Bulletstorm is a peculiar game. Although the developers at People Can Fly originally set out to make an engrossing gameplay experience, and while they’ve mostly succeeded, the trying-to-be-serious storytelling forces Bulletstorm into a category it wished to distinguish itself from. Painkiller's narrative took a drunken backseat nap while the bizarre weaponry chauffeured about as the designated driver. While Bulletstorm's arsenal is no less diabolically insane, your appreciation of the story will weigh upon your fondness for locker room jokes.
The story begins with Grayson Hunt and his intergalactic comrades interrogating a bounty hunter hired to assassinate them. After an almost fatal encounter with the voids of deep space, the gang discovers their sociopathic ex-General’s ship, and being the sensible men they are, they decide to blow the cruiser up. Both ships then crash land on the alien planet of Stygia below, and all hell breaks loose.
Players assume the role of Grayson as he, his cyborg friend Ishi, and badass mercenary Trishka attempt to locate General Sarrano and escape off world before they are devoured by the tribal freaks or man-eating plants inhabiting the planet. They’ll visit dozens of collapsing buildings, a “family fun” theme park, and an underground irradiated prison throughout their journey into hell's glory hole, but nothing seems to escape the bad luck touch that Grayson possesses. I can’t remember one location in which the characters did not destroy some part of the scenery just because they could. Granted, everything about this game looks graphically appealing, but players will feel like they’ve seen it all after the first few acts. Maybe the developers were hoping the infinite number of explosions would keep gamers distracted long enough from noticing what are essentially the same rehashed locales.
Don't let the pretty girl persona fool you. Trishka can handle her own against Stygia's psychotic inhabitants.
Despite some background pop-up and occasional graphical hiccups, this game runs smooth. The impressive backdrops and numerous blood-filled sacs, i.e. enemies, on-screen do nothing to buckle the performance. That leads me to another point. The game controls like a dream. While more times than not gamers would argue that first-person shooters handle exponentially better on a PC, a keyboard and mouse could actually hinder the player's overall enjoyment. While leashing, sliding, and kicking enemies into their impending doom will become second nature to gamers with a controller, constantly hammering incorrect keys will only hurt your score. The whole ‘Kill with Skill’ concept encourages gamers to keep on their toes, always looking for unique ways to dispatch their enemies, but if they are kicking the air when meaning to leash a foe, their point values will suffer, in turn affecting how many credits that can be spent on new weapon upgrades.
It’s not all bad, though. The ‘Kill with Skill’ aspect is pulled off beautifully. Impaling a grunt into spiked rebar or giant cacti or, shooting a freak in the testicles and watching him beg for mercy never grew tiresome throughout the chaotic six-hour campaign. With over 130 Skillshots, gamers are rewarded for putting each weapon through its gut-wrenching paces. However, every time you pull off a Skillshot, one of the characters has to open his/her mouth with a poor excuse for a one-liner. What priority was voice acting when it came to developing this game? I realize that actors can only do so much with the script they are given, but I believe the developers were just trying too hard to elicit a chuckle through sophomoric stand-up routines. The writing comes off as distasteful nonsense accentuated by endless ball and sex jokes. The quips occasionally bear an element of creativity ("Dicktits," "Sushi-dick," etc.), but the lasting impression left me hating the characters more than liking them.
Godzilla, what are you doing here?!
Unfortunately, the plot does not help character development either. The story underscores Grayson’s quest for redemption, only serving as a means to move the player along to new locations. If there is some credit to be given here, at least the antagonist is easy to hate. A disgusting sack of perverse innuendos, General Sarrano is, in simple terms, a dick. Focused solely on self-preservation, he constantly insults those whom he believes are inferior. I cannot recall one line he spoke that did not contain an excess of profanity or racial slurs. The final, but rather anticlimactic, showdown between Sarrano and Grayson is without doubt one of the games highlights then.
If the story begins to wear on your nerves, though, try out the entertaining Echoes mode. Essentially, it’s all about the leaderboards. Players power through a short segment from the campaign attempting to earn the most points possible as fast as they can. Without the added weight of the story or voice acting to drag Bulletstorm further into the cesspools of mediocrity, I enjoyed each of the brief five-minute Echoes more than the actual single-player.
"Kill with Skill" with up to three other players online in Bulletstorm's Anarchy mode.
If you’re itching to tear apart some cannon fodder cooperatively, Bulletstorm has got you covered with its interesting take on Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, Anarchy. Instead of the tired “Kill this X amount of enemies to proceed” formula, players not only have to complete the wave but also earn a set amount of points in order to progress. Teamwork and a headset are absolutely necessary. If you communicate with a few somewhat intelligent friends, Anarchy mode delivers a bloody shower of mutant bits worth bathing in. Propelling a large group of enemies into the air with the whip, only to watch them get turned into a glowing pile of skeletons seconds later is understandably satisfying. At worst, the multiplayer is worth a glance, but don’t expect many others to be playing it long after the coming months.
As I’m sure many people are aware of, Fox News published a news article just before Bulletstorm’s launch that basically reads: “Bulletstorm is the worst video game ever and violent games lead to rape.” Even if their allegations had some merit of truth behind them, Grayson and company's vulgar banter hardly classifies as a turn-on. But the ‘Kill with Skill’ portion of the game alone saves Bulletstorm from the FPS bargain bin. Wrapping an explosive flail around a hot dog cart before kicking it into a group of helpless enemies and detonating said flail never grows stale. Although Bulletstorm fails to shatter much ground in the first-person shooter genre, I cannot berate the developers at People Can Fly for trying to bring the fun back into games when every other developer is attempting to produce the most realistic experiences possible. I’d recommend Bulletstorm to those looking for something fresh, but don’t expect the good times to last until the (inevitable) sequel.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC