It takes a hour or so to get any real feel for Bulletstorm. For some games, that’s an indictment. Hell, I’ll usually drop a game if it doesn’t grab me in the first 5 minutes. Disc goes back in box, box goes to videogame Limbo, where the never-played wait to die. But not Bulletstorm.
For one thing, I got paid (by The Escapist) to play it, and flown (by EA) to a venue where there was literally nothing else to do but play Bulletstorm. It’s hard to move on to the next game when there is no next game – just screens and screens of Bulletstorm – and refusing to play means, effectively, resigning. Still, even if you’re not playing it as a job, I suspect you’ll stick with it. There’s just something about the set-up – as corny and over-the-top as it may be – that hints at the game to come. Something about the familiar Epic charm, filtered through People Can Fly’s creative veins that grabs you roughly from behind and whispers “wait – you’ll see,” then leaves you to wonder what comes next, an epiphany or an ass-raping. Listen to that whisper. The payoff is of the epiphany kind and is as enormous as Bulletstorm‘s balls. Although if that last sentence struck you as profane and offensive, then you would probably have an aneurism playing Bulletstorm. Every character in the game talks like they woke up this morning on Xbox Live.
In Bulletstorm you’ll play as Grayson, or “Gray,” Epic Games’ latest attempt to create the most offensive lead character in gaming. Gray is the leader of a ragtag bunch of ex-soldiers hell-bent on exacting revenge against the corrupt officer of their former squad, but don’t expect the story to serve as anything more than wafer-thin coating of varnish, a bit of polish to give your inner thirteen year-old license to kill as many dudes as possible in as many grotesque and funny and awesome ways as you can imagine without feeling the least bit put off by the experience. As well-written as it occasionally is (with lines like “You’re the one who shit the bed, I just washed your sheets.”), the story floats in and out without leaving too much of a mark, landing just long enough to help you forget you’re playing one of the dumbest games ever made, one tailor-made to make you feel like a kid again.
It’s this level of abandon to which the game’s hour-long setup leads. Bulletstorm is not your typical modern shooter. In fact, it plays a lot like shooters from about 10 years ago, even if it doesn’t look it or even feel it. Take your modern physics and graphics engines and pair those with the unadulterated glee of a fast and furious, almost arcade-like shmup and that’s Bulletstorm. You’ll wonder when you had so much brainless fun with a game and then it will hit you: back before games had so much “brain.”
The story you don’t need to know and won’t care that much about anyway: Grayson is stranded on an alien planet with his trusty cyborg sidekick (who occasionally tries to kill him), “Ishi.” Their plans to destroy their former commander having gone somewhat awry, Gray and Ishi must find a way off the planet, which happens to be infested with a variety of dudes who are trying to kill them to stop that from happening. Setting, character, conflict. Check. Let’s move on to the shooting, because the game does as well, rather quickly.
After the first 45 minutes or so of build-up gameplay, Gray discovers a device called a “leash” that wires itself into his brain and allows him to grapple and pull objects and foes toward him, then rates his performance in killing them, awarding him points for style. You get skill points for executing bad dudes in grotesque and awesome ways and then you cash in those skill points for weapon upgrades and ammo. Grab a dude with your leash and kick him into a wall of spikes. Cha-ching! Thank you. It’s silly and violent and a blast.
In playing almost any game, once you reach a certain point, the only fun left to be had is in trying to break it. Shooting badguys in the balls just to see what happens. Trying to push dudes over a cliff. Pushing dudes over a cliff and then shooting them in the balls. Bulletstorm knows this and saves you the trouble of having to get bored before giving up the good stuff. The good stuff is in the game. Hell, it is the game.
You can carry three of the game’s half-dozen or so guns at any one time, and each gun has a secondary mode. You can also do a significant amount of damage without firing a single shot, just by kicking dudes off ledges, into spikes, into their own friendly fire, kicking their nards and then kicking off their heads to finish them, etc. Among the weapons available are the gun that shoots two grenades attached to each other by a chain and the gun that shoots an exploding harpoon. Both can be used to hilarious effect. Shoot a guy with the Bolo Gun, for example, and the grenades will wrap around whatever part of his body you’ve aimed at. You can then kick him into a group of his foes before detonating the grenades. For this you will get “homing missile” style points. You will also get to see the effect of your ingenuity in glorious slow-motion, since the game shifts into money shot mode each time you perform a skill kill. The word “gratuitous” comes to mind, but again, if you shut off your brain and let the game take you there it’s hard to imagine having more fun.
Bulletsorm‘s single-player campaign takes about 10 hours (including a level in which you must flee from a rampaging robotic dinosaur through an amusement park attraction built to resemble a miniature Tokyo), but with the “Echo” mode, you’ll find hours more single-player joy. Echo allows you to play sections of levels over and over until you get it right, accruing more skill points, acquiring stars and besting your online friends in the leaderboard.
For multi-player, Bulletstorm features “Anarchy” mode, which pits you and your friends against waves of enemies. You can play Anarchy as every man for himself, but you won’t get far that way. The trick is to communicate, coordinate and collaborate to pull of team kills. One man kicks a dude in the nuts, the other shoots his head off, etc. When this works, it’s a blast, but as anyone who has ever played online will tell you, communication, coordination and collaboration are not very common. You will spend as much time cursing your partners’ inability to keep their eyes on the prize as you will feeling the rush of satisfaction that comes from doing it right. This is where having reliable online friends will serve you well.
Overall, Bulletstorm seems to do so much with so little that it’s hard to imagine where the genre will go next. Except, perhaps, to Bulletstorm 2. The game comes out February 22nd for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.