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Platform:  Windows
# of Players:  1
Developer:  People Can Fly
Publisher:  DreamCatcher
Features:  Amazing Physics & Graphics Engine
Release Date:  April 12, 2003
Memo to all those FPS fans waiting for big titles like Half-Life 2, Doom 3, or Duke Nukem (Is Taking) Forever to arrive: Painkiller is coming next month, and is most definitely worth your gaming dollar, period. Short and to the point my opinion is, and with good reason. I've been following this one ever since I heard of it a few E3's ago, and both People Can Fly (developer) and DreamCatcher (publisher) have been carefully crafting this one to be a top-shelf shooter that should cater to any fan of the genre.

Rather than bog players dowm with a super-complex conspiracy filled plot, Painkiller hearkens back to the glory days of games like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood (or the more recent Serious Sam) where fast-paced gunplay and massive end level bosses kept millions up nights ducking and weaving around their monitors. Basically, you're a not so nice fellow who gets killed in a car accident with your wife. She gets to go through the pearly gates, but you're off to the rather hot basement level (Hell). On the way to the escalator, you get an offer you can't refuse: Dispatch all of the minions of Hell coming up to wage war on the clean streets of Heaven, and you'll be reuinited with the missus. Of course you accept, and it's off to the shooting gallery. The proprietary Pain engine pumps out loads of great, scary-looking onscreen enemies, and the meaty thwack of weapons hits, great music and awesome Havok 2.0 physics will make your eyes and ears pop and jaw drop simultaneously. The developer isn't called People Can Fly for nothing- trust me on this...

Based on the press demo (go download it, please) the game looks and plays as close to perfect as can be imagined. Full of over-the-top action and some beautiful, destructable environments that contain items that can be pushed, rolled or dropped on baddies, it's a crime to call this a sleeper- Painkiller bleeds excellence from the moment you fire it up. There's also a robust set of multiplayer games promised, and the AI i've seen so far is remarkable, to say the least. There are no spawned enemies appearing on the maps- the AI patrols and scouts levels, and it up to you to decide how best to take them out. Rather that load players down with 10 or so weapons, the game only has 5 guns, each with a regular and alternate fire mode. The most fun one is the stake gun, which can be used to impale enemies to walls, columns and even each other- and yup, it looks as painful as it sounds.

From what I've seen so far, no textures are reused in the different areas, an amazing accomplishment. The lighting and shadow effects are fantastic, and collision detection is spot on flawless. It'll be hard to imagine anything going wrong in the final version of the game, so expect solid scores all around. Another great thing about Painkiller is it'll also be coming to the Xbox at some point this year, so if you're not a PC gamer, you'll be able to experience the Pain for yourself. Head on over to the Painkiller site and download it NOW, and then boogie on over to your favorite game shoppe or web site and preorder this baby- you'll be in Heaven sooner than you think...

- Greg Wilcox