul against Lucifer’s legions. Eventually, God takes notice of Daniel’s fighting abilities, and sends one of His servants to make a deal with Daniel. If he successfully assassinates Lucifer’s four generals, he will be allowed into heaven and be reunited with Catherine. With little left to lose, Daniel naturally accepts, and begins his long trek through purgatory.
I found that Painkiller was definitely not my standard FPS. Save for the boss fights (in terms of sheer size, I’ve never seen creatures that deserve the title of “boss” more than the gargantuan, Lovecraftian monstrosities found in them), there is generally very little strategy to speak of. Stealth is meaningless. Your weapons don’t need to be reloaded. You can’t even crouch. The game is basically the polar opposite of, say, Rainbow Six or Deus Ex. Your only real goal is to kill, kill, kill.
The game apparently gets its odd title from your basic weapon, which is a hideous device that can alternately shred or pierce through flesh and bone with blades that can be either rotated or discharged. The rotating mode is called “Pain” and the projectile mode is called “Killer.” Pretty apt, if you ask me.
In spite of its cheesy plot, tactical simplicity, and quirkiness, the game works. The music is highly generic and unoriginal heavy metal, and yet it gets me pumped up for a fight, as it is undoubtedly supposed to. The locations (ranging from opera houses to Middle Eastern palaces) are beautifully crafted and often imbue each battle with a sense of grandeur. No other video game I’ve played hitherto makes me feel like such a badass as when I’m nailing unruly ghouls to walls with a stake gun, blasting them apart with a shotgun, or sadistically slicing and dicing them with a mutant buzz saw.
I find that Painkiller can be taken as a metaphor for life itself: Sometimes, God fucks you over, and you find yourself with two choices: lie down and perish, or “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”