While some may say that the age of the “silent protagonist” in video games is over, there are a few times where I wish that we could return to the days of yore, where our controlled hero just got on with the job and didn’t have a smart-ass remark for everything. Bulletstorm is one of those times. Everyone in this game suffers from a severe form of tourettes crossed with verbal diarrhea. The story in your game doesn’t have to be amazing to please me, but at least make it so I don’t want to jam a power drill through my skull every time I have to listen to one of the characters wax philosophic about dicks.
For a little history, Bulletstorm is a First-Person-Shooter collaboration between Epic Games and People Can Fly where the object of the game is to kill enemies in creative ways to rack up Skillshots. Taking advantage of the Unreal 3 engine, and going out of its way to distance itself from every other FPS on the market, Bulletstorm hopes to carve out a niche with its unique take on FPS mechanics. How well does it fare in that regard?
The aforementioned depravity of the game’s main characters aside, Bulletstorm actually is quite a fun little romp. The main campaign runs about five hours in length, but this is just fine; anymore than that and the presentation and mechanics would have overstayed their welcome. People Can Fly do their best to fill those five and a bit hours with as many set-pieces as possible, so Bulletstorm kind of gives the impression that it’s trying too hard in a lot of respects. The characters themselves seem aware of this fact, as they’ll break the fourth wall at a few points to address some of the deus ex machina that occurs over and over in the game’s last few chapters, or the over-the-top dialog spouted continuously throughout the game.
I might as well stop here and address my problems with the narrative in full before moving on to anything else as I’ve already mentioned it twice already. I know that complaining about the story in a game like Bulletstorm is kind of like throwing a frisbee into a tornado and expecting my dog to catch it, but I think the developers could have toned back the writing in quite a few areas. From the overuse of the word “dick” in every situation (“I will kill your dicks” being a good example) to the abhorrent phrases spouted by General Sarrano, the main antagonist, I found even my tolerance being tested. I’m really glad that I played this game with headphones, because anyone listening in would have been instantly liquefied due to the roller coaster of bizarre on wholly unnecessary use of swears. There’s a line between using swears to make a certain bit of dialog poignant or funny and just looking plain stupid, and Bulletstorm crossed that line, stopping only to take a giant dump on it.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest I can move on to the mechanics, the only thing of real consequence in a video game. Bulletstorm is, at its core, a pretty basic FPS, and it plays as such until you pick up the Leash about twenty minutes in. The game opens with your character, drunk off his ass, interrogating a bounty hunter. After you work your way through the game’s opening exposition explaining that your squad was a former black-ops team manipulated to do some dirty stuff and turning pirate, you come across the item that opens up the main meat of Bulletstorm. The Leash is a semi-sentient AI that, in addition to giving you a bright blue energy weapon that you can use to grab objects and enemies, grades you on your performance with your weapons and doles out points which can be used at drop kits to re-arm and buy new weapons and upgrades.
Even though every enemy in the game can be killed by pumping bullets into him, the fastest way to earn points and wipe out your opposition is to focus on Skillshots. There are 135 different Skillshots, broken down into general environmental stuff and weapon and set-piece specific types. Each different Skillshot rewards a varying amount of points depending on the ease of said shot and how it was set up. For example, if you light a guy on fire, shoot him in the balls and then blow his head off, you’ll earn a combo for performing each of those actions. There are certain points in the game when you’ll be too surrounded by enemies to focus on each foe individually, but there are also ways to earn points by destroying large groups at one time. Every gun also has a “charged” shot which can be used to great effect against foes, and are also the best way to get large return Skillshots.
Trying to perform different Skillshots and finding different ways to use my weapons in conjunction with my boots, the Leash and the environment was a great deal of fun, even if the enemies attacking you in the last section of the game are resistant to most of your attacks. Bulletstorm throws you into situations just begging to be exploited for maximum carnage, and it behooves you to engage in such behavior.
The other aspect of Bulletstorm that was touted before release, although not to the same extent as the Skillshots, was the use of the Unreal 3 engine to power the game. The planet that Bulletstorm takes place on is full of tropical beaches, extensive deserts and resort cities, and hot damn if it all doesn’t look amazing. The outdoor settings are so visually striking and full of color it’s almost a shame when the game railroads you into the underground sections where the only shades are brown, grey and the occasional radioactive green. As great as the game looks, there are a few stumbling points, most noticeably the faces of your character and all of the supporting cast. There’s the typical Unreal engine draw in, but even after the scene is done loading, everybody has a hazy, soft face, as if you’re looking at them through a sheet of wax paper. Combine that with the poor lip syncing, it’s often enough to distract you from the vistas that are presented throughout the rest of the game.
Bulletstorm is fun, I’ll give it that. Depending on your willingness to dive into the Skillshot mechanic you’ll have a pretty good time with the game, but I doubt you’ll want to jump back in immediately. There is the point-gathering Echoes Mode where you play through small chunks of the game proper in order to build up an impressive stat on the leaderboard, but this functionality should also have extended to the main campaign. Additionally, there’s the co-operative Anarchy Mode where you and three friends compete in a Horde Mode like setting against other four player teams to chain together Skillshot combos and try to survive. This is all well and good, but some campaign co-op would have been nice, especially considering how brain dead and useless (not to mention buggy) your friendly AI is. I wish I had taken a tally of the number of times a supporting character in the campaign had blocked my way, or failed to path-find to the random doors that you can’t open yourself.
Bulletstorm does has something to say, but unfortunately its message is buried beneath beneath dick-talk and a gameplay convention that starts to drag a little bit in the final stretch of the game. For those first few opening hours though, it’s quite the thrill to discover new Skillshots and see how each different enemy can be killed for maximum return. It’s just a shame that Bulletstorm doesn’t hit its second wind, because the beginning sprint is a lot of fun.
So, that’s what I thought of Bulletstorm. While it is pretty good, it does falter in a few areas. It’s still worth renting if you’re intrigued, but unless you’re really into getting access to the Gears of War 3 beta, I’d skip dropping full price on this one. Has anyone played this game, and what’s your take on it?
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