In today’s gaming market, it's rather refreshing to see a new IP released by a company. We have become accustomed to seeing a nonstop flow of sequels and remakes over the past few years; new ideas are often dropped in favor of rehashing “sure-fire” winners, which makes economic sense for the parties involved; Epic Games for example, is a studio known for sticking with its existing portfolio. It has been years since they brought a completely new creation to the gaming world. When they bring forth a completely new title, gamers are sure to take notice. Surely this new project is something special if the “house that Unreal built” is attaching its name to the cover. When you add in the development team at People Can Fly (PCF), who have shown that they know how to put the fun in a shooter thanks to their work on the Painkiller series, and you could practically sell the game on concept alone.
Enter Bulletstorm, the result of combining PCF’s imagination with Epic’s technical prowess. I fell that I should warn you, take every preconceived notion that you have about a console shooter and throw it out the window. This game isn’t about presenting a great story wrapped in a realistic military world. The name of the game here is blowing stuff up and having a ton of fun and the more chaotic the action, the better. The game has all the charm of a straight to video, B-level action movie and close to the same “class” as well. Don’t expect to find grade-A dialog and politically correct content; in fact, everything in Bulletstorm is the polar opposite. The action is over the top and violent, the characters are generic and forgettable, and the dialog is as corny as it is colorful and offensive...but it all comes together to create one hell of a fun ride.
As I said, the tale told in Bulletstorm isn’t anything groundbreaking or memorable, but that is because it isn’t the focus of the game. You play as Grayson Hunt, the leader of a ragtag group of space pirates hell-bent on seeking revenge on General Sarrano, who double-crossed them during their military careers. Due to the actions of Sarrano, Grayson and his crew, known as Dead Echo, are now on the galaxy’s most wanted list and have become soldiers without a country. Fate leads them to an unexpected confrontation with that General and his new army, resulting in a short battle that leads to both parties crashing on the war-torn planet of Stygia. When the dust settles, only Grayson and his best friend Ishi remain, both desperately hoping to find General Sarrano but for different reasons: Grayson wants revenge and Ishi simply wants to get off of the abandoned planet. The plot is as much of a buddy-adventure as it is a story of revenge. Grayson must learn to finally put his lust for Sarrano’s blood in check for the benefit of Ishi, who is now kept alive by cybernetic implants. Ishi is only interested in getting off of the planet alive as he battles to keep hold of his human self; the AI driving his mechanical parts is slowly taking control killing the one person Grayson trusts. The tale is filled with twists and turns as well as some of the most offensive and crude dialog that you have ever heard.
This is one game that you definitely do not want to play around the kids; as I am sure you can tell from the various previews and promotional material from the game, Bulletstorm is sort of a lesson in deviant behavior. The characters constantly spew sexual innuendos and f-bombs while the violence level of the action is turned up to about 15 on a 10-point scale. All of this is done in a nonchalant manner with any and all seriousness completely thrown out the window. PCF doesn’t expect you to take the plot seriously as it doesn’t even take itself seriously. Fortunately, you can tone done both the visual violence and the vulgarity within the game’s option mode, making it a little less offensive, but not by much. At least you won’t have to listen to the f-word every two seconds, if that sort of thing bothers you.
If you can stomach the story and all of its crude content, and take it for what it is, the adventure is an enjoyable one. The story is meant simply to introduce you to the world of Bulletstorm, not to engulf you in it as the world isn’t the attraction, that would be the action. The world of Bulletstorm is all about action and carnage and it is up to you to create it with the game’s Skillshot system. The slogan I am sure that you have heard time and time again is “kill with skill”, and the more of that you do the more benefits you will reap. Players are rewarded for dispatching their enemies in a wide variety of preset ways, which have been dubbed Skillshots. There are well over a hundred in the game and different combinations of them yields various scores, which you are encouraged to use and rack up as high of a total as possible. The gameplay is a throwback to the old arcade days of setting a high score for yourself and your friends, then striving to top that score... over and over again. This mechanic is likely to turn a lot of players off but just happens to be right up my alley. The game has a certain repetitive aspect to it by design, which will likely annoy players with a short attention span. You are given a wide variety of tools to pull off these skillful acts of violence in the form of both weapons and environmental devices. Items that would normally be chalked up as “expected scenery” in a post-apocalyptic world like Stygia, such as sparking wires or a jagged pole, are now intended to be your tools of the trade. There are a total of eight weapons in the game for you to use and two of them, the leash and the Peacemaker Carbine, will always be equipped for you to utilize. The leash is perhaps your most valuable asset as you will use it to position your enemies for the most rewarding means of disposal. You can pull them towards you, launch them into the air, and even throw them toward dangerous environmental hazards. It is a true tool of destruction. It is up to you to decide what other gun you will place in your third and final weapon slot; each gun has its own unique set of abilities and traits which will assist you in performing the various skillshots. I should also note that there are two modes of fire for each weapon as well, which helps to further mix things up. The more that you mix and match the various modes of attack of the weapons the more points you will be rewarded. Variety is the spice of life and in Bulletstorm, the key to success.
You will be given three separate modes of play within the game for you to wreak havoc upon: campaign, Echoes, and Anarchy. The campaign is pretty self explanatory and we talked about that at length above. You can wrap it up in about 7 hours, give or take, and it can be played across multiple difficulty settings which will vary the length a bit. Once you wrap the solo adventure up, the rest and majority of your time is going to be spent in the Echoes and Anarchy modes. Echoes is a single player mode that has players revisiting some of the more action packed sequences of the game in an attempt to rack up the highest score possible on short courses taken from the main game; your scores are saved and posted to an online leaderboards along with your friends and the rest of the world. Upon completion of an Echoes run, players are graded on a scale of up to 3-stars based on their total score, speed, and tactics used during a run. There are 14 levels in the mode, and an additional 6 can be unlocked if you buy the game new in the store by redeeming the included online pass.
I found the Echoes feature to be very addicting. A lot of players may be turned off by the idea replaying the same set of stages over and over with the same scripted events and enemies attacking each and every time through; it does get repetitive after a few hours. The courses are the same each and every time that you play them; it is possible to map out your plan of attack ahead of time and basically run through a script of actions to get the high score. Once you earn three stars on a level, and max out your personal scoring potential, there really isn’t a reason to go back and play them again. The remaining mode, Anarchy, attempts to alleviate that feeling a little bit by incorporating cooperative multiplayer into the game. Anarchy is the closest thing that Bulletstorm has to true multiplayer; up to 4 players can team up and face off against wave after wave of enemies with scoring benchmarks required to move on to subsequent rounds. This mode introduces the concept of team based skillshots, though there are only a few included in the game. While a lot of fun, Anarchy mode feels like an afterthought considering the limitations that exist in team skillshots. Considering the wide variety of solo skillshots included in the game, the small amount of team-based maneuvers is extremely disappointing. This mode does require quite a bit of strategy though as the further that you get into the waves, the smaller margin of error you are given for your team to hit the benchmark score(s). I usually find my teams struggling around the 9th or 10th waves if there is little communication and cooperation incorporated into our strategies. There isn’t any real penalty for failing to hit a score other than being forced to replay the wave. If nothing else, I found Anarchy matches to make good chat rooms and sessions just to mess around within the game’s engine.
Bulletstorm is a lot of fun, regardless of the mode that you choose to play, but unfortunately you are going to experience a wide variety of technical hurdles along the way that really detract from the overall experience. The game is riddled with technical flaws from the first moment that you fire it up. One of the first things that I noticed was an issue with the sound not syncing up with the animation from the opening credits and the Epic / PCF logo(s). At first I assumed that this was a onetime occurrence, but it still happens every single time I turn on the game nearly 2 weeks later. The sound issues are noticeable at other times in the game as well, when the dialog fails to match up with the characters at numerous times in the game. This becomes very annoying for the period of time which I attempted to follow the storyline; eventually I gave up and found myself fighting the urge to skip the cutscenes when possible just so I wouldn’t have to sit through the awkward dialog exchanges.
The audio department isn’t the only one with problems as there are numerous visual hiccups in the game as well. First off, I found myself trapped within invisible walls numerous times in my adventure. I am not talking about edge of the environment, but moments where my player was basically prevented from moving outside of a small place in the playing field. I was forced to pause the game and restart from the previous checkpoint on no less than 10 occasions during the campaign. This really breaks the flow of the game which usually moves at a break-neck pace. The game gets on some serious downhill rolls, with action ramping up and sucking you in, but it grinds to a halt when something technical like these issues forces you to literally stop your progress and take three steps back. Fortunately, neither of these issues seemed to occur in either the Echoes or Anarchy modes.
Another prevalent issue in the game occurred with the scenes that involved prompted environmental interaction. At many points in the single player story, you will be prompted to press X to jump down from a ledge or vault over a pile of debris; the game often requires you to be directly at the location of the prompt before it will register your input and complete the action. This makes sense on some places where the physical window of opportunity is small, but if I am looking at a guard rail that is the same height all of the way across, what makes a difference if I press it a couple of feet to the left or right? I would even have more tolerance for this had these been consistent throughout the game, but there were not. In my experience in replaying the various missions, there were times when I was forced to execute the prompt in a specific place and others where I was not. This became annoying as I never knew what the game was going to allow me to do, physically, in the heat of battle.
Bulletstorm is a lot of fun but seriously flawed. I wouldn’t go far enough to say it is a broken game, but there are some major issues that truly keep it from succeeding. The experience and gameplay is an absolute ton of fun, so much that I can almost overlook the technical issues that exist within the game. Notice that I said almost; the game is riddled with technical problems which hinder the flow of the action in many cases. Luckily for PCF and Epic, they have crafted a gameplay mechanic that overshadows them in the big picture and ultimately wins out in creating an enjoyable experience. There is a lot to enjoy in this package, but you are going to have to put up with a lot to get that enjoyment out of it. In the end though, I don’t think you will regret it... I know that I don’t.