“It’s a murder party, starring me!” says beefed-up, paint thinner-drinking, bad-ass space pirate Grayson Hunt in another of Bulletstorm’s overwrought, hard-pounding, frenzied stages. His overjoyed enthusiasm is one which we share. A murder party it may be, but it’s also over-the-top, ballistic and unwaveringly brutal.
The mentality ‘kill with skill’ is the greatest ringing endorsement of the end product, which can be scarily proficient and enjoyable even when no shots are fired. In fact, if you are testing the barrels of your shotgun, you’re probably missing out on the very best the game has to offer. Bulletstorm has been designed with an overarching philosophy where finding the most insane and ridiculous ways to off the feral mutant tribes and hulking monsters is the driving force behind the play, where making it to the end of the fairly comprehensive run-time is enough reason to sigh that you missed out on over 25% or more of the unique skillshots available. Scour any enemy upon some protruding metal spikes (‘Voodoo Doll’), kick another into a vertigo-induced coma (‘Vertigo’), unleash a devastating drill bullet that impales two raging mad-men in one shot (‘Shish Kebab’) – Bulletstorm is as instantly gratifying and outrageously fulfilling as any title we’ve had the pleasure to play in some time. It’s no typical first-person shooter, that’s for sure, as the inclusion of a handy kick, frenetic slide and sparked ‘leash’ will attest, not to mention the lack of a jump function that brings an immediacy and pace that never settles throughout the run time.
In actuality, there’s no easy critique to be made of the game; environments are kept fresh, colourful and with stunningly realised vistas (Epic Games’ stamp is all over the final product), brilliantly diverse enemy types that serve to get you to try new techniques out (from having to hit glowing orbs on the mutated ‘Burnouts’, to being unable to leash others and having to take the fight to them) and some of the most ludicrously fantastic weapons we’ve ever seen. Indeed, the intent of design behind killing with skill rears its head in their every shot, where the four-barrelled shotgun (‘The Boneduster’) plays central role in bloody keepy-up’s, or the explosive Flail Gun (firing two propelling explosives that are linked with a chain) can choke enemies and leave them headless in its wake.
Skill points are given for successful skillshots (with the more challenging skillshots reaping the biggest point haul) and can then be spent on upgrading your weapons in a more rewarding progression than some arbitrary experience points system could have otherwise have mustered. Each weapon also features ‘Charge’ shots (more of a visceral showcase than being all too useful) which add sometimes painfully funny consequences and have no right to be reserved for secondary fire – the Peacemaker Carbine unleashes 100 bullets that leaves only a skeleton in its wake, while the Flail Gun’s explosive chains can rip through the torso’s of unsuspecting onlookers. If we had a tiny complaint it’d be that upgrading and purchasing of ammo and charges seems overwhelmingly unbalanced, where you can max-out your gun’s ammo for the same cost of around four charges.
Developed collaboratively by People Can Fly (Painkiller) and Epic Games (the Gears of War series), Bulletstorm’s presentation is an eclectic of People Can Fly’s penchant for crudeness and overt bad language and Epic Games’ freneticism, humour and gruff space marines. Then of course there is the use of the Unreal Engine, which is actually starting to show its age here in the sometimes dull textures and hard-edged surfaces.
Despite the overly long and arduously dull opening section, Bulletstorm unravels itself as a clash of the titans, between the aforementioned space pirate Grayson and the manipulative General Sarrano, for whom Grayson’s team – ‘Dead Echo’ – used to work (and, indeed, kill). After a tremendous space battle between Sarrano’s Ulysses and Dead Echo’s craft, the two crash-land on the planet of ‘Stygia’ – an urban wasteland which is being swamped by organic life and crumbling at the seams. Here Grayson and cyborg team-member Ishi hunt for the stranded Sarrano so that they can enact bloody revenge on the man who tricked them into killing innocent civilians ten years earlier. The premise is none-too-remarkable, though it needn’t be – Bulletstorm is much more successful in gleaning some genuinely funny moments from the rag-tag crew, only serving the immature, insane and balls-to-the-wall crazy image all the more. And some out-of-place single player moments (the piloting of a remote-controlled Godzilla, taking down a titanic, organic plant/monster/thing) are a delightful take on set piece flourish.
Even taking all of the above into account, Bulletstorm doesn’t quite do enough to push its score into the upper echelons and allow it to rub shoulders with the very cream of its genre. It is astoundingly good at what it does, and the added multiplayer modes (‘Echo’ – a take on traditional leaderboard challenges with points having to be gleaned from the best self-contained moments of single player – and co-operative multiplayer ‘Anarchy’ in which you team up with friends to kill with skill as a team to try and get the most points) highlight that not every FPS has to have competitive Team Deathmatch; but, it’s also not going to win awards for innovation or graphical prowess. With that being said, it’s extremely difficult to complain too much about a game that is as pumped-up, gratifying and shameless as this and that features a skillshot-system with the potential to launch an entire franchise.
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