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I just finished Bulletstorm and I’m sort of numb from it all. I feel as though I’ve just gone through some kind of gauntlet and not just because of the frenetic shooting taking place in the game.
Bulletstorm sets you up simply enough… you are Grayson Hunt and you are part of an elite squad. Your squad has been framed, and wrongfully accused of doing things that would make the Italian Mafia look like a bunch of saints in comparison. Naturally you find out about this and you’re none too pleased. From this moment forward a quest for revenge is set in motion to seek out and kill the General who wrongfully set you up. For all the pomp and circumstance that Bulletstorm has made about being different than every other shooter that had preceded it, the story isn’t winning points for originality. Through an unfortunate series of events that is comically tragic, but mostly just comical you get all save one of your friends killed, and end up stranded on some sort of resort planet with your sole surviving friend who now has half a computer for a brain. There’s also the requisite tough chick about halfway through… more on that much later, But the game gets you down to basics soon enough, and thank God, because the mechanics of the game itself are truly top notch, stylized and completely addictive.
The game plays like a hyper violent, ultra kinetic FPS version of pinball, where your foot is the constant moving plunger of death sending your never ending supply of human pinballs to various increasingly gruesome deaths. The arsenal of guns is something else to behold. Every single weapon is reminiscent of something you’re familiar with, but with enough of a twist to make each weapon unique to the world of Bulletstorm. They are also delightfully overpowered, and come with a bevy of upgrade options, and unlockables that you can purchase. Some true standouts are the grenade flail, which wraps anything you shoot in a giant chain link exploding bolo, and the shotgun which when upgraded has a charged shot that reduces entire screens of enemies into ashes. You also get equipped with a energy leash that lets you tether enemies towards you, into objects, or out from behind cover. Later on you get the ability to unlock a charge on your leash called a Thumper which sends a shockwave crashing into the ground, and sends your enemies flying towards the heavens. This last ability proves especially useful when in tight quarters as the act of slamming enemies into the ceiling yields some amazingly satisfying results, and yields some huge skillpoints.
This brings me to Bulletstorm’s saving grace, the kill system. For every kill you are awarded a base of 10 points. Kill in increasingly creative ways, and you’ll find yourself earning more points. Did you just kick that guy into some exposed rebar? Well congrats, that’s called a Voodoo Doll. Did you just wrap a flail grenade around that guys head? Well that’s a Grenade Gag. Combine the two, and you’ve got yourself Voodo Doll Sadist, and that’s worth 50 more points. The idea is that the more punishment you pile onto your enemies, the greater the dividends in skill points. Put simply, you don’t just kill in Bulletstorm, you overkill.
Achieving these moments of overkill nirvana is relatively easy to accomplish thanks largely in part to some very wicked level design. There’s never a shortage of environmental dangers to decimate your enemies with, and while segments of the game remind me a little of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic because of the sheer amount of kicking going on, unlike that game, Bulletstorm doesn’t relegate the mighty boot to a crutch to make up for bad gameplay. In fact later enemies become a hell of a lot harder to kick and leash around, causing you to rethink your strategy if you have been crutch kicking your way through the first half. A quick double tap of the A button sends you sliding and dashing into even the dodgiest of opponents however, and pretty soon it’s back to business as usual. Again all of this is possible thanks to the amazing level design which takes you across the incredibly detailed setpieces that make up the game. There are also some jaw droppingly huge moments that have clearly only been made possible by Epic’s new unholy union with People Can Fly. Never have I been more in awe of a giant errant cogwhell than when I played this game.
Unfortunately for Bulletstorm that’s where all the good ends. The rest of Bulletstorm is such absolute garbage that I am completely at a loss for where to start complaining. First, as I mentioned before, the story is a total recycled load of crap, and somehow manages to severely fuck it up at the end. If you’re going to copy the vengeance movie/video game format, then at least copy it right, and make sure that the ending of the story if not final, is at least resolute. Bulletstorm is neither, it literally starts with an explosion, and ends with you adrift. You don’t even get a huge final boss fight, instead you get one of the dumbest quicktime events in the history of gaming… it’s really the penultimate let down for a game that up until the end has been nothing but in your face. And Bulletstorm’s writing team gives you about 3 other chances to see endings that would have been better, but they choose instead to opt for the cheap ass, completely forced cliffhanger ending that you get.
Then there’s the characters that populate Bulletstorm. I use that term loosely because there aren’t any real characters to speak of, there are archetypes for sure, plenty of those, but those searching for any type of dimensional depth from the key players in the story are going to be left in the cold. Take the example of the one female character Trishka. There is a sequence in the game where she threatens to “kill your dick”, while it’s meant to be humorous, and it gets a chuckle the first time around, the moments like that don’t stop. Trishka is constantly spewing psuedo-girl-power horseshit that seems out of place, and is downright demeaning when you really think about it. The truly godawful dialogue isn’t just specific to Trishka. And when I say awful, I mean awful because of composition, not delivery. The dialogue is nothing but a deli spread of variations on the word “fuck” that quickly becomes grating and by the end of the game, it’s almost embarrassing. Seriously, my 15 year old brother played this game, and he told me he “had to turn the sound down, because the dialogue is so cheesy.” Add in the most annoying nu-metal soundtrack that has ever existed, and you have a game that manages to piss off your ears the entire way through. And I almost managed to miss this the first time around, but the AI for your partners is beyond retarded. They will miss enemies, screw up your skillshots, and just flat out get in the way more times than I could count. I hated everyone by the end of the game, and wanted them to all die.
Multiplayer is also flawed, but in fundamentally different ways. First instead of making the entire campaign coop, Bulletstorm instead lets you play chunks of maps with friends on a mode called Echoes. Echoes would just be better off being scrapped, and allowing players to control one of the otherwise braindead AI partners in the normal campaign, because as it stands the bursts of action are too short and infrequent and break up the pacing. Most everyone I played Echoes with on LIVE said they were just trying it out and within minutes would reluctantly apologize and drop out of the session. Anarchy mode is flawed in a way I hadn’t anticipated… it’s just the human factor. Killing enemies is simple enough, but in this mode of play there are team challenges that you are supposed to perform in tandem with other mates. It sounds great in theory, but it never works out… instead you have 3 other idiots running riot aimlessly kicking every enemy in every direction just to rack up kills and XP for themselves. Predictably you will hit a virtual wall where you can’t progress because no one is working together to rack up the points needed to get to the next level. This happened over and over and over, which leads me to thinking that the game isn’t doing a good enough job of highlighting the importance of team kills.
Bulletstorm is lucky. It’s lucky that the core gameplay, action, and design is so good, because the rest of the elements of the game are absolute drivel. This game could have been much better if it had retained the linear focus of greater Epic titles like Unreal Tournament, or in People Can Fly’s case, Painkiller. It’s weird to have a pedigree of such greatness, and create such a middling title. This game gets a C, and in this case that should stand for “Could have gotten a B”.
(Editor’s Note) Please DON’T buy into the hype for this game. I have no idea what SOME people are smoking, but they are just dead wrong and bordering on idiocy. The fact that someone would praise the very failing elements of such a tragically miscalculated thing is just further evidence that this industry has plunged into madness.
Bulletstorm is available now for Xbox, PS3, and PC.
It was developed by Epic Games, and People Can Fly Studios, and published by EA Games.
The PC review of this game was made possible by GamersGate
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