Given Dreamcatcher's history, I was surprised to see that they are publishing a first person shooter. All cracks about prerendered adventure games aside, Painkiller is shaping up to substantially up the standard for first person shooters, both in terms of graphics and physics if not gameplay.
In Painkiller, you assume the role of Daniel Garner, who has recently died, and must go on a quest to find out why he's not being allowed into heaven, a quest that will have him killing thousands of monstrous beings in twenty different environments.
Based on the early, three level build that I was able to play, I have to admit that the story isn't going to matter a lot in this game, and neither is the AI. This is a game about killing things in huge numbers with shiny guns that splattering red all over everything. The only breaks from the frantic action are the slightly more thought provoking boss sequences, which are spectacular to watch as well as play. The mostly proprietary engine (the Havok 2.0 SDK, also being used in Half Life 2, was used for some of the physics) sports the best looking visuals I've seen in a shooter to date. This is no exaggeration, with a plethora of effects including numerous different explosive reactions that send monsters and detritus flying and sprawling, thanks to well implemented "ragdoll" physics.
The alpha only had two different weapons available, but Dreamcatcher is promising a large and robust arsenal in the final product. What seems sure to set Painkiller apart from the rest of the herd, aside from its next generation graphics, are the boss battle sequences. Painkiller has some of the largest polygon based monsters I've seen. The environmental detail throughout the game is decent, but in the boss arenas, special care has been taken to make for unique battles. For example, a fight with a minotaur type creature is set in the middle of a ruin, and pillars and arches collapse around and on you in the fray.
The struggle now facing People Can Fly is to polish what they have into a compelling, new experience that fully takes advantage of the Pain engine's power, while also offering up something new in terms of gameplay. There is a risk of this title turning into another "me too" generic FPS, and that would really be a shame given the potential that Painkiller has. If the level design can be implemented well, it's a fair bet that Painkiller could provide single player entertainment well past the twenty hour mark, and there is a decent potential here for online play, as with any FPS.