Bulletstorm, man. God Damn. What a game. Finally. Just, finally, a First person Shooter that knows precisely what it is, what it aims to do, and then delivers it without hesitation or remorse, for hours and hours and hours.
I won’t lie to you and pretend it’s the most original game ever released. In Bulletstorm, you play as Grayson Hunt, the leader of a formerly elite band of soldiers called Dead Echo. It seems they went rogue after discovering they had been manipulated by their boss, the evil General
Nazicommiepatton Serrano, into being the bad guys (this is explained via a short, playable flashback). In the years since, you’ve degenerated into a guilt-ridden, drunken mess, still leading your squad as a gang of Pirates. The game proper begins after an attempt at suicidal martyrdom goes completely wrong and you, the remnants of your crew, and your arch nemesis crash-land on a remote planet in the midst of a war between bondage-fetish humans and disgusting monsters and… Really, does it matter?
Bulletstorm (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)
Developer: People Can Fly / Epic Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: February 22, 2011
No, not really. The story is basically Starcraft 2 meets Gears of War, with a tiny slice of Firefly thrown in for extra seasoning. You’ve played the running-through-debris-and-wreckage/fighting-inhuman-monsters/bang-bang-bang enough to know the plot. But who cares? Bulletstorm more than makes up for its flaws with pitch black humor, prodigious swearing (in SPAAACE), and most importantly, an epic torrent of over-the-top carnage. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s got a giant mountain of what works, even a couple of new ideas, and the result is possibly the most pure, fun goddamned game you’ll play in 2011.
Everything that matters just works in Bulletstorm, starting with how easy it is to pick up a controller and just go. They’ve kept everything simple, and familiar. The L stick moves you around (and crouches), while the R-stick moves the camera. X controls non combat character motions, like running, climbing and sliding around (extremely useful when you’re fighting the giant carnivorous plant in act 3), while Square is used for interactive moments like flipping switches, or for activating non-standard game play moments (ladders or rope climbing, for example). None of this is a revelation, of course, but when you’re facing up against dozens of enemies, it’s good being able to think about how to deal out the maximum amount of carnage without getting tripped up on moving around the map.
And about that combat, it’s also super easy, but for good reason. During the game, you have access to three different means of
killing the hell out of your enemies self-defending your, ah, self: The Energy Leash a laser lasso that doubles as both an awesome weapon and an ATM card (more on that in a moment); kicking; and an escalating assortment of projectiles ranging from an assault rifle to the incredible Flail Gun, a Bomb-makey-things-asplode-cuts-heads-off gun that unleashes pure humiliation. The leash is activated using L2; your guns via R2 and the circle kicks. Weapon secondary functions are activated via L3 and R3 respectively. Again, nothing revolutionary, but the point is to facilitate using all three of your attacks in combination to pull off increasingly absurd and extraordinarily brutal combos.
That brutality brings us to almost the best thing: the crazy, over-the-top the universe in which it takes place. The game is called Bulletstorm for a reason people, and ‘conversations with the Butler’ isn’t it. From the moment the game starts, with a drunken game of William Tell on a rickety space ship, until the last blacked-out hint of what to expect in the sequel, you’re subjected to nonstop mayhem (which you’re encouraged to escalate at every opportunity), bleak humor that is best described as mirthfully fatalistic, and dialogue so salty it probably causes angina.
It’s a close call of course. At least at first, the voice acting is going to get on your nerves. Generally one needs to be eased into THIS SH*T IS OVER THE FRIGGIN TOP MAN. Even if you’re expecting it, hearing the same barrel-chested redneck drawls we’ve heard in every other game with a sci-fi setting and space soldiers kind of makes you pay a lot more attention than you should. And the plot… is hackneyed and composed entirely of broad, melodramatic strokes. The cut-scene dialogue is a string of grizzled cliches. The story is only going grab you so much as it keeps you interested in delivering bloodshed like falling rain. But the in-play dialogue is priceless. By the time you reach the chapter titled “Worst family fun time vacation ever,” you will be cackling at the crass brilliance while you’re gunning people down with no mercy, particularly at the absurdist profanity that at first kind of defies belief but eventually finds its way into your vocabulary.
That profanity might even be the reason this game is so much fun. No, seriously, hear me out. It isn’t as though extremely violent games are a scare resource, particularly in First Person gaming. And that plot, well, you know. But the swearing is on a whole new level. In fact, I’ll level with you: Bulletstorm loves the word ‘dick. A lot. It’s like Frak in BSG. It’s used in place of “the hell” at several points. It might be more commonly used than ‘the’. There’s even a creepy-but-subtle variant on the word ‘tallywacker’. My personal favorite exchange happens just after the character ‘Trishka’ (voiced by Jennifer Hale!) appears on-screen:
Trishka: I’ll kill your dicks!
Grayson Hunt: Kill our dicks? What does that even mean? I’ll, ah, I’ll kill your dick! Yeah, how does that feel!?
Apparently, in the future, humanity really likes dropping d-bombs. But they don’t just stop there. There are enough F bombs, S-bombs and every other kind of profanity-laden ordinance to blow the Book of Common Prayer back into the stone age. It isn’t just the swearing though, but the overall tone that brings it all together. The casual banter, Grayson’s fatalistic cheeriness, these things do what the
paper-thin environment-consciously recycled plot and story can’t, which is make you give a damn about Grayson, his squad, and their survival. Enough, at least, to play it again and again and again.
There’s also a giant remote control Dinosaur, a flesh eating plant, and scenery porn galore. The devs really put the time into giving you a very pretty place to deal out death. The backgrounds and environments look spectacular for the most part, on par, at least with Mass Effect 2. Like this, for example:
There are times when you’ll get distracted by the incredible scenery when you should be concentrating on the people attacking you. There’s even a hilarious Futurama shout out early in the game that made me laugh enough to get distracted and killed. But setting and scenery can only get you so far. It’s the combat system that helps Bulletstorm click the exact right spot in the crack head gland of your brain.
By now you know that Bulletstorm is all about trophies/achievements, acquired through successfully completing the dozens of unlockable skillshots, and then repeating them as often as you can. But what you may now know is that no matter how many times you toss someone over a ledge and into a river and get FLOATER, it never gets old. And that’s the point. Bulletstorm doesn’t have particularly realistic combat – there’s no cover system, for instance, though you can duck behind objects to give yourself time to recover. What it does have is a war ravaged environment that is oh-so-conveniently full of lethal obstacles (like spiked fences, or dangling electric wires), and an arsenal of clever weapons.
The idea is to find inventive ways to combine your weapons and the environment to cause maximum, and maximally dispersed death. You’ll also face off against enemies with different abilities and weaknesses. This actually ends up encouraging strategic play more than is usual for games intended to be straight-ahead shooters. Use the Leash to whip an enemy over to you, then kick him into a cactus, unlocking the PRICKED skill shot. Or wrap a bomb around his neck and kick him into his own team, then watch with glee as you get GANG BANG, ENVIRO-MENTAL and SADIST. It makes for some fun, lightly challenging play.
There are skillshots associated with each of your weapons, with environmental hazards, and of course with various combinations, and you’ll want to do your best to try them all out. The reason you want to do this is because by performing skillshots, you earn experience points which can be used to purchase upgrades to your weapons, or the Leash. Yeahyeahyeah you’ve seen it before, but here’s where I give Bulletstorm a giant pat on the head. Every FPS Soldier Of The Future game has a system in which upgrades are purchased with exp. Bulletstorm is the first game I’ve ever played in which that system is expressly described in the game as an in-universe currency system. You use the Leash to interface with ‘Drop Kits’ containing upgrades, weapon switching and so forth that you can purchase, so long as you’ve been bad ass enough to earn the needed exp. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate shout out, but I immediately thought of Cory Doctorow.
I realize I’ve just spent the last hour of your life gushing, but it needs to be repeated that Bulletstorm ain’t perfect. Aside from the plot, which as we’ve said is derivative to the extreme, there’s also some graphical issues I can’t decide are intentional or not. Generally, it looks fantastic, however there are three places where game play shifts from open shooter to rail shooter, and in those instances, the geometry becomes very obvious. This is particularly bad in the first act of Chapter One, when explosions look practically hexagonal. It’s less pronounced during other rail scenes, but you’ll still notice and wonder why, if the rest of the game looks so solid this aspect is so weak.
I have a theory. The obvious geometry becomes noticeable again with the depiction of viscera. When you shoot someone’s head off, or pop them at point blank range, the blood doesn’t flow or splatter out of them so much as erupts in chunks. It’s a bit of unrealism possibly intended to lessen the otherwise excruciatingly sociopathic concept, but it also looks like an extremely much-more-better looking version of viscera from arcade rail shooters like Time Crisis. It’s possible then that the whole thing is intentional, and if so, then +100. It’s possible also that I’m being very forgiving, seeing as I enjoyed myself so thoroughly, and if so, then they need to smooth this out in the sequel.
The game’s AI is also wonky. It’s not really squad-based combat as much as a mutually beneficial free-for-all; you can’t issue orders or make your squad fight in a way that will increase your personal odds of staying alive. They tend to run all over the map, doing whatever. Additionally, they have the annoying habit of running in front of you, blocking your shots. At least you can’t kill them, but then again, they can’t be killed. It might have created more of a challenge for players if you had to manage, at least somewhat, the health of your squad, and here’s hoping it’s improved in sequels.
Problems aside, I’ve spent a giant chunk of the last 4 days camped out in front of the TV playing the first FPS I’ve truly been addicted to in years, and I am not shamming one bit when I say that as soon as I get home tonight, I’ll be playing again. Bulletstorm is kind of dumber than a box of bricks, but it’s also insanely enjoyable, funny as hell, and replayable to the extreme. Good job guys.
* Amazing swearing, hilarious dialogue.
* Easy to start, hard to put down.
* Great sense of humor.
* Extremely fun, excessively violent combat.
* Skillshot/exp system keeps the player constantly interested.
*Great scenery/majority of game play and graphics.
* Derivative Plot/aesthetic.
* Could be more challenging.
* Some sections have questionable graphics.
Final Score: 90/100
This review is based on the PS3 version. Game was played to completion of the single player campaign.