Bulletstorm's pre-release hype continuously called out two things: dick-humour and how unbelievably fun it is to kill with skill. And to some degree they have delivered on both. We're all supposed to wink knowingly whenever slang terms for sexual organs or other profanity are dropped into the dialogue, but all too often the game forgets to wink back. Skillshots really ARE fun, but the game constantly wrestles you away from the action.
Steven Blum's voice has been heard in a laundry list of games and animated films and he strikes a great note here with the main character, Grayson Hunt. The gruff delivery is just right for a beefy drunken space marine and he makes the most of the dialogue he was given. Grayson's technologically-enhanced partner fares much better than the obligatory tough and brash female tag-along. Bad guy, General Sarrano, summons up fond memories of the great Full Metal Jacket character, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and has a few good one-liners.
Grayson's a sensitive guy as it turns out and is more than a little upset that his team was sent on assassination missions under false pretenses. So upset, in fact, that in an act of liquor-laced suicidal revenge he rams the capital ship of his arch-nemesis, bringing it down hard onto planet Stygia, killing thousands of innocent passengers as well as his own crew. It doesn't make much sense, but it's supposed to be ironic. I think.
Finding creative ways to kill your foe is the true draw of Bulletstorm and the Leash is the catalyst to many of them. Once you find one you can begin gathering a stable of clever weapons to compliment the action. Littered throughout your trail you'll find capsules to which you can connect and do things like buy upgrades and ammo, check your stats, and switch weapons. You earn points to make purchases at these machines by pulling off clever kills or complying with a quick-time-event. The loadout you choose is critical because certain guns thrive in specific environments. The sniper rifle, for instance, won't come in handy in tight corridors. Likewise, you'll wish you had one when you're being sniped yourself. You're sort of forced to play by trial and error due to this mechanic, but there are plenty of chances throughout the game to switch so a little backtracking often affords you that opportunity. It makes you wonder why they just didn't let you carry all of your weapons instead of fiddling with a vending machine.
One of the biggest problems with Bulletstorm is pacing. If killing with creativity is the hallmark of the game then why keep pulling me out of the game? Why do things to continually force me to break that flow? The levels themselves are set up as a series of mini killing vignettes with most bad guys obviously positioned directly adjacent to incredibly nasty hazards. Set inbetween are cutscenes, quick-time events, and mundane things like timed-clicking of the mouse button to climb hand-over-hand. Listening to the sales pitch for the game, we're reminded how many different skillshots there are in the game. The reality, however, is that the levels themselves only offer a handful of environmental possibilities each and the weapon-carrying-limit feels like it further ristricts the possible combinations you have at your disposal at any one time. So many great combos come from killing many enemies at once but - damn them - they just don't ever seem to want to cooperate or your AI companions step in at inopportune times to steal your kill. When things fall into place, you catch glimpses of the brilliance of the game and often just wish it would leave you alone to let you play it.
One of the biggest strengths of the game comes from the clever and outrageously destructive firearms you'll find along the way. I always admired PCF's Painkiller for the very same reason. Bulletstorm lets you wield guns that shoot chains with grenades fastened to each end, sniper rifles have bullets that can be guided or blow up in mid-air. Even the shotgun has four barrels and can set the remaining pieces of your foe on fire. Four barrels. While there are multiple interesting modes for each, a couple of them just don't seem as useful. A lot of the really cool offensive weapon maneuvers require purchased charges and you rarely have enough to stay fully loaded. But overall, shooting things in Bulletstorm is fun. What's more is that each body part becomes a target and can be exploited with precision. Headshots are old news and crotch shots have been around for ages but how many games let you boot a rampaging punk in the ass and follow it up with an incendiary shot to the tailpipe? The Leash is just good fun and is integral to placing your foe in just the right position for the coup de grace. Apart from needing charges to send everyone flying into the air, my only complaint about it is that it isn't always precise if there are two potential targets near the point to which you're aiming. It can lead to some frustrating moments where your plans for a perfectly orchestrated kill turn into just another rote tug.
I'm wholly impressed by the lavish environments PCF has produced. The vistas are always interesting and often breathtaking. Details abound in every corner of the game. Bulletstorm does an excellent job of making you feel like you're always seeing something new. Some of the set-piece events are fantastic as well and there are several moments when you might feel a sensation of joy at the utter destruction you're causing.
By far the biggest surprise for me are the multiplayer/online modes. I don't think they talked about them enough, in all honesty. Echoes allows you to compete for high scores against friends in snippets of the game, giving you a nice bite-sized bit of entertainment when you so desire. Anarchy is an addictive gametype that presents you with an arena loaded with environmental hazards and loads of enemies. Each wave becomes more and more challenging and you advance only if your team obtains the required score. This makes cooperation essential and there are quite a few team-based skillshots - either variations or completely unique. You really have to be able to rely on your buddies if you hope to move on. That in itself can be problematic online, but when you find a good group, it's golden. There are a few downsides, however. Someone joining in later waves will find it extremely challenging to keep up, having missed the opportunity between each subsequent wave to upgrade abilities and to purchase weapons. The other thorn is that there are no dedicated servers. It uses Games for Windows as its multiplayer/achievement middleware, so depending on your opinion of the service, that may be a downside as well.
Bulletstorm, as a franchise, is off to a great start. It sometimes loses focus on what makes it a great game and it doesn't always keep its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Despite the buzz I've heard about it being an incredibly short game, the singleplayer campaign is of adequate length (I took about eight hours romping through the whole thing). However, I would be a lot happier if more of the campaign was playing the game and less was spent mashing buttons for QTE's and watching cutscenes. If you're a first person shooter fan, it's an adventure you want to catch. As fun as the multiplayer component may be, there's really not enough there to keep you coming back once you've filled in a sufficient number of achivement slots. The bottom line is.. when you see it on sale, snap it up and enjoy the ride.
What I liked
- Stunningly beautiful. Incredible art!
- Creative mayhem
- A cool multiplayer mode
What I didn't like
- Story often misfires
- The game insists on interrupting my creative mayhem
- Limited replayability
A second opinion, by Sir_Brizz
Bulletstorm is a game ripe with creativity that has a hard time maintaining focus and difficulty recognizing what it actually is. All of the advertising leads you to believe it is nothing but a saucy, crude and nearly pointless game in terms of plot with only the barest scrape of a story to get you to the killing. However, about half way through the game, the story takes on a more serious undertone and, because of that, the campaign drastically improves. Unfortunately, the entertaining parts of the campaign are often interrupted for horridly tedious cutscenes and QTEs (in particular, hold this button to look at this presumably interesting thing for points) that are terribly mundane but almost required because they give you points that can be used at dropshops for weapon upgrades and ammo.
In terms of multiplayer, Bulletstorm is much better. Echoes gives you pieces of levels to compete with friends on for high scores. However, the saving grace of Bulletstorm is in Anarchy. The best gameplay the game can muster is in figure out how to combine skillshots creatively and Anarchy is the only place where you can practice this skill unabated. Unfortunately, there are a few issues which make even Anarchy annoying. First, the game uses GFWL, so getting into a game takes both forever and likes to not work for no apparent reason. Second, it seems that nobody that bought this game knows or cares enough about how Anarchy works to do anything effective online and pubbing Anarchy sessions leads to a general sense of frustration all around (playing with friends is incredible, though). Third, the leash can be somewhat inaccurate around groups of enemies and thus it is not difficult for your well planned attack to fall apart in flames as well as no points to speak of. And finally, combining skillshots is not as effective or simple as it should be. Sometimes you can easily combine 2-3 skillshots and get loads of points. Other times, the exact same action will net you next to nothing further adding to your aggravation while playing online with a bunch of strangers.
Overall Bulletstorm is a good game that gets too caught up on what it does wrong to show you all the cool things it does right. You won't regret owning the game, but you will kick yourself if you paid full launch retail price for it.