Unless you actually have a life and do things other than sit at your computer refreshing videogaming websites over and over and over (in which case you probably aren’t reading this anyway) you’ve heard of Bulletstorm. What you probably know about it already is that it’s gruesome, over-the-top, encourages wealthy men to act like idiots on camera and will instigate serial rapings across the planet upon release.
OK, check all that off your list and let’s get down to business: Is it any good? The answer to that question is: Yes, Bulletstorm is fun. It is innovative in some ways and disappointing in others, but on the whole it is incredibly fun. Mind-numbingly fun. It is so much fun they will have to re-write the definition of fun. All of the eggheads saying “fun is not the point of videogames” will lose their jobs once this game is released because, upon playing it, you will remember that fun is, in fact, the entire damn point of playing games and the only reason you may have ever doubted that was because you were playing games that were not this much fun.
Bulletstorm is the latest from Polish developer People Can Fly, creators of the celebrated Painkiller, about which our own Yahtzee Croshaw said “The only way [the Electro-Driver gun} could be any cooler is if it had tits and were on fire.” High praise indeed, but Bulletstorm lives up to that pedigree with only one major exception, which is a good place to segue into mentioning that for Bulletstorm, PCF partnered up with Epic Games, creators of the Unreal engine, Gears of War and CliffyB. PCF handled the majority of the gameplay and setup of this game, while, near as we can tell, most of the appliqué of AAA gloss fell on Epic’s shoulders. Which is really a sad shame because frankly, Bulletstorm‘s AAA frills obscure the innovative gameplay.
The gameplay, in a nutshell, is like this: You are trapped on an alien world and must escape. Between you and your escape are hordes of bad dudes. You have seven awesome guns and a whip-like Leash you can use to kill said bad dudes. Killing them in fun and interesting ways earns you points which you can use to download more weapons and ammo with which to kill more dudes. The end.
At any one time, you are armed with three weapons, their alternate fire modes, your Leash and your boot, all of which you can use to kill dudes. Plant your boot in a dude’s ass and send him toppling over a cliff earns you skillpoints for the “Vertigo” kill. Wrap a flail grenade around a dude and then kick him off a cliff and you earn the Vertigo and Sadist skillpoints. Wrap a flail grenade around a dude, then shoot him with your shotgun, sending him flying backward off the cliff, and you earn the Sadist and Vertigo and Pump-Action skillpoints. And then list goes on.
Thankfully I’ve selected my 10 favorite Skill Kills for your amusement in the following video:
Bulletstorm so successfully harnesses the elusive high of fun-based, immersive flow that you will find yourself coming back to it again and again. Luckily, PCF seems to have predicted this, since they included a single-player mode called “Echo Mode” which allows you to play and replay portions of levels as many time as you like, earning points to unlock new levels and posting your scores on a leaderboard to compare measurements with your online friends.
Echo Mode is without a doubt the single coolest thing I’ve seen in a shooter in a long, long time and neatly fills the gap between slogging through a story-based campaign and jumping into the boner-killing jerk pit that is playing shooters online. If you must play online, however, there are many worse games to play than Bulletstorm
Bulletstorm juices up online play with “Anarchy Mode,” a horde-mode style “You-and-Friends vs. Waves of Enemies” time-killer that literally forces players to cooperate to earn the higher-scoring “Team Kills.” Sure you can kill dudes in all of the same fun-tastic ways as in the single-player modes, but using the Team Kills earns you more points and certain special Team Challenges earn mega-points. And earning points is the name of the game.
An example of how the Team Kills work would be the “Tug-of-War.” Use your leash to grab a dude then have one of your teammates grab him too. The result: quartered dude and a bundle of points. Another example: Use your slide move to send a dude flying through the air in slow motion and have one of your buddies shoot him. Team Slide. Bam! As you can imagine, the possibilities are as seemingly limitless as the number of skill kills.
In theory this sounds like a great way to jazz up multiplayer, but in practice it’s hit-or-miss. Your experience will vary depending on the level of cooperation you can cajole out of your online friends. Many of the team kills require coordination and precision equal to that of competitive Counter Strike so it may not be fun for everybody, and kind of plays against the perception of Bulletstorm as pick-up-and-playable. Mastering Anarchy Mode definitely requires practice, but if you have a few good friends, it’s worth the investment of time and patience.
It’s certainly not worth it for the story. Bulletstorm puts you in the gigantic boots of Grayson Hunt, also known as “Gray,” also known as “Epic Games’ latest attempt to create the most abhorrent main character ever devised and yet still have people lining up around the block to play him.” Gray is the leader of a group of soldiers (always soldiers) who have found themselves on the outs with their former commander, General Serrano (always soldiers on the outs), after discovering that they’ve been lied to and that all those unarmed civilians they’ve been killing for however many years weren’t actually bad guys at all, just people their General didn’t like. Whoops, betrayal (always betrayal).
CUE: Dramatic Betrayal Music as Gray and his team turn into a group of wandering space drifters raiding government ships for loot, drinking heavily and avoiding bounty hunters – that is until Serrano tracks them down. Then they foolishly (because Gray was drunk) take on a battlecruiser head-to-head and end up crash-landing on an abandoned planet filled with lots of dudes who want to kill them. And if you’re thinking at this point that all of that would make for a neat videogame story, you’re right, it would have, but PCF, Epic and Bulletstorm writer Rick Remender (writer of the comic Fear Agent and co-writer on Dead Space) decided that five minutes of cut-scene-laden exposition at the beginning of the game would be the best place for this part of the story and filled the rest with hamfisted, cliché-laden tripe of the kind you’d expect to see written into the first few pages of a game manual.
The characters are one-dimensional caricatures lacking in any motivation and Remender repeatedly hits you over the head with their “unique character attributes” as if videogamers are too dense to recognize characters like “The Screw-up With a Heart of Gold,” “The Morally Conflicted Side-kick” and “The Saucy-but-Sexy Girl-who-Needs-Rescuing-but-Won’t-Admit-It.” What’s lying on the Bulletstorm table would make for a fine meal, but is instead over-cooked and under-seasoned and comes out a mishmash of well-trodden tropes lacking in any form of subtlety or spark.
The worst part about Bulletstorm is, in fact, the story, or more precisely the imprecise interjection thereof. It’s as if the team couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a space opera or a mindless videogame and compromised. Their mistake. Between cutscenes, intentional slowing of the pace and annoying in-mission jabber, the story interrupts the high-octane fun just enough to continually remind you it’s there – and is terrible.
Fortunately, a game like Bulletstorm doesn’t need a story to be fun. (In fact, if they’d left it off entirely it would have been a better game and our score reflects that.) Once you get past the bullshit (coincidentally, like the game, abbreviated BS), and the game gets the hell over itself and lets you loose, the fun cranks up to 11 and doesn’t stop.
Bottom Line: Bulletstorm is the evolutionary “next step” for first-person shooters that makes up for its jerk-off story by adding plenty of new wrinkles to a heretofore tired genre. This is a game that will be remembered for years to come (for a few reasons) and, aside from having nothing to talk about in online forums for the rest of the year, you will be the loneliest kid on your street if you don’t have it.
Recommendation: Buy it.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.[rating=4]
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist. He blogs at www.falsegravity.com