Bulletstorm – Review
Bulletstorm recently snuck* on to the shelves inside a retailer near you. If you are a gamer I’d be pretty confident that you’d have heard something about the game, even if it’s just the phrase ‘dicktits’ – which I am fairly certain will become a contender for this year’s word to be added to the Oxford English
That phrase has become ingrained in my mind and, on a couple of occasions, has made its way into my daily vocabulary. You can say what you like about ‘Cliffy B’ or Epic Games in general but you can’t deny that they know how to market a game and pile on the sweet PR sauce and many of us, myself included, lap it up.
That said, they don’t always get it right in their eagerness to take peoples money. I placed a pre-order with Amazon based off of information on the Epic forums and tweets back in December that said Amazon was the place to get your pre-order automatically upgraded to the Epic Edition. Then just a couple of weeks before the UK launch it was announced that in the UK the Game Group would be sole distributor for the Epic Edition. To say I was unimpressed was not the word. Feverishly I scoured the web looking for clarification as to whether that was launch-day retail copies or pre-orders too. There was next to nothing other than a few tweets from Cliffy B. I had this pre-ordered for two months… Epic Edition was supposedly a limited stock and now I had to rejoin the queue!? I’ll be honest, I nearly cancelled the whole thing in a childish manner whilst mumbling something ‘about voting with my feet’ or it being the ‘principle of the thing’ but decided that it wasn’t really worth it so I switched across to Game.
Joyfully the ‘threat’ of stocks running out was another marketing tactic to hoist up the all important pre-order numbers (something for discussion in another article) and when release day rolled around I came home to a gleaming copy of Bulletstorm: Epic Edition. It also just happened to be the weekend I had a house full of friends with Xboxes, two of whom also had Bulletstorm ready to go!
So for those of you who’ve missed the slogans, the viral videos, the press interviews and the magazine and website advertising, Bulletstorm is first person shooter developed by People Can Fly in conjunction with Epic Games. If you like your FPS games then you may remember a little gem called Painkiller – that was a People Can Fly creation and possibly, apart from the PC conversion of Gears of War, where you’ve heard the name before. Since the announcement of Bulletstorm it was clear that this would not be a Call of Duty or Halo style clone. Deciding, quite rightly, that Nazi zombies just don’t cut it in brightening up the rather dreary world of shooters, the game designers at Epic and People Can Fly came up with something that not only doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also aims to break the mould. That’s where the tagline ‘Kill with skill’ comes in, but more on that later.
Taking a look over the campaign mode, this single player adventure places you in the magnetic-electro-boots of one Grayson Hunt, leader of a band of ex-soldiers betrayed by their commanding officer. Whilst a story about revenge at any cost isn’t exactly new, the introductory chapter certainly does a good job of grabbing you by the proverbials and pulling you into the game head-first. Grayson is a drunk, a badass, a bit of a dick and doesn’t seem to care about anything but revenge and by the end of the first sequence you’ll have heard more crass language and toilet humour than being sat at a Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson concert, and either be laughing out loud or putting the game back in its wrapping. As with the demo, it won’t take long to establish whether it is a game for you.
Moving on from the intro which is mostly quick time events and an on-rails sequence, you finally get to feel the game for what it really is and get to go unleash hell on the enemy with guns and the item that everyone wants to use: the leash. That is where I’ll stop in terms of story, which is sure to keep you entertained for the next 6-10 hours depending on difficulty and your skill at FPS games.
The game mechanics themselves are surprisingly intuitive, with such seemingly new ways of combat (the slide, the leash, etc) becoming second nature very quickly. The usual controller mappings are in place although oddly crouch isn’t on toggle by default which was the first thing I changed. One glaring omission for me, personally, was the lack of a jump. I’ve always associated people leaping about the screen like epileptic rabbits on acid with FPS games, and I found it odd that wasn’t part of the control system. In fact, that made the controls seem clumsy as most obstacles that you would normally use for cover and then hop over for an assault only had a specific section where the A button would flash up and allow you to traverse. Playing through on the hardest difficulty made not being able to clear little obstacles quickly and easily very irritating, very quickly – especially when trying to line up a skillshot only to have the targets leave the sweet spot because you had to waste a few seconds finding the climb area and then watch the brief vaulting animation. This was probably exacerbated by the difficulty level on which I was playing because it turned it into a more cover-based FPS than the ‘balls deep’ approach that I used in the demo. It is a niggle, but really it isn’t game-breaking in any way and you do get used to it soon enough. The worst crime against gameplay was the remote control of an object. The idea is simple, point the tracker circle where you want the object to go and it moves, unfortunately this is also the method for using the object’s weapons, which is a little difficult if you’re hiding behind a wall due to being shredded the instant you take more than a 3 second stroll from cover. This creates a vicious circle where I can’t attack and have to leave cover to re-position the controlled object only to get shot to the point where I need to retreat to cover again. Again, this could be difficulty related but I found it one of the most annoying parts of the game and it should perhaps have been implemented in a different manner. Despite the almost tired feel of the controls in the above areas when compared to fluid environment interaction such as Splinter Cell: Conviction, the basics of zoom, weapon select, look and shoot stand shoulder to shoulder with the next FPS.
Whilst touching on the difficulty, even on the hardest setting it wasn’t up with the likes of Veteran on Call of Duty 4 or Insane on Gears of War 2; enemy spawns are fixed and you are able to take a decent amount of punishment unless there are multiple enemies firing constantly at your exposed body. That isn’t to say it’s a cakewalk, and I spent many a time reading the tips on the loading screens after yet another gruesome death. There was one recurring issue early on in the campaign that may affect you when playing on hardest, again depending on your skill, and that is potentially struggling for skill points to spend on ammo and weapons upgrades. A couple of times I came close to needing to restart a chapter due to lack of ordinance.
Bulletstorm is using the latest and greatest Unreal 3 engine (which, bizarrely, is actually version 7 or something thereabouts) and it shows. Even on the consoles, which let’s be honest are beginning to feel their age when compared to some of the most recent PC stuff, the graphics are pretty impressive. In one of the video documentaries in the lead up to release, Cliff Bleszinski pointed out the vista views and the sunlight effects and those extra effects have held up into release and do not slow the action down at all. In fact there were only a couple of points in the entire campaign where I found my inner FPS being shouting ‘LAAAG’, but for almost 99% of the time it was happily running at what must have been 60fps or near as damned it.
The soundtrack never leaped out to me, but then again more emphasis is on the constant dialogue, and music in terms of plot/atmosphere progression is not really required in Bulletstorm as it is in say Dead Space 2. That is not to say the game was devoid of a soundtrack though; there were a couple of points where music was used to comic effect, you’ll know them when you get there, but overall it seemed as though it took a back seat to the rest of the game. If there was an award for most lewd terms used in a video game then Bulletstorm wins hands down, dicktits is possibly the mildest insult used and there is a point where you become a bit de-sensitised to it all, which is a shame as some of the quips are rather hilarious and I’m sure I’ve zoned out audio-wise a few times just because the dialogue and swearing becomes constant background noise, no matter how inventive it is.
It isn’t just the language that’s colourful; Bulletstorm has a rich environment to play with and it is incredibly well detailed. Carefully planned out, the transition from place to place is dealt with by the story and because the same graphical look and feel stays constant you are not so aware of the ‘this is the snow level, this is the desert level, this is the building level’ design that every FPS but but Borderlands seems to have suffered over the last few years. Actually there are a number of comparisons that can be drawn between Borderlands and Bulletstorm from the outlandish enemies, the slightly cartoony feel and the style of humour (although Bulletstorm is a level beyond in terms of language and crude humour), but they both play in very different ways and sit firmly in their own right so after the initial ‘hmm this is a bit Borderlandsy’ you’ll probably never revisit that thought until you’ve sat down to write the review.
The time has finally come to get to the meat of the game – the combat. ‘Kill with skill’ is the tagline and, hats off to People Can Fly, there are absolutely loads of skillshots to perform; from just being drunk when making a kill to impaling people on cacti to throwing a bunch of enemies into the air and setting them alight, almost anything goes and having a database of shots you can perform readily available is the icing on the cake. If you’ve played the demo then you know the three basic ways to set enemies up for skillshots: slide into them, kick them or leash them. That, in turn, causes the enemy to go into a 5ish second slow motion mode where you can line up your shot and meticulously plan the poor being’s demise. It isn’t all about the weapons though, although you do get an impressive array to play with, as the environment is there to help too. As alluded to above, shooting a barrel next to something that dodges the leash is a great way to conserve bullets.
Skillshots come in three flavours: general, environmental and finally, weapon specific. All weapons have an alternative fire mode which, again, will have skill shots associated with them. Shooting a mutant in the crotch and then exploding its head with your foot as it is bent double is one of my favourite ones, but the one that had me in stitches was a drilling weapon that literally impaled an enemy, pinned it to a surface and then spun the enemy around. Childish, silly, bad-taste but oh so much fun and that really is what Bulletstorm boils down to. Do as much crazy stuff as possible and earn skill points, then spend those points on ammo, unlocking new weapons and powering the alt-fire of weapons at drop-points that are littered throughout each of the levels. There are a couple of issues with the leash in that it tends to auto-target what it likes, so sometimes instead of leashing an enemy it’ll leash to the drop-pod a few metres from the enemy or pull a barrel, but as with the few other niggles in this game, it doesn’t make the game controller-breakingly frustrating or annoying…you can usually kick the barrel at the enemy and take out his friends for more points than you may have got from your intended kill anyway!
Enemies are plentiful and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You won’t be overwhelmed by the diversity as, like most FPS games, you can count the majority of enemy archetypes on one hand. Just as in Painkiller, the boss battles in Bulletstorm are immense in size and require a specific set of tactics to take down. There are also mini-bosses threaded throughout the game that require more than just gunning down. It won’t take too long to work out the easiest skillful way of shuffling off a bad guy’s mortal coil though.
Other than the leash and the carbine rifle you get to play with seven other guns, my favourite of which was the sniper rifle. Whilst the flail gun was hilarious to gag enemies with and the ‘penetrator’ amusingly spun people on walls, it was the ‘Head Hunter’ (sniper rifle) that really made all of the people in the room (five of us) stare at the TV after my first shot and go “woah… awesome”. You see, after scoping in to find your enemy and pressing the trigger, the camera then follows your bullet. Once mid-flight you enter a bullet-time mode and as the enemy tries to run/dodge you can steer the bullet… usually at his skull for an impressive skillshot bonus! It can take some getting used to but that one single weapon may have just tipped the balance for the two guys that were sat on the fence with regards to how fun Bulletstorm really could be.
Overall, the campaign was immensely fun and I am going to be going through a couple more times in the near future, and not just for the collectibles either. It’s not often I want to replay an FPS, in fact Borderlands was the only FPS since Far Cry I’d enjoyed revisiting for the campaign – until now of course. The campaign is without a doubt where the heart of the game lies; it is a decent length for an FPS and unlike many others it doesn’t get a bit dull towards the end or feel like its being dragged out for the sake of it.
The campaign isn’t all, however, as there are two additional game modes to compliment the offering. The first being Echoes which is effectively a snippet of a campaign level without the story getting involved and usually a fixed set of weapons. The aim is simple: complete the area as quickly as possible with the best skillshot score. Each skillshot gets a bonus the first time it is used but this rapidly drops so variety really is the spice of death in this mode. At the end of the level you get ranked, added to a leaderboard for your friends to see and, if good enough, it’ll unlock a new Echo map. Getting three stars (the maximum ranking) is usually achievable within a play or two but the difficulty curve does go up and I tend to struggle with any level containing creeps. Ultimately, this mode will only appeal to those who relish the leaderboard challenge; I am not one of those people and will probably never revisit the mode once I have the achievements.
The second mode, Anarchy, is proper multiplayer in that up to four of you can gallivant around an arena dishing out pain and destruction at will. It is co-op and not unlike Horde mode from Gears of War 2 but instead of killing all the enemies in a wave to progress, you have to hit a score target. The difficulty curve ramps up quite quickly from level ten onwards and you’ll quickly find that you need to work with team-mates to perform joint skillshots to garner more points per kill and also to make every kill count. Quickly becoming a game of tactics over carnage, this is one game mode that promises to break a few friendships in the process of completion as one duff move can cost you the level. This is probably best played with friends rather than random people from Xbox Live purely due to the requirement for voice comms and knowing what your co-op buddies are doing rather than setting up a team skillshot bonus only to discover Sn1p3r_l337_HaXX0R999** has run off to the other side of the arena to feed an enemy to a giant skull for a measly 100 points instead. In order to make the first few rounds a little more challenging, you start the game with a blank slate in terms of equipment, spending your skillpoints accrued from the match between each wave to unlock, upgrade and replenish your weapons. It’s a clever mechanic to get the players playing skillfully from the outset rather than doing the minimum to hit the easier score targets early on. Despite almost six hours of Anarchy mode across a number of maps, we never made it past wave 14. I hang my head in shame, dear reader, you can trust me on that.
The longevity of the game, particularly multiplayer, will not likely stand up to the likes of Call of Duty, Halo or Battlefield but that was never the point of this game, it was aimed more to be a quick jab at the genre to kick it back into life. I shall happily revisit for the campaign and anarchy modes a few times more over the coming months when all I want to do is send eight screaming mutants into the air and rip a shotgun blast through a flammable barrel that just happens to be next to them! Has it re-defined FPS games forever? I seriously doubt it, but the mould has been stretched, perhaps even pierced in several places and I hope that at least People Can Fly continue the trend of creating truly fun game experiences.
*Snuck like a herd of elephant ninjas on a floor covered with bubble-wrap and mouse traps.
** If you are Sn1p3r_l337_HaXX0R999 and reading this then you know we have never played together in any game and that I was making up your gamertag for comic effect. I hope you aren’t a real person, but if so it is a sad day for gamertags and gamers everywhere. No offence.
- It really is something different and a breath of fresh air
- Skillshot system has plenty of entries to keep you experimenting and entertained for the duration of the campaign
- Engaging story, but only in an A-team type way. Do not go looking for an in-depth, cross-linked story with in-depth character progression.
- Interaction with environment (climbing obstacles, etc) could have been implemented in a better fashion...i.e. give me jump
- Longevity of multiplayer modes is questionable, especially with the short (but very fun) campaign
- Very ‘marmitey’, you'll either love it or hate it. It plays to that fact too, and has done even throughout its pre-launch marketing
So what’s my conclusion then? Bulletstorm set out to shake up the FPS genre, bring fun back to a genre that’s been taking itself far too seriously the majority of the time and give 32 year old men the chance to do horrible, wrong and downright nasty things to bad guys like shooting them in the arse with a firework gun whilst giggling joyfully like a little girl. I can see the out of touch journalists, *cough* Daily Mail *cough*, grasping the wrong end of the stick and having a field day the next time a child playing army accidentally shoots a friend in the face with a modded potato gun. Despite far worse happening in the playground when I was kid (but back then it was watching films like Robocop that made us all bloodthirsty murderers) it doesn’t take much for the media to forget the last 1999 years have happened and jump to ridiculous conclusions such as computer games caused the crisis in Egypt and Libya...damn you Sid Meier's Civilisation for honing our political bargaining, war strategy and civil peace skills!
But I digress, this game delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It’s like an extreme episode of the A-team and, instead of the jeep rolling over and the enemy climbing out and running scared, the jeep explodes throwing people in all directions only to get taken out by BA’s new hand-crafted gun that fires cabbages filled with battery acid that explode on impact or, if they are lucky, the poor chaps get impaled on various pieces of exploded jeep, or fall into an over-sized man-eating venus fly trap. Just like the A-Team, Bulletstorm is a bit of light-hearted entertainment aimed to amuse you and nothing more. I like that. For me, the FPS genre needed that injection of humour, I haven’t laughed so much at a game (any game - even Borderlands which brought many a smirk to my face) in a long time and sometimes its nice to have a reminder that games can be just a bit of fun, nothing more.
Last five articles by Stu
- Sacred Citadel - Review
- Omerta: City of Gangsters - Review
- Drox Operative - Review
- Just Dance 4 - Review
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Review