Bulletstorm ReviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Feb 22, 2011
With their latest shooter Bulletstorm, People Can Fly and Epic Games have managed to construct a visually rapturous and mechanically flawless first-person shooter that challenges genre conventions and provides an interactive experience that ends up feeling like the most offensive amusement park ride you've ever ridden, and I mean that in the best way possible.
- Glorious action on a massive scale
- Constantly twists FPS conventions
- Tons of replayability in Echo and Anarchy
- Combo system can get repetitive
- "Intentionally" weak enemy AI calls attention to gaminess
- Over-the-top tone is inconsistent
With their latest shooter Bulletstorm, People Can Fly and Epic Games have managed to construct a visually rapturous and mechanically flawless first-person shooter that challenges genre conventions and provides an interactive experience that ends up feeling like the most offensive amusement park ride you’ve ever ridden, and I mean that in the best way possible.
To be, or not to…HOLY F***! DINOSAUR! RUN! RUN!
All you have to do is look at Bulletstorm to know it’s not a game that’s much concerned with pushing the art of interactive storytelling to dizzying new heights, but, fortunately, no one is playing this game for the deep narrative, and that helps mitigate issues like extremely convenient coincidences and unnecessary pushes to explain every element of the game world and its characters. For instance, knowing the backstory on the ammo drop pods and electric leash, or knowing everything that’s happened on Stygia leading up to the events in the game, adds nothing to the overall experience, but it’s mostly used to just fill the gaps in the action anyway, so it’s forgivable.
For those that care though, Bulletstorm tells the story of Grayson Hunt, a finely coiffed, drunken space pirate, and a few surviving members of his black ops space outfit Dead Echo, who crash land on the bizarrely abandoned, “tropical paradise gone wrong,” planet of Stygia after bringing down the ship of their previous employer, the gutter-mouthed General Serano. Hunt and company’s primary objective is to track down Serano and execute him, but in the process, they encounters a saucy, ass-kicking woman named Trishka, who just so happens to have a very important connection to Hunt and his crew, and who happens to want to kill to Serano just as bad as Hunt. How’s that for kismet?
Now, a lot has been said about the game’s extremely explicit dialogue, and rightfully so. This game is filthy, but it’s the kind of filthy that you can’t help chuckling at because it’s just so damn creative. And while the dialogue fits perfectly with the game’s overall, big dudes with big “guns” tone, there’s a slight disconnect between Hunt’s cutscene story and his gameplay story. One second, Hunt is in a scene, and it’s all about redemption and reconciliation and then two seconds later he’s using highly offensive (if creative) expletives to joyously joke about his horrific, vile, and vicious activities. It’s a bit jarring, and could have been avoided had the game stuck with either being entirely over-the-top, or toned down some of the more absurdist elements.
Shoot to Thrill
With all of that “story” business out of the way, we can now focus on the real star of Bulletstorm: the gameplay. Like most aspects of the game (i.e. presentation, graphics, sound design etc.), the controls are silky smooth, and the amount of variety provided by the weapons (each of which has an alternate fire option, and include everything from a standard pistol to guns that a drill, and/or bombs linked by a chain), the electric leash, and the sliding/kicking is a leaderboard-lover’s dream come true, especially since “killing with skill” is the cornerstone of the game’s combat.
There are over 130, hilariously titled Skillshots in the game, each one corresponding to a specific execution maneuver. These range from shooting an enemy after you’ve tossed them into the air with a kick to the kisser, to launching an enemy into the air with an exploding flare, to sparking a fire in an enemy’s ass. These shots can them be strung together to create massive combos that earn you points, which you can then use to buy ammo or upgrade your weapons and charge meters.
What’s particularly great about the game’s design is that it not only challenges standard FPS philosophies by making progression less about how fast/efficiently you kill enemies and more about how stylish you can be in doing so, it also does a great job of constantly changing up the FPS perspective. From the opening sequence where you’re walking down the side of a skyscraper, to a level that takes place in a building that’s tipped on its side (Gears of War 2 style), to some eye-meltingly spectacular on-rails sequences, to environmental puzzles and climbing sequences, the presentation and perspective are constantly changing, giving the game a great sense of variety beyond the much touted “kill with skill” combat.
Rain on My Bullet Parade
Having said that, the kick-leash-shoot-leash-slide-kick-shoot-repeat combo structure grew progressively less interesting for me as the game went along, especially since the enemy AI has one thought process (run at player), which leads to them just running around erratically waiting to die. It was still satisfying to blast them to pieces, but that’s because the controls are so solid. After a while though, I became increasingly aware of the combo system and its requirements, so much so that I found myself enjoying the on-rails sequences and “specialized” sections (i.e. one involving a towering robotic dinosaur called Mechaton that fires freaking laser beams from its eyes) more than the straightforward gunplay.
For some reason, the analogy that came to mind was the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” It’s a fantastically constructed song from top to bottom, but once you start to focus on the “woo-woo” that plays constantly throughout the entire song, it takes some effort to unhear it, regardless of how great you think the song is.
Still, the game’s pacing is fantastic, so your location and circumstances are changing at a nice clip. In fact, the set pieces in this game are what stood out the most for me. There are some sequences that utterly dwarf you with their scope, and will have you yelling, “Holy sh*t!” like you would on any great rollercoaster ride. The “tropical resort gone wrong” setting is gorgeously realized, and the art direction is just spectacular, and results in a wide variety of locales and vistas that are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen in a game.
Kill with Skill…and Phil, Bill, and Jill!
Despite Epic’s pedigree in the competitive multiplayer arena, Bulletstorm is a different kind of beast, and therefore offers only cooperative multiplayer in the form of the Horde-inspired, Anarchy Mode. Here, instead of simply surviving each wave, you and three of your pals must reach set score limits to progress to the next round. The only way to do this, especially in the later rounds, is to pull off Team Skillshots, (i.e. one player kicks a dude into the air while another shoots him). What’s great about these team bonuses is that they truly force players to communicate even more than they would in a standard Horde mode, because every kill matters, and if you don’t capitalize on each one, you will fail. But rather than having to start over from round one like a typical horde mode if you fail, here you just restart the current round, making it much more accessible and enjoyable for less hardcore players.
Similar to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, your enjoyment in Anarchy Mode will depend solely on the attitude of your teammates, so you’ll definitely want to play with people who love over communicating and who value victory over personal glory. This might seem a bit counterintuitive considering the game is built on the foundation of amassing the highest scores possible, but that’s where Echo Mode comes in.
The 15 Echo Mode levels are just sections cut out of the single-player campaign in which you try to accumulate the most points, pure and simple. Epic used one of these levels for the Bulletstorm demo, and players went absolutely nuts for it, setting scores that even the developers didn’t think were possible. While there isn’t a traditional competitive, head-to-head multiplayer mode in the game, Echo Mode is where diehard multiplayer fans will likely spend most of their time, and justifiably so. It’s a score whore’s dream playground.
Bullet Train to Funtown
Bulletstorm is about as close to an M-rated Disney ride of a game as you’re likely to ever play. Everything about it is designed to make you cheer and yell and laugh with visceral delight, making it relatively impossible to not have an absolute blast while playing it, regardless of what type of gamer you are. The combo system can lose its novelty after a bit, but there’s always a bigger and more insane sequence around the corner to keep things fresh. For fans of sky high thrills and action on a mountainous scale, Bullestorm is an absolutely must play, and is one of the hands-down nuttiest experiences you’ll have in a game all year.