You’ve seen the trailers, you’ve heard the bombastic hyperbole from Bulletstorm’s creator. Cliffy B’s never been backward in coming forward, and he’s pretty much become the poster-child for over the top action in first person shooters – not to mention the poster child for people with healthy (read: large) egos everywhere.
But, finally, Bulletstorm is here and we can get to grips with the game outside of the hype-circus of rip-off trailers and mini-games that have lead up to its release.
Or can we?
That might seem a pretty nonsensical headline, but you best get used to the word, and many more like it. Bulletstorm’s singleplayer rockets from lowbrow straight to the gutter in more or less no time flat, with a succession of profanity, violence and stupendously over the top action that can leave one quite breathless. So if just seeing that word in print makes you uncomfortable, you may not be ready to hear it yelled at your through your PC speakers.
You have been warned.
The game begins a little haphazardly. Through a series of first person perspective cutscenes and half controlled (and more or less insulting) training sequences, you discover everything you need to know about the game and your role in it as protagonist. One, you spend most of your time drunk; two, you have little respect for authority, after you discover your career as an elite (albeit, drunk) assassin is a sham and instead of killing gun-runners you’ve been killing innocent civilians and journalists; and, three, you’re a dangerous man to know and be around, thanks two points one and two.
Which is why the game begins with you drunkenly taking on a starship about 20 times your size in a suicidal spacebattle, which leaves all but one of your so-called loyal crew dead.
And he wants to kill you, because the only way he’s survived is by having bits of warbot gaffed onto his body.
But, before he can kill you, you both discover that the evil general who betrayed you is also on the planet. Cue trail of vengeance – and that’s just the first fifteen minutes!
It’s expositionally a touch (okay, a LOT) over the top, but you get the feeling the game’s designers are simply rushing to get all that boring stuff like plot and character and setting out of the way as fast as possibly, so you can get down to the serious business of rending anything that moves limb from limb in an array of imaginative and lucrative ways.
That’s where the game’s Skill Shots mechanic comes in.
One of the items you pick up early on is called a Leash. No, the game’s not taking a weird SM turn – rather, the leash is part energy weapon, part training tool, part positive reinforcement device. It’s also the ultimate McGuffin, explaining why you’re seeing all these little things about Skill Shots and other game info in your field of vision – it’s putting them, actively rewarding you for hyper-violence. It’s hard to tell if this is a clever attempt to hold a mirror up to common gameplay tropes, or just something Cliffy came up with in between lines of coke and hookers.
Howevr, it does make for a gloriously old school feel of simple glee in the game. Sure, it’s glee at leashing people onto giant cactus in a welter of gore, or at the look of anguish as you crotch-shot the poor bastards in your way, but it’s so... sincere and, oddly, innocent, you can’t help a guilty grin.
Of course, it’s also very idiosyncratic. This is a game that’s not for everyone – if you like a sense of verisimilitude, or, I don’t know, restraint in your gaming, this may not be the one for you.
Otherwise, get in there, and kick some shit to death. We could talk about weaponry, and the over linear design of many of the levels, but that’s not really the point – once you get the violence, and the way you can build kill on kill like some psychopathic conductor, you get Bulletstorm.
Like sex, it’s better with friends
Sadly, though perhaps for the best, Bulletstorm does not feature a competitive, head to head multiplayer mode. With the leash’s ability to incapacitate, amongst other things, it would be a nightmare to code and likely a very frustrating experience to play.
Instead, there’s a four-player co-op mode that’s essentially a more violent and silly version of Halo’s co-op game. You’ve got see off wave after wave of increasingly powerful enemies, while also scoring enough points from skillshots to surpass the points required for each wave.
Interestingly, the game gets even better with friends – here you get to really play with some over the top teamwork, and score even more points with some crazy combo moves like Tug of War and Double Penetration.
There’s only about a half dozen maps, but they each have a unique feel, and we’ve been assured more maps and modes are on their way.
One thing’s for sure – this is a game for the YouTube generation, and if we’re not seeing videos of Double Team Penetration Man Crushes by the time this is out, we’ll eat our hat.
The game’s a fine looking one, two, and the Unreal engine’s been pushed and beaten to within an inch of its life to deliver some of the most vibrant and detailed locations we’ve seen in gaming. But while that’s a real plus, there’s a downside – and that’s the evil that is Games for Windows Live.
Once again, it’s a terrible implementation, and while the game does not need to be online to play at least, the initial setup is more painful than listening to a Justin Beiber record. Combined with a lot of hangovers from the game’s console origins, it does tarnish an otherwise fun experience. Bulletstorm’s not game of the year material, but it is a breath of fresh air.