There were a lot of great titles shown off at Sony's Gamers Day in May of this year, but one of the surprise hits was the PSN title, PAIN. Maybe it was just because it was so different than everything else shown at the event, but the ability to launch your character from a giant slingshot and bounce him around an active city seemed to grab the attention of quite a few of the journalists attending. Though praise was high, there were concerns even early on that there might just not be enough gameplay in PAIN. Sure the idea of smashing some Jackass-esque guy into a wall is fun, but would it be able to keep our attention for more than an hour or two? Seven months later, PAIN has been released to the general public and we have the answers to that question -- unfortunately, it turns out that some of the fears about longevity were definitely warranted.
The basic gameplay of PAIN revolves around firing your character (a rather Xtreme looking fellow named Jarvis) out of the world's largest slingshot and trying to cause as much havoc and chaos as possible across the city. Though it sounds pretty basic, there is actually a surprising amount of depth in just how you cause your destruction. Even before the launch, you can adjust the angle and power of the slingshot using the analog sticks. It's once you've launched yourself into the air that you realize there is more going on that just sitting back and watching your guy smash into walls and monkeys.
After you've fired your guy towards the city, you can help guide him in any direction using the analog sticks, as well as change his poses for extra points and the ability to hit specific objects that you might not normally reach. You can also grab onto pretty much anything by pressing one of the face buttons in the direction of the item you want to latch onto. The timing can be a little tricky but it's pretty satisfying flying through the air, grabbing a swinging girder, and whipping around to land on some cantankerous old lady.
The biggest method for chaining together your destruction is the 'Ooch' meter. Once you've hit something, you can no longer use your analog sticks for movement -- instead you use d-pad to yank your guy around, which allows you to set up combos such as bouncing back and forth between the lanes in the road as traffic continually runs you over. Once per launch, you can also shake the hell out of the controller to get the Super-Ooch meter which gives you considerably more distance and power to your Ooch-ing.
It is surprisingly fun tearing apart the city and trying for a new high score, but luckily that's not all there is. There are about six different gameplay modes, including three single player ones and three multiplayer. In single player, in addition to the main mode of PAINdemonium (described above), there is Spank the Monkey and the Mime Toss. Spank the Monkey has you attempting to hit monkeys scattered all over the level as quickly as possible. This gets increasingly hard as they put the monkeys in harder and harder to reach areas, but is a good way for practicing accuracy and speed. Mime Toss has you grabbing onto a mime in mid-air and then hurtling him at the correct vector to slam him through panes of glass. It's actually quite a bit of fun because it takes a good bit of skill and practice to really be able to spin around in the air with a mime and still throw him accurately.
Depending on whether or not you have roommates or friends close by, it's multiplayer that gives PAIN its best replayibility. It is also one of the game's biggest failings though -- a complete lack of online play. Sure there are leaderboards for the main single player mode, but the inability to play PAIN online is nothing short of criminal. If you do have local friends though, multiplayer is quite a bit of fun. While nothing overly special, there is a Bowling mode, a H-O-R-S-E mode, and Explosions mode that tasks you with chaining together exploding crates. In particular, Bowling and H-O-R-S-E are good solid fun when you get a couple buddies around (preferably with plenty of beer as well). The modes aren't incredibly deep, but offer a fun and light distraction from some of the more intense PS3 multiplayer titles.
Unfortunately, the lack of depth is a recurring theme in PAIN. You only get two characters (and one is locked until you play Bowling 12 times), and you only get one level with two configurations. The different game modes are fun, but aren't going to be enough to keep you playing for weeks on end. It does include a fairly robust trophy/achievements/skill points system that rewards you for specific actions or scores, but unfortunately the lack of depth even hits the trophies as they rarely actually unlock anything -- instead they're just bragging rights.
The developers of PAIN have been open from the beginning that they're planning on supporting the game with a robust line-up of DLC, which is evident right from the beginning with the option to already download two Christmas themed characters for a dollar a piece. There is also a billboard for a new level as well, which is a good sign for PAIN fans. Unfortunately, this just drives home the lack of original content all the more. There really should have been 2-3 levels at least, as well as four or more characters from the offset. Annoyingly, early previews talked about having four characters right off the bat. Who knows why they were cut, but it's easy to be suspicious over their motives. DLC is great, but not when it is content that should have been in the game in the first place.
Overall, PAIN is a fun game with a great sense of humor (love the Big Lebowski references), tight control and solid graphics that is totally and completely hamstringed by a lack of content and curious omissions. It is also worth pointing out that it was a little buggy when it was launched, with the two DLC characters showing up in the game as available -- but erroring out when you tried to use them. Also, if you click the Community link you are taken simply to their website which has a big video in the middle of it that the PS3 can't run. It's nothing huge, but brings down the presentation quite a bit when you have such obvious errors in the interface. In the end, the price of the new levels will be key to PAIN's longevity, if they are priced more than about five dollars -- forget about it. They need to be fairly cheap and Idol Minds needs to be pumping them out as quickly as possible. Otherwise, PAIN is just going to become one of those PSN titles that you play for a week (and love!) but then let gather virtual dust in your PSN Titles folder.
PS3 Fanboy score: 7.0