Summary: From People Can Fly and Epic Games comes the most brazenly inappropriate game in years, the first-person murder simulator Bulletstorm! Score big for impaling your enemies on a giant cactus, feeding them to a man-eating plant, and shooting them right up the ass, all while your character shouts more four-letter words than George Carlin in an HBO comedy special. Is the game really all it's cracked up to be, or is Bulletstorm more bark than bite? Find out in today's review!
It’s a murder party, starring me!
The game’s trademark “skillshot” system provides for plenty of arcade action against hundreds of enemies, whether you’re taking careful aim to hit ‘em where it hurts most or using your surroundings to slaughter in all sorts of creative ways. In the latter case, your energy leash and strong kicking leg are just as deadly as any of the weapons you can wield. Anything in the environment that looks dangerous probably is, so all you do is get the bad guys to come in contact with those cacti, gnarled metal bars, exposed electrical wires, giant fan blades, or man-eating plants and you’re golden. There are also several pre-made traps for you to discover and use, such as an elevator in a toppled building that is called down to squash all the bad guys in its path, which was shown in one of the preview videos.
All of the tens of thousands of skill points you can earn are as good as cash at the various drop-pods scattered across the planet, which act as virtual shops where you can buy weapons, upgrades, and ammo. You start out with the assault rifle, but later on you can find or buy such outrageous implements as a quad-barrel shotgun, explosive cannonball launcher, and a hand-held mining drill that impales targets at range. Not including the energy leash, there are seven weapons in all, but for some reason you can only equip three at a time, including the Peacemaker Carbine that you always carry with you. This is where you really detect that People Can Fly signature, since there are just as many wacky-yet-lethal weapons here as there were in Painkiller.
Each weapon has a charge ability (secondary fire) that uses separate, more expensive ammunition but is capable of delivering immense pain and/or immediate death to anything you point it at. For instance, the assault rifle basically turns into a railgun that can shoot through obstacles and multiple baddies, the revolver fires homing rocket flare things, and the sniper rifle shoots an explosive round that can be detonated in mid-air. Most of them have their own associated skillshot, so be sure to try them all; they especially come in handy when fighting those pesky mini-bosses.
On top of the “killing with skill,” Bulletstorm throws in the occasional on-rails shooting, along with other, more unique scripted sequences, which I found to be so much fun that the first few hours flew by. However, the core gameplay does start to get a bit stale after that... It reminds me of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, where being able to kick someone off a ledge or onto a bed of spikes is so pervasive to the experience that you find yourself luring enemies to a cliff because it’s easier than fighting them regularly. It’s even worse in Bulletstorm because the entire game is built around that stuff, and there isn’t really any other way to play. Most areas have far too many of these environmental hazards that present opportunities to you on a silver platter, so it just gets dull.
Part of the reason for this is that the game automatically guides enemies through the air (mostly), so there’s really not much skill involved with leashing or kicking them to their death. Even more ironic is that the harder feats, such as pulling off a “headshot” (which requires up to a half-dozen bullets to the noggin), give you the least amount of points. It turns out conventional gunplay is as ineffective as it is unrewarding, which was clearly a deliberate design choice to encourage you to think outside the FPS box. Unfortunately, there are times when you just want/need to shoot some guys, and you get frustrated because it just doesn’t work well at all.
For having such a primitive style of gameplay as its foundation, Bulletstorm also sports a surprisingly involved and contrived storyline. All you really need for a game like this is the bare minimum of motivation, a reason to be doing all the killing you do. Yes, General Sarrano is an asshole, he betrayed you, and you want revenge -- that’s good, you can stop there. We don’t need a whole drawn-out narrative involving forced guilt and sad little girls and some of the most predictable plot twists ever… It detracts far more from the gameplay than it contributes, not to mention the time wasted on boring cutscenes. There’s even an obvious cliff-hanger at the end of the credits, with which they may really be getting ahead of themselves.
Persistent, like herpes!
There are so many quick-time events in this game, it’s ridiculous. They actually score you and award skill points based on how quickly you react, which would be okay if that didn’t mean they were thrown in your face every couple of minutes. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this is that they use it to draw your attention to scripted events; whenever HOLD [RMB] comes up in the middle of the screen (which is often), you’re supposed to immediately do what it says in order to focus your view on a boss appearing or a flashing object hinting at you, etc. Maybe they do it because of the tight FOV, which actually isn’t that bad since the weapon models aren’t so huge. More than that, though, it smacks of accommodating console players in being able to keep up with the action using a gamepad.
Speaking of which, many sequences in Bulletstorm were clearly designed to be a challenge for those trying to aim using analog sticks, but are child’s play for the speed and precision of a mouse. “Burnouts,” the fully-mutated monstrosities that represent the most fearsome foes in the game short of bosses, are a joke when you can point and shoot. The thing that makes them more formidable than the average enemy is that they won’t die unless you hit specific glowing weakspots on their body. For a console player relying on the game’s double auto-aim (conventional target tracking plus snapping to target when you aim down the sights), this requires some extra coordination, but to me it’s just like aiming for the head, except the head might be on their shoulder, stomach, crotch, or leg. They’re a lot stupider than the other enemies, too, which means the whole hour or so of the game that heavily features them is pretty uninteresting as far as combat goes.
Of course, being an Epic title, Bulletstorm uses the aging Unreal Engine 3. That means you should expect their traditional style of washed-out textures, plastic-looking people, ho-hum particle effects, and flooding most scenes with HDR lighting to cover up the aforementioned. They also continue their practice of making male character models unrealistically big and burly… At least the deep, gravelly voice of Grayson, the player character, fits with this exceedingly masculine theme. However, I’d like to [loosely] quote him to Epic’s team of designers: “Don’t force it, let the overcompensation come naturally!”
With that said, the game doesn’t look bad at all, except for the pre-rendered and horribly compressed cinematic videos (seriously, who uses those anymore?). I especially liked the bright, colorful environments that blend almost seamlessly into the vast, beautifully- illustrated backgrounds. Several times throughout the game, you’ll experience brief treks through a dark cave, collapsed building, or sewer system and then dramatically emerge to a breathtaking vista that stops you cold and drops your jaw. It’s such a nice change of pace from the drab and dreary visual style of most “modern, gritty” shooters, and does well to make up for the standard shortcomings of UE3.
Despite the ‘M’ for Mature rating, the dialogue in Bulletstorm comes off like it was written by a 12-year-old boy that learned a bunch of curse words from his older cousin and thinks that the more he repeats them, the cooler he is. Granted, it fits the overall tone of the game perfectly and can be enjoyed for what it is, but I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you play this game. Most lines are voiced by the capable and distinct Steven Blum, though at times you can detect his own incredulity at what he’s saying. I won’t get into the politically-incorrect debauchery your ears will be subjected to, but needless to say, both the immature and the immature at heart will be elated.
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