Fox News have already called the controversy-baiting Bulletstorm ‘the worst game in the world’, yet as we discovered, it’s actually a ridiculous amount of fun.
Bulletstorm developers People Can Fly are, on the evidence of their latest title, the most aptly-named developers in the video game industry. Throughout Bulletstorm’s seven-hour single-player campaign people will fly – into spikes, onto cacti, over cliffs and occasionally into giant venus fly traps. Sadly, you’ll be too busy checking your skill shot rewards or picking your jaw from the floor to fully enjoy their demise.
Epic Game’s Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski has recently espoused the view that in today’s hugely competitive first-person-shooter market, new titles have to stand out – there is simply no space for another po-faced military shooter or stoic space marine adventure anymore, and with good reason.
With that in mind, Bulletstorm is a complete riot throughout, creating a smart-arse hero in Grayson Hunt that might even give the venerable Duke Nukem a challenge in the sweary stakes. In 2011, with the video game’s industry endless quest for mass acceptance, you have to respect a title that includes the line, “You shitfucks give chase, I will kill your dicks!’
If only we had a remote control for that guy…
Bulletstorm primarily follows Gray Hunt and his cyborg partner Ishi Sato, who after a failed and drunken assault on their double-crossing former CO, General Serano, are stranded on the hostile planet of Stygia, home to warring factions, Godzilla-alike monsters and their mysterious but no less foul-mouted later-game acquaintance Trishka Novak.
Though story quickly takes a back-seat to cover-based set pieces, the opening half-hour of the action title should not go unmentioned, in particular a stunning gravity-boot assisted covert mission that begins down the side of a skyscraper, as the stunning vista of a bustling city envelopes fills the sky. As for Stygia, the planet is a stunningly lush creation, though the sense of nature encroaching urban landscapes can at times invite unwanted comparisons to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, whose beauty Bulletstorm can’t match.
The core appeal of Bulletstorm, however, is “skillshots”. Skillshots rewards playing to destroy their enemies through the most creative means imaginable, while granting Gray the tools to do in the form truly ingenious weapons and an ‘energy leash’. In Bulletstorm it’s not enough to gun down your opponent with five bullets, not when you can leash your enemy towards you, stomp them backwards and shoot them straight in the testicles in mid-air before impaling them in a sea of spikes. Trust us, that’s the bare minimum of the carnage you’ll be unleashing.
Rather than being a showy distraction, skillshot rewards are tied to every aspect of Bulletstorm’s gameplay. Each shoot-out typically contains a ‘drop kit’, ammo supplies that have supposedly dropped from General Serrano’s crash-landed ship. The currency for any weapons, ammo and alternate fire modes are all represented in the scores you’re achieving for your kills. Thus, if you’re ambushed or unprepared for a battle and escape by the skin of your teeth through panic-ridden, dull kills, you’ll find the next segment even tougher as you haven’t gained much skillshot rewards. Players are constantly challenged to try out new weapons and kills throughout and that’s an admirable goal.
In practice, Epic and People Can Fly fashion a new number of stunning set pieces throughout Bulletstorm’s relatively short campaign length. Through the course of at least seven hours you’ll have narrowly avoiding a giant ‘grindwheel’ hurtling towards you (an enjoyable vehicle section, believe it or not), remote-controlled a 50ft tall ‘pet’ and fought in a miniature-scale city, replete with faulty wiring ripe for mischief.
Delivering a strong boot to the chest is immensely satisfying
Another highlight of Bulletstorm is the sheer havoc wreaked by the shooter’s weapon selection. Beginning with an underpowered leash and ‘Peacemaker’ carbine, you’ll soon get your hands on the mine detonating Flailgun and Headhunter, the latter taking worthy of a spot in the video game sniper rifle hall of fame. Why? You control the trajectory of the bullet in slow-motion as your target attempts to flee – headshots have never been more satisfying.
Bulletstorm is really just a playground of fun and will keep the more creative-minded or twisted entertained long after its campaign though like last year’s Just Cause 2, it’s gameplay won’t be to everyone’s taste. A prime example of this is the shooter’s multiplayer mode, which takes the brave route of bypassing deathmatches altogether.
Anarchy mode is the prime focus of Bulletstorm (Echo mode is single-player only and provides multiplayer leaderboards for highscore runs) and draws comparison to Gears of War’s Horde mode, in which swathes of enemies attack in progressively difficult waves. Working with three others, players are tasked to build the highest score possible by working together, chaining attacks and watching which attacks are demanded next. A ‘vertigo’ kill request will quickly galvanise a team with the instructions of leashing an enemy to a teammate near a cliff, who will proceed to boot the offender into oblivion.
As you can imagine, Anarchy can be terrific fun when working alongside a well-organised team though of course, this is never guaranteed – when playing in a team of multiple nationalities all players tend to revert to improvisation. Another gripe is that since high-scores are not tied to player’s respective skills, rather their team effort, high-score junkies could be turned off by returning to the mode regularly. Although Epic have stated that deathmatch ‘wouldn’t work’ in Bulletstorm, a Dead Space 2-style 4v4 mode, with correct balancing, would certainly offer greater longevity than Anarchy mode.
Aside from the non-essential multiplayer experience, Bulletstorm suffers at times, surprisingly enough, from a lack of originality. With locations extremely reminiscent of Enslaved, a boosting system borrowed from Vanquish and numerous Duke Nukem nods, for all its gameplay innovations Bulletstorm occasionally feels like a hodge-podge of different creative disciplines.
This aspect of the title is most commonly noticed the armour, weapons and even voice casting that harks back to Epic’s fellow title Gears of War. In particular, one subterranean excursion that involves shooting a gaggle of giant eggs to escape from a cave-dwelling monster feels like a sequence straight from the Gears of War 2 cutting room floor.
Despite a couple of grievances, Bulletstorm is still a welcome shot in the arm for a stagnating genre. Though we may wish for great storyline involvement or online deathmatches, this is one game that challenges gamer’s perceptions of everything a first-person shooter can be, while finally burying sullied memories of high-score shooters wrought from SEGA’s The Club.
Whether Epic and People Can Fly’s brave approach can distract gamers enough from their typical first-person-shooter digest to fly off the shelves this week is uncertain, though it will be an interesting litmus test for the increasingly stale genre’s future.
Format: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC; Developer: People Can Fly