Go play Bulletstorm
Well, if you haven't yet anyway. I just wanted to make it clear that this is a fantastic game before I start really tearing into it.
Not to get too steeped into the history of this all, but here’s the short version: Polish developer People Can Fly made a low budget FPS a few years back called Painkiller, the kind of game that would normally have flown way under the radar had one Yatzhee Croshaw not found it in a bargain bin and subsequently declared it one of his favorite games. With a skyrocketed popularity level due to this one 5 minute review, Epic Games picked them up and put them to work on Bulletstorm, a new FPS with a similar type of attitude and several occurrences of made-up dirty phrases. I’ve recently made my way through this game and while it is a fantastic shooter that does things the industry could learn from (a blog on that later), it’s also got a few things about it that I found rather annoying and a textbook case of things shooters should really just stop doing. So, without further ado, here we go:
1) Weapon wheels
I can understand why a modern military shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield would limit you to two weapons, and for Halo it was a stylistic choice that was pretty different at the time, but I can’t help but feel that there aren’t many games that can honestly justify a necessity for a two weapon limit. This is my single biggest issue with Bulletstorm and it’s one that has been growing on me a lot lately in other games, too. Singularity was in dire need of the ability to hold every gun, and even the Ur-example Halo could very well benefit from being able to hold every single gun in the entire game. But this game especially needs to allow it. Some of the worst parts in the game were the ones that just handed me a sniper rifle and told me that I had to use it. Sure, it’s technically feasible to get through those parts using your trusty pistol or, later, the drill gun thingy, but it’s far handier to use that sniper rifle. I should just be able to pull up the weapon wheel, whip out my sniper, pop a few noggins, and then pull out my trusty shotgun when I’m done. As it stands, I have to pick up this stupid rifle, use it, and then pick my other gun back up when I’m done with it. I don’t want to keep the damn thing, it’s only useful in certain situations anyway. The game’s skillshot system could make far more uses out of a weapon wheel than just three guns, one of them never changing. Imagine if one of the harder skillshots were to use the thumper to knock at least six dudes into the air, and then kill each with a different gun as he slowly falls to the ground. The sheer number of different ways to dispatch a group of enemies would increase by an order of magnitude if every gun were available at every time in this game. Some might say that this limit is for something like “balance” or “thinking ahead and using tactics to choose your weapon”. If you are that person, then place yourself in the shoes of Snow:
2) Health Systems
Someone just read that subtitle and thought “Yeah, FPS games really need health bars and medpacks!” Now, hold on, because that’s not what I’m saying. The health system itself is fine. Actually, I’d say that it would be cool if we could buy and/or find armor to go over our regenerating health. As it stands, though, we’ve got a perfectly functioning way of making sure that someone doesn’t walk into a big, act-ending fight with an immeasurably tiny sliver of health to make their way through on. That sort of thing is quite frustrating. No, what I’m mainly talking about here is the red fucking jam that feels the need to invade our television screens every time the player takes a virtual bullet. Again, there’s at least one (weak) argument that can be made for this red jam – it makes it easier to tell when you’re about to die, but if you say that you should also place yourself in the shoes of Snow, above. There’s no reason why we cannot have an actual bar tucked away in a corner of the screen that flashes red when a player needs to get behind something and get out the Band-Aids. Halo 2 did it. Halo 3 sort of did it but I believe it still had some red jam around the edges, though not nearly as much as any modern shooter. Hell, Halo ODST did the red jam to the extreme and that game has no refilling health. Yep, a few shots and you had a hard time seeing through that red filter until you found a health pack.
For the record, I’m still of the belief that every game is different and therefore there is no single “best” type of health system that everyone should use no matter the game. This means that regenerating health, health bars and medpacks, or the oft-praised but not often used hybrid health are all very much viable design decisions.
There really isn’t much in the way of handholding in this game, but it happens a lot on what should be bosses. There is precisely one actual boss and two other “minibosses” – two other things are in the game which should be full-on bosses. The first is the Hekaton, which is essentially Godzilla. The player must defeat it by getting on a helicopter and shooting its weak point with a turret while some dudes yell at you. This ought to be among the game’s highest points and an incredibly memorable moment, but instead you’re left trying to aim properly while a helicopter swings about. At least in Modern Warfare the helicopter stayed still while you were shooting tiny targets – here, it’s a bit difficult and a bit infuriating to keep your aim on the Hekaton’s tiny red spot. Instead of this, a better scenario might have been to have you pilot a helicopter (preferably with some practice beforehand) to take it out, or maybe have you actually kill it on foot though I can see why that wouldn’t be preferable because you’d just be shooting at his toecheese (if you were on the ground) or just cleaning out the gunk between his teeth (if you were on a building). The second thing which should be a full-on boss is Sarrano himself, the General who you’re trying to get rid of. You beat him (not kill him) via Quick Time Event. After mowing, stomping, throwing, blasting, blowing up, and otherwise decimating your way through hordes of bad motherfuckers, you get to the baddest motherfucker and he (literally) throws you around a bit, knocks out the token girl, and kills (but not really) your best friend. This is right after you do the Modern Warfare 2 thing of pushing the left and right buttons to crawl to the nearest weapon, and it’s not fun. It wasn’t fun there and it’s just infuriating here. And what makes it worse is that the game essentially ends the boss fight for you! You have to push the leash button and the kick button and some of that to do a very specific series of events to kill him (not really). If by some odd chance any developer happens to read this, this is not fun. This is not satisfying, this is not interesting, this is not a good way to kill your big bad guy.
As for the above mentioned minibosses and the only actual boss in a game that should be full of them, they’re fine and fairly well designed and interesting but the game feels the need to make the other characters yell at you about what to do to beat them. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Kids have been figuring out how to kill bosses since the NES days and before, I’m pretty certain that anyone playing this game can figure out that “shoot the big red jello-y bits” is the right thing to do on the big boss. As for the minibosses, the first one has the player shoot a large enemy until he kneels down and the player then kicks him backwards, eventually into some spinning helicopter blades. The second is a similar fight and has the player knock him into some hanging electrical wires. These are fine, I just wish the game didn’t tell me what to do when I’d already figured it out.
These last three are very minor and aren’t necessarily things that are downright bad, just things that have the potential to make shooters more fun.
4) More open level design
Crysis got this one right, for one game at least. Linearity is by no means a bad thing and, really, many of the most beloved games of all time are uber-linear and ask certain things of you at times. Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros., Half-Life, etc. are all quite linear. Still, these days even consoles have the power to make more open levels. Crysis is on the consoles if you don’t believe me. And, really, that’s the best example I have to give. I don’t necessarily need every game to be that open, but I would like to see more games give me a bigger battlefield to play on.
5) Movement speed
I don’t need Bulletstorm to move as fast as Doom did. Actually, that might be a bit too fast. Still, I would like to see FPS protagonists with the ability to put a little more giddyup in their step.
6) More varied enemies
Oh, come on. People can be creative. Everything in Bulletstorm save for the Hekaton and the plant-thingy is either human or human shaped. Why couldn’t we get to fight some crazy wildlife that had taken over the city?
And that’s all! Do you agree? Disagree? Anything you would like to add? Are some of these things you actually like and want to see more of? If so, why?