Vociferous and vehement in every way
Spitting molten curses at a rate that would certainly make Jerry Sadowitz proud, Bulletstorm crashes into the cosy FPS genre spraying broken glass and mutants aplenty. The entrance is vociferous and vehement in every way, nonchalantly swinging at anything in the way but some how also managing to charm with a remarkable lick of charisma that would make Huge Jackman blush. Bulletstorm then proceeds to kick its closest modern shooter rivals squarely in the face and keeps on shooting as they fly over the edge, laughing all the way. The blistering pace is matched with equally intense violence and just keeps running. Max points, for: explosive entrance, gloriously envisioned and being riotously good fun.
Bulletstorm is all about causing as much chaos as possible with the toys available and laughing at the resulting shenanigans. The gameplay hinges around the seemingly shallow ‘Skillshot’ system which is anything but, from the first booting of a mutant off a cliff and seeing ‘Vertigo’ appear a few seconds after as his screams trail off is comedy gold. Each weapon has its own list of trick shots – headshots to mutli-kill explosions, which when achieved score points along with a cheeky pun. These points are then used to unlock weapons and buy ammo or alternatively for a place on the high-score table in Echos mode. The more carnage, the higher the score with more difficult skills often being crudely commended on by AI buddies. In addition to weapons, Gray can kick enemies with a satisfying crunch or turn his run into a physics defying rocket-kick. Realism was never on the table as Gray traverses huge distances at whim, boot extended in a style that would make Duke Nukem proud, any enemies encountered being flung into the air in slow-mo for murder time. Oh and there is also the ‘Leash’ - effectively Bulletstorms nod to the gravity-gun, which can grab enemies and objects and whip them in. While every level is essentially a linear plod from beginning to end with very few hidden corners, the environment interaction is anything but. Stygia, the former resort world is now a twisted shadow of itself but still achingly beautiful. The use of colour is refreshing with vibrant blue water, burning orange sunsets and sumptuously green plant life; I frequently found myself stopping to admire the view of valleys, subterranean caves and impressive city vistas. Not that it’s all cute and cuddly, tangled power cables dangle dangerously from ceilings, overgrown cacti, parasitic seeds and cavernous plants have setup shop amongst the residences and gardens, flesh eating fish patrol the swimming pools, man-sized fans chop away and crumbing concrete gives way to vicious steel reinforcements jutting out menacingly. Luckily Gray has the good sense to avoid most of these dangers, mostly due to not being able to jump, an annoying restriction but due to his otherwise agile form can be overlooked. Unfortunately for the current residents, this is not the case.
The combinations in which the player can exercise creative murder is gleefully plentiful and the core of Bulletstorms unrelenting charm and black heart. The environment is a destructive weapon in its own right as enemies can be booted onto spikes, flung into flesh eating plants, electrified on open power cables, minced in fans and squashed against walls by heavy metal doors to name a few. The hilarity and excitement in discovering these is key to the game. The arsenal at disposal is also one of the most brutal in recent memory and has been tuned to a tee making the combat in Bulletstorm incredible visceral and satisfying. The quadruple barrelled shotgun makes a thunder-clap like God and is very effective at separating torso from man parts. A sniper rifle that fires radio controlled rounds makes glorious head-shots and a ridiculous ability that allows Gray to direct enemies around the level before using them to redecorate. There is also an explosive flail gun that can only be described as a portable suicide vest launcher, which can also be used to decapitate multiple foes to earn the ‘French Revolution’ skillshot. Congo lines of axe wielding mutants are kebabed by mining drills, flares are lodged in heads and bodies are shotgun juggled in the air before being punted into exploding hot-dog stands. Mutants are repeatedly kicked into walls; necks, heads, scrotums and bums are all abused by anything capable of dealing death and slum dunked into the ground by a mighty blast from the leash. Plain shooting is not boring, it’s just not as fun!
The combat is clearly the focus of the game and one would be forgiven for assuming that any story or character development would be severally lacking. Partially due to my own expectations I suppose, but nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised to find the yarn actually a very enjoyable romp. Firefly influences are clear and the revelation and points made on the reality of revenge, loyalty and forgiveness are well handled abet with a heavy dose of cheese – but such is the games readiness to mock itself it’s forgivable. Comic book it maybe and lacking in brain cells, the characters are likeable, the foul mouthed Trishka in particular who instils schoolyard sniggering with her liberal references to male genitalia. The most part of the dialogue is crude, scatological and smutty from start to finish and would make Malcom Tucker of In the Loop feel dirty. Sure the humour is just profane and completely puerile but it really is funny. When approaching the “Retro Sounds Classic Music Club” the sign greets you with, “shake, shake, shake your booty to the beat, beat, beat. Beats from the streets to get you into the sheets”, then blasts you with ‘Disco Inferno’ as the slaughter commences. Newsbots trundle about spouting all kinds of rubbish, one particularly memorable one declares a fun family night where “there will be ladies, and they’ll be naked!” It’s not Sam & Max but Bulletstorm really has a taste for slapstick as well, not just in the silly screams that the mutants make as you brutally destroy them but in the set pieces and narrative design. At one point a huge boss that looks set for a giant show down is incapacitated by a pipe and trips into a vat of acid; another that is terrorising Gray through a model city turns out to be just remote controlled. Gray swiftly kills the mutant and takes the laser blasting robotic Godzilla out for a spin, stomping dudes as it goes even naming it Waggleton P. Tallylicker. It doesn’t always work, some of the bickering between the main characters can seem a bit snarky than clever and Ishi while his humour is straight faced and sarcastic is a bit under written. That said this is probably the funniest comic game I’ve played in years.
However, as amusing as the crass humour and entertaining as the skillshot toy box is, Bulletstorm does fall just short of greatness. The game while playing excellently on the console (PS3 in this case) does feel at times a bit restricted. The marriage between Painkiller and Gears of Wars gives the game an odd pace at times where the combat has to slow down due to the, duck behind chest high wall to regenerate my limbs mechanic. I can’t help but feel that this might be eradicated on the PC were pin-sharp accuracy is the norm and 180 spins can be pulled off in a heart beat, but as it stands on the console it can feel a bit sluggish. Also, the skillshot system for all of its charm does start to get a trifle stale once all of the weapons and skills have been unlocked. There is no window for creating combinations outside of what developers intended which turns the final act into a bit of a slog. It just felt like it needed a HL2 end-game gravity-gun moment to reach up for that final heady high. As it stands the enemies become familiar and the spicy nature of the new kill wanes and naturally plateaus. It is linear and doesn’t offer much in the way of multiplayer (4 player co-op only) which I didn’t get to experience myself due to never being able to connect to a server. The AI partners that accompany you throughout the game are be a bit of nuance too while attempting some of the trickier skillshots late game, sometimes kicking them away or killing just at the wrong moment. That said Bulletstorm entertained right to the end, pulling me to the edge of my seat, by the balls no less and never letting go. The pace is relentless and constantly surprises with new environments, enemies and truly spectacular set-pieces, topped off with challenging but fair boss battles.
Bulletstorm is toxic and intoxicating in every respect, its black humour defining a unique vibe that few other games can match. The unrelenting pace, sharp witty demure and fiercely enjoyable combat makes for an intensely exciting shooting experience, if short and lacking multiplayer options. However, I’ve not enjoyed such a riotously good fun FPS since, possibly, well, Duke Nukem 3D. Sure Painkiller and Serious Sam had the moves, but they didn’t have the smirking mask that Bulletstorm wears so well. Superficially dumb but I think People Can Fly have out done themselves here: stupid is the new smart.
Niall Macdonald – 23/03/11
Also! How awesome is this artwork? Reminds me of this