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Bulletstorm Review

by Xav de Matos, Feb 28, 2011 12:30pm PST
Related Topics – Bulletstorm, Review, Feature

If you ever find yourself defending the artistic and intelligent nature of modern video games, hope those debating against you have never seen Bulletstorm in action. The newest shooter from the Epic Games-owned developer People Can Fly, is an over-the-top title that revels in its childishness rather than hide from it.

Bulletstorm's story and characters are crass and juvenile. They take their cue from the action. It sets the tone by rewarding players for shooting enemies in the anus, for example, and spewing off more mentions of "dick" than a Nixon documentary.

It's the sort of thing that, as a guy approaching his 30s, I should turn off and walk away from in disgust for wasting my time. But I didn't because the entire experience was so damn fun.

But Bulletstorm takes its time getting to the fun. The game begins as a standard first-person shooter (FPS) affair, where it does very little to shine as anything more than mundane. As Grayson Hunt, leader of an "in hiding" ex-military squad that seeks revenge against the general that sent them on dirty missions, players are armed with a standard assault rifle and a pair of hefty boots before the current story for Hunt and his team unfolds. Once the stage was set, though, Bulletstorm showed off its creative side.

There are a lot of elements that make Bulletstorm stand out: the ability to slide into enemies and kick them into the air; roping enemies your way via a powerful energy leash (both previous examples suspending enemies in midair for a limited time); and the aforementioned big boot, for example. But the main attraction is the game's "Skillshot" grading system.

With Skillshot, killing enemies gives you points. The more creative you are in dispatching enemies; the more points you gain. These points act as the game's currency to upgrade Hunt's arsenal. With over 130 possible combinations, the Skillshot injects a leaderboard and Achievement mentality to the core shooter experience. The action transforms, in a sense, into a puzzle-strategy game. Bulletstorm eventually ramps things up with bigger baddies (mini-bosses and main bosses), but terrorizing the endless stream of peons ended up being the most fun.

With his energy leash and an arsenal of creative and immensely entertaining weaponry, Hunt might seem overpowered against the mostly run-and-gun style A.I. However, the game isn't so much a challenge of difficulty as it is a challenge to see how far you can push the envelope just before you fall.

When considering this gameplay system of "comboing" enemies, Bulletstorm reveals itself as a secretly intelligent game wrapped in a childish shell. Actually, I should amend that: an intentionally childish shell.

Not only does Bulletstorm not take itself seriously, it makes fun of itself on countless occasions. Had this game sported the same serious undertone as Epic's Gears of War franchise, the end result would have been comical for other reasons. Bulletstorm's script--which the game credits to comic book writer Rick Remender--is the sort of thing I imagine was jotted down on multiple cocktail napkins between shots of tequila. That isn't a shot at Remender or People Can Fly, but the entire thing is a gag to help push gamers toward the next bullet-craving anus (a phrase I'm as disgusted to write as you are to read). It's not deep or thoughtful, but the the story pushes along nicely. I was surprised that by the end of the foul-mouthed experience, Grayson Hunt evolved from a moronic, drunken pirate to someone who is on the cusp of learning valuable life lessons. Yes, all this from a game with a special skill called "Gang Bang."

Personal taste is going to dictate how much you can take from the characters throughout the ten hour single-player campaign. For the first few hours I shook my head at the game's writing in favor of having fun with its mechanics, but soon I started to get into it.

Beyond the campaign, Bulletstorm includes a single-player, score-based mode called Echoes. This mode takes pieces from the game's levels and grades players based on completion time and Skillshot points. It's a nice addition that gives players the ability to rank themselves versus their friends list. There is also a wave-based survival mode called Anarchy for up to four-players. The draw here is that players can combine for team Skillshots.

PC gamers will be disappointed that the game lacks field of view options and locks the framerate and mouse smoothing. The only solution to change these settings is by editing the game's .ini files. Though the game supports NVIDIA's 3D Vision, the best results I could get were when the 3D effects were adjusted to the lowest possible setting. It did, however, add a nice flair to the action.

In a lot of ways, Bulletstorm is what I assume the Duke Nukem universe would have eventually evolved into if the series hadn't stalled. There's a constant wink to everything as though the developer is telling the player, "Yeah, we know this is wacky as hell." At the same time the game bathes itself in its insanity and challenges players to forget what they expect from a shooter. But what players should expect is a wild and fun ride from start to finish.


[This review is based on a final version of Bulletstorm for the PC, provided by Electronic Arts.]





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