Written : Tuesday, February 22, 2011
By: Dan Webb
The traditional mentality of shooters on the market at the moment is for the player to put a bullet between the eyes of every hostile mofo that crosses their path. It's a formula that's not really changed much since the genre began. Bulletstorm breaks that mould. It breaks it so many times in fact that it then has the audacity to take those little tiny left over pieces and forcibly insert them where the sun don't shine. The name of the game is killing with skill and People Can Fly and Epic are set to change your perception of how you play a shooter... possibly forever, whether you like it or not.
"One hundred bullets shot at once can do that to a man… Ouch!"
The latest game from the minds behind Painkiller is Bulletstorm, whose first-person shooter mechanics are going to put the "fuck yeah," back into shooters. The first lesson about Bulletstorm is to forget everything you know about shooters. The second lesson is not to talk about Fight Club. While the third lesson is, it's not who you kill or how many times you bang their corpse, it's how you do it. Kill them that is.
At the core of the Bulletstorm experience is a simple scoring system that dazzles you with pretty little in-game pop-ups telling you how you did with each kill, but the effect of that is much more far-reaching. Get a kill; here have 10 points. Get a headshot; have 25. Pop someone in the crown jewels and then kick their brain out their skull though and you can earn a cool 100 points. Set them on fire first, get covered in poison and do so whilst drunk on the in-game alcohol, amongst other things, and the reward can skyrocket into the thousands. The 131 different "skillshots" can be combined to devastating effect, not only providing you with a meaty score in the process, but delivering a sense of elation and accomplishment that you'll never have experienced from any other shooter on the market and will almost definitely change how you play the game. And all this is from killing a bunch of standard FPS enemy fodder.
Bulletstorm is a game that rewards creativity and strategy, and when you see a 10 (or even 25) point marker pop-up for a standard kill, you almost feel a sense of embarrassment. If there was one criticism that I’d aim at it though, it would be that sometimes you’ll feel aggrieved for not collecting your skillshot bonus despite doing everything you usually would. That, and the hit boxes can be ridiculously tiny and sensitive to hit on the odd occasion – like when you shoot someone in the balls for a “Mercy” bonus, when you try and get “Rear-End” for shooting someone in the anus or “Gag-Reflex” when you kill someone by shooting their throat off. Yes, it comes right off.
If you perform well and master the ins and outs of the system, the game will massage your ego to the point where you'll think you're Hollywood royalty. Netting these big bonuses and getting huge high-scores is a bit like a drug – but without the crippling come downs and you get to keep your teeth afterwards – and its potential is only stifled by your creativity. The skillshots range from flinging someone to their death into a ravine and shooting them in the ass, to sticking someone on a cactus and feeding them to a Venus flytrap. It'll be the reactive environmental ones though that’ll get the biggest wows; it's just a shame that they are few and far between. With 131 tied to the game's weapons and various other avenues though, the truth is that they'll never get old.
"Leash you say? Don’t mind if I do! Woopah!"
In order to get the most out of the game and its scoring system, you'll need to master the game's tools of the trade: the energy leash, that can pull enemies towards you and place them in an energy field while you position yourself for whatever you have planned; the boot, which lets you kick the crap out of anything that gets in your way; and the slide, which allows you to flick foes off the floor, teeing them up for the second half of your combo. Leash, boot, blast… or slide, boot, leash, boot; the choice is yours.
Of course, Bulletstorm wouldn't be Bulletstorm if it wasn't for its arsenal of wacky guns. Although there are only seven, thanks to the gun's secondary fire upgrades, it may as well be fourteen. The Flail gun, which fires two grenades which are attached together via a chain and can wrap around their target - whether it's an enemy or a piece of scenery - has a secondary fire which heats up the chain so it can slice through whoever gets in its way. Similarly, the magnum style pistol can be upgraded so that it also functions as a flare launcher that can cause quite a devastating explosion. The secondary fire charges have to be purchased in the game's campaign, so you should use them only when it makes sense. Granted, the drill digger style contraption and its friends are all great weapons, but having the ability to only carry three at once seriously hampers your creativity, which is kind of a shame. Thankfully, sporadic dropkits found around the levels can be used to change the weapons you're carrying, buy ammo and charges for your secondary fire and upgrade various guns - all of which are bought using skill points, so it's not only recommended to aim for points, but it's actually quite necessary to get the most out of the game.
The first port of call for Bulletstorm players should be the game's entertaining campaign. Taking place on the beautiful planet of Elysium, the single-player campaign follows the story of Grayson Hunt, an ex-merc who's looking for a little redemption and revenge on his previous employer, Mr. Potty Mouth AKA Colonel Sarrado. Despite the butch and often vulgar dialogue of the game's lead characters – with Ishi Sato and the Jennifer Hale-voiced Trishka, who are Grayson’s sidekicks, being just as bad as Grayson at times – the story is obviously very cleverly crafted and the tone can be quite serious. Well, that is until you get called a “fungal rim-job.” It does provide its fair share of laughs though, and pretty much all of the characters, even Sarrado, are all hugely likeable.
"You actually get to control this beast. True story."
The devastated world of Elysium becomes your playground for 8 to 10 hours of gameplay, as you ping bad guys galore around its varied environments and discover what happened to the city and its inhabitants. Whether it’s a collapsed building, the middle of a club, or the dingy caverns that lie beneath the world’s vibrant surface, there is always plenty of ways to kill your folks, which is the name of the game. Sometimes the game lets the player down by throwing in random events without much notice, leaving you with no time to react, almost always eventing in death, and mantling over objects can slow the player down immensely, but other than that and the minor pop-up and texture loading issues, the campaign is an enjoyable romp. The whole story and its action is assisted by some great voice acting and an appropriate rockified soundtrack. It’s just a shame the lip-syncing isn’t top notch… or have we been spoilt by the look of LA Noire’s seriously impressive tech?
Once players have rinsed their way through the single player campaign, the real fun comes with Bulletstorm's Echoes mode, which is classic high score gaming at its best. With 20 scenarios – each with a 3 star rating to acquire – that range from 2 to 6 minutes sections from the campaign, Echoes mode is where the game’s depth and tactical creativity comes into its own. It’s these addictive bite-size pieces of action that will test your true creativity, and setting worthy scores and comparing them with your friends is what will give the game any sort of longevity. For instance, I spent a good 3 hours alone on the game’s opening Echo scenario, “The Desert”, desperately trying to work out a strategy that rewarded me with more points. My first effort was a respectable 4,000 points, but with a bit of trial & error I devised a strategy that allowed me to rack up nearly twice that. Still, I could have squeezed more out of it… and that is the familiar feeling that you’re left with, pushing you to give it just one more go. Now for those who played the current Xbox Live arcade demo and scoff at that score; for a level with only 29 guys, one weapon and can be done in 2 minutes, that’s a pretty damn good score… I think. The key to the mode though is unleashing as many unique skill shots as you possibly can, combining that with combos for multiple kills where possible and so on. In other words, you’ll be rewarded for being creative.
Visiting the dropkits to switch weapons, replenish your secondary fire charges and your Thumpers – your upgraded leash ability that flings all enemies and such in the vicinity into the air for easy picking and big bonuses – throughout your run will become as key as the loadout of weapons you choose to start with. These bite-size sections come without any campaign cutscenes, so the action is unrelenting and they’re only letdown by some crippling load times between each run through. That and your NPC squad mate, who can’t damage the enemies but constantly gets in the way, which is annoying when time is of the essence. Aside from that, it’s addictive gameplay at its best.
"Now that’s what I call a skillshot!"
Bulletstorm’s answer to actual co-op multiplayer is its Anarchy mode, which is a co-operative team-based horde style affair. What that ultimately means is that there is no competitive versus gameplay, which is very uncommon in the FPS game space, but we’re not sure how it’d work anyway. Instead of Anarchy just throwing waves of foes at you, the game plays to its strengths, requiring that players score a certain amount of points in that particular wave to progress – for instance, with 20 enemies and 10,000 points needed, scoring big for every kill is essential. With 6 maps, 20 waves on each, it’s a game mode which will be completely useless for the most part with matchmaking, so teaming up with friends who can communicate is the key to success. With exclusive skill shots in this mode and a need to work together to get the most out of every kill for the bonuses it brings, Anarchy could be a lot of fun with the right group or a frustrating affair with a bunch of wrong-uns. You can play it alone or with up to 3 friends – and it scales the score accordingly – but where’s the fun in that? It’s a mode that’s worth a dabble, but the campaign and the Echoes mode is where the best of the action is at. Well, unless you can get 3 like-minded teammates together.
As far as the achievements go, they’re fairly easy for the most part – though a tad time consuming – and do what every achievement list should do; and that’s encourage replayability and creativity. The tiles and the names boast plenty of creativity from People Can Fly, and aside from maybe the level 65 anarchy achievement, there really doesn’t seem like there's too much grinding involved – on one playthrough of the campaign, I used 100 of the 131 skill shots, so the 100% achievement won’t really take that much time and effort as once imagined. You have your traditional story-based achievements, difficulty based achievements, collectible achievements, etc, etc; it’s just a shame that PCF didn’t try to be a bit more experimental with them. Considering it’s a game that places an emphasis on creativity, the achievements don’t really require you experiment too much, which is our only minor grumble.
If you’d have told me a few months back that when reviewing Bulletstorm that I'd be using words like deep, tactical and strategy, I'd probably have looked at you like a crazy person... you being crazy, of course… although there are times when I doubted my own sanity. The truth of the matter though is that beneath Bulletstorm's bravado and crude exterior beats the heart of a shooter that will challenge how you think about and play shooters, possibly forever. A shooter that goes against the grain by not only shipping with no out-and-out competitive multiplayer in the traditional sense of the phrase, but also with its visual style and its use of the phrase "dick-tits,” which is a first on its own. Sure, it’s not going to be a shooter for everyone, but for those people with a creative streak, who are able to think on their feet, Bulletstorm will be hugely rewarding.
Commendable voice-acting for the most part, although on the odd occasion it felt a little forced, as well as an appropriate rocky soundtrack. Thankfully the whole over-the-top nature of the dialogue doesn’t outstay its welcome and compliments the game’s tone superbly.
Aside from the few texture loading issues and some anti-aliasing problems, People Can Fly has created a vibrant world with plenty of colour, variety and life.
Leash, boot and shoot. It’s as simple as that, but with 131 different skillshots, there is the depth for more skillful players to really shine with those scores.
Was I worried that a shooter that doesn't come with competitive multiplayer wouldn’t have any longevity? Sure. Would Bulletstorm competitive multiplayer work anyway? Probably not. Is the campaign, the Anarchy mode and Echoes mode enough to keep you playing for more than a weekend? Definitely… I spent 3 hours on the first Echo arena alone! The loading screens in Echoes hold it back ever so slightly though.
A good balance of achievements and nothing too grindy. The only minor quibble is that they lack the imagination and creativity that the game itself promotes.
In attempting to mix up the genre, People Can Fly and Epic have created a shooter that is worthy of anyone’s praise. How much you get out of Bulletstorm is limited only by your creativity and those people who are quick-thinking and methodical will certainly get the most out of it. With a solid campaign, an interesting co-op multiplayer mode and the never-ending Echoes mode, there’s plenty of life in this beast to keep you knee-deep in “dick-tits” and “pus-dicks” until you think you are one.