It’s been a year and a half since Epic Games -- the creators of Gears of War, Unreal Tournament, and the Unreal Engine, which powers all kinds of AAA games from other developers -- announced that they would be publishing a game with industry giant Electronic Arts, and gamers have waited with bated breath to find out what fresh awesomeness they had in store for us. About a month ago, that game was announced: Bulletstorm, developed in conjunction with Polish developer People Can Fly (Painkiller, Gears of War for PC). Now we’ve seen the game in action, and heard the gospel directly from Cliff Bleszinski’s mouth. The reaction? Whoa, momma.
If the name “Bulletstorm” wasn’t your first clue, the game is a shooter; first-person to be exact. More importantly though, it’s a first-person shooter that doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously. This is less space opera and more space action movie, complete with a cast of motley characters cracking wise and making relentless double entendres. Tongue placed firmly in cheek, Bulletstorm is an action-packed shooter with a system for racking up points with a variety of ways to score unique kills. Epic likes to call it “Burnout with guns,” and that description seems fairly apt.
You are Grayson Hunt, the leader of a band of mercenaries called the Dead Echo. Hardly a band of rough and soulless soldiers of fortune, the Dead Echo’s central function was as peacekeepers, generally falling on the side of good and justice. But you and your crew suffer a betrayal and are exiled to the far reaches of the galaxy where you live the life of interstellar rogues. And despite his best intentions, trouble seems to follow Grayson wherever he goes. One night, in a drunken stupor, he decides to attack a much larger ship -- the Ulysses -- he believes to be connected to the original betrayal. Somehow, both the gargantuan battlecruiser and your lowly ship subsequently crash on the world below, an abandoned resort world known as Stygia. Once there, you’ve got two pissed-off crews to deal with (theirs and yours) and a mystery to solve about what happened to this once-paradise.
Fans will see some obvious references to the TV series Firefly in the story, as well as Duke Nukem when they hear the main character banter with his mates during the action. The comedy doesn’t stop with the setting either; it flows through the gameplay as well. Bulletstorm centers on a system of skill shots, which give you points based on the way you kill your enemies. Just shooting them isn’t enough to rack up the points. You’re better off kicking a guy in the chest, lifting him into the air in slo-mo, then taking a shot directly at his head for the headshot, after lighting him on fire with a weapon that does that. Or maybe you could grab someone with your leash, an electrically charged grappling hook that can grab enemies or items and use them to your will. Or maybe you could use this crazy weapon called the Flail Gun, which shoots two grenades connected by a chain that will wrap around an enemy or connect him to a nearby object or environmental hazard (you'll also have to deal with some nasty, self-aware plant life on Stygia). And these are only just the beginning.
The craziness of the weapon designs -- something both People Can Fly and Epic are known for -- combined with their ability to upgrade, and crossed with your ability to kick, slide, and tether enemies makes for a lot of options when it comes to putting together skill shots. And just seeing the names given to the special shots is almost reason enough to explore as many ways to do them as possible. A couple of favorites: “fertilizer” (completely vaporizing an enemy), “bad touch” (impaling a dude on a cactus), “stroke” (narrowly missing an enemy with an overload shot and having him die of fright) and “gang bang” (a multi-kill). Bulletstorm looks like good, bloody fun.
No one is talking about multiplayer or co-operative play yet, but their inclusion and future revealing was winked and nodded at. This is Epic after all, and they do multiplayer well. The game is also about a year out, which is highly surprising when you see it in action. The Unreal engine looks as great as usual, and the game looks to be taking full advantage of it and running smooth as butter even this far out. Despite it being so far away on the release schedule, you’ll want to play it as soon as you see it, and at this year’s E3, we'll get to do just that. That should tide us over for a bit, but it wont satisfy our desire to play what has instantly become one of 2011's most anticipated games.