Bullet Run – E3 Preview
Free to play titles can be very hit and miss. While it’s certainly an excellent premise, the quality is sometimes lacking, and excellent ideas and vibrant worlds can end up being portrayed poorly. Triple A studios don’t have this problem, often having an unlimited amount of money and time to throw at a game that usually costs the average person a small fortune. The best of both worlds would be having a free to play game, with the quality of a triple A product. That’s the angle that Bullet Run is approaching from. Developers ACONY Games are aiming to create a free to play first person shooter that can rival the most addictive of multiplayers and, while it is currently a PC-only title, it is being considered for consoles, post summer release date. I was lucky enough to go hands-on with the game at E3, while being given an in-depth commentary from Senior Designer, Iain Compton.
The concept behind Bullet Run is simple and maybe familiar to a few film fans. Set in the near future, you’re a competitor in a life or death reality television show. Designed to encourage players to show off and boast about their accomplishments, rather than reward whoever can rack up the best kill to death ratio, it provides a unique spin on the standard deathmatch. It sounds strange but it feels very natural and is plenty of fun. There is also another game-type called Dominion, which I’m told has similarities to king of the hill.
Players rack up ‘heat’ by killing people, doing so in stylish ways (head-shots, diving shots etc.), and taunting over the corpses of your adversaries. Earning heat eat unlocks special abilities to be used in the fifteen minute rounds and is converted into ‘fans’ at the end, which represents your overall experience points – these are used to purchase new weapons, upgrades, character clothing and abilities. If it seems like a simple system, that’s because it is. It all adds up to give you a ‘fame’ score, which equates to just how awesome you are compared to other players.
Although I only got the chance to play one level, set in a disused warehouse, the ten versus ten play was fast and frenetic. Each level is designed to be very small (Iain commented that I was actually on one of the larger ones) in order to encourage constant fighting, rather than wandering around questioning where the hell everyone is. It’s a smart move to ensure that people can’t sit in one area for too long without being found. On the other hand, the level wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before and lacked anything that made it stand-out from other releases.
When the level begins you have access to four different preset weapon choices. These are fully customisable, although you have to quit out of the game to play with this feature. From the weapons I saw, there were fully and semi automatic weapons, designed for various ranges; shotguns, pistols and grenades. They sounded excellent, although I couldn’t really feel them impacting my targets – something I hope other people pick up on and feed back after the soon-to-be-released beta. One thing I found enjoyable was the implementation of an active reload system; much like Gears of War, getting it right meant a quicker return to battle, whereas failure left you with a jammed gun and therefore utterly defenceless.
During the game you earn the aforementioned ‘heat’ points, which are then banked into your overall score and count towards unlocking your abilities. For a few seconds, prior to getting banked, your points are vulnerable and can be lost if you die. In the same vein, your points will be chained if you go on a killing spree, prior to being banked. Even better still is that you can taunt over your dead enemies and gain a multiplier to your heat. This all makes for a hugely engaging game that balances the skill of playing with the risk of wanting to gain the highest score. Do you run away and safely bank your points to unlock better abilities, or embarrass the departed further by dancing on their carcass for an even bigger bonus?
The abilities that stand to be unlocked through your play add another dimension to the game. From damage enhancers, to sentry robots, to giant mini-guns… more heat unlocks these items and allows you to use them to gain an edge on the battlefield. You have four abilities out of a possible eight to use at any one time; during my time with the game, I used the damage enhancer and mini-gun abilities for raining utter devastation upon my victims, before running over to their corpses and fist-pumping the air, partly because of the multiplier and partly because I’m awesome.
The level of customisation that can be employed is incredibly deep. Players will be able to personalise individual weapons, clothing items and facial effects. From a fashion perspective this is for pure vanity and only stands to indicate how popular a player is. There are allegedly thousands of potential weapon combinations, but with many added considerations: popping a silencer on a weapon will decrease its power; slotting on a sight will increase its weight. This prevents someone from spending their life-savings on micro-transactions to get ahead in the game, as their weapon may turn them into a killing machine but they will move like a Stegosaurus in a tar pit.
Overall I came away from Bullet Run feeling highly impressed. The fact that it’s free to play and looks and plays as it does deserves recognition alone. However, its various mechanics, from the heat collection, to the customisation, to your overall rating on the leaderboards make it an even more ambitious title. Providing the beta goes well and there is a stable community all vying for the top spot as the most famed player, there is no reason why Bullet Run can’t be a very popular game indeed.
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