“I told you to rig these to blow, not check your god-damned email!”
Bulletstorm is a balls-out action game entirely unashamed. Because of this it is a breath of fresh air in a genre stale with games determined to portray war so realistically that they have almost forgotten why we even play games. Bulletstorm remembers why – to have an absolute blast. It even loads with a bang, throwing explosive sound effects at your face before you even begin and the audio-visual assault never stops over the game’s six hour campaign with bullets and enemies constantly surrounding you. Glorious.
You play as the drunk, vengeful and Wolverine-resembling Grayson Hunt, member of Dead Echo – an elite military squad. Things go awry early on and you are set on a journey of revenge with your (unfortunately) forgettable co-stars, Isho and Trishka. The story is nothing special, but moves the action along at a prickly pace and allows for some delightfully colourful dialogue which had me laughing regularly with its over-the-top vulgarity.
Don’t be put off, People Can Fly and Epic Games have snuck many more moves up Bulletstorm’s sleeves than the average FPS. In addition to the expected motley crew of devastating weaponry, you carry an electric leash. By pressing LB you can pull enemies into the air towards you in slow motion wherefrom you can shoot in them in the face until they reach you. Each kill earns you Skillpoints and the more creative you are with your Skillshots (kills) the more you will earn. When, for example, that bloodied enemy reaches you mid-air, kick him, using a dedicated kick button, back into giant cacti, steel rafters or bare electrical wires while shooting his arse for some huge scores and a bonus affectionately-entitled “rear entry”. I am not kidding.
These points can be spent at Dropkits scattered across the lands to buy both upgrades and ammo. Your guns range from the go-to assault rifle Peacemaker Carbine to the industrial-power projectile launching Penetrator. Special mention needs to go to the Head Hunter: one of the most delicious sniper rifles I have virtually ever used, which allows you to steer bullets post-shot for some glorious kills. With each new weapon comes a smorgasbord of Skillshot opportunities for you to discover, giving you a reason to constantly explore this excellent and rewarding system.
This is Bulletstorm’s strongest asset, but also its weakest link. There is indeed much meat in the shooting and flailing of enemies, but there is, quite simply, nothing more.
There are no puzzles, no platforming sections, no alternative paths and no hidden collectables. You move from point A to point B killing things. Occasionally there will be something blocking your path or a vehicle section, but the way forward is always indicated by glowing blue with a pop-up hint, while the vehicle sequences never involve more than riding shotgun, gunning down more enemies.
Additionally, while you can fling enemies about with ridiculous physics, nothing else in the world adheres, and stay fixed to the ground, snuffing the life out of it. Furthermore, your team mates are absolutely hopeless and you will often wonder what the spaghetti they are up to while you are being mauled, only to discover that they are waiting for you. It is fortunate the shooting is enjoyable enough to outshine these poor design choices but one cannot help but notice their shadows throughout the game world.
Bulletstorm uses Epic’s Unreal Engine. For the most part, the game looks a peach, with incredibly strong art direction making the world of Stygia a joy to behold as you move from cliff-side jungles, through crumbling hotels to sun-bleached deserts. Surrounding these are some of the most marvellous skybox vistas to date, stretching until your vision fails with waterfalls and flocks of birds catching the blinding sun. Unfortunately, the engine brings with it the pop-in textures it seems incapable of fixing, along with what seem to be leftover character models from Gears of War. While enemies are varied, the cast are bulky men built of pixelated toilet rolls with bland textures all round. This leaves the enemies to steal the show and Grayson lost amongst the hullabaloo.
Speaking of Gears of War, while I understand why they chose not to, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Bulletstorm would have benefited from being a third-person-shooter. This would have allowed for a properly implemented and much needed cover system, accentuated the over-the-top kills and perhaps forced the developers to design a stronger and more memorable protagonist.
Bulletstorm’s sound design is exactly what you expect: It is filled with booming guns which shout at screaming enemies while real things explode inside of your ears to the backdrop of a forgettable score. Some decent voice acting continues the game’s trend to be outrageous with dialogue doused in profanities.
Beyond the campaign are two other modes: Echoes and Assault. Echoes sets you through sections of the campaign against a clock. Playing one level unlocks another, and it becomes addictive trying to better yourself while exploring the game’s fantastic killing system. You can take the madness online with three other people in the somewhat tame Assault, which pits you against waves of enemies, where you need to collaboratively string together kills to reach Skillpoint targets. This mode however, only really shines if you have dedicated friends capable of working together.
People Can Fly and Epic have a great IP here, and I do hope for a sequel. The core game has plenty of potential, and if properly implemented, could be an incredible franchise bound to bring even more smiles than it does bullets. As it stands we have an outrageous action FPS which, while proving that there is still something new in the genre, clings to one idea like a shower hair to the tiles and fails to expand beyond it in any direction.