pandabear's Bulletstorm (Xbox 360) review

Could have been better, could have been worse

BULLETSTORM - even the name sounds like a parody of the whole violent first-person shooter craze. And in a lot of ways it is, but more than that this game embraces the absurdity of its genre and pushes it forward with its vibrant graphics, fast paced gameplay and tongue-in-cheek dialogue.

Set in the distant future Bulletstorm follows Grayson Hunt as he continues his quest for revenge against his former commanding officer, Sarrano, who used him to kill innocent civilians under the guise of national (or perhaps inter-galactic) security. Together with his small posse of misfits Grayson must survive on tropical resort that has been overrun with mutants and crazed outlaws so that he can exact his revenge and save what’s left of his comrades.

What struck me as an odd but a very pleasant surprise was that the story didn’t completely suck. From the outside it looked like this would be a dumb action game with little character development, but instead there’s a bit of character growth and the constant push for you to move from one area to the next makes the game and its storyline feel cohesive. There are no big jumps between locations – everywhere you go feels connected, which helps to make the world of Bulletstorm feel more real and alive.

But of course the plot isn’t Bulletstorm’s main strength – that honour goes to the game’s armoury. The developers did a good job of giving each of the weapons their own feel – and more importantly a reason to use each of them. The most interesting tool of death is the wrist mounted whip – which looks like an electrified beam that grapples enemies too slow to get out of its way. So if you’re sick of your enemies hiding behind cover grab them with you whip, yank them towards you and then unload a few rounds into their spine or kick them into a giant cactus. The whip and your trusty boot both put your enemies into slow-mo for a few seconds, allowing you to nail a head shot or kick them into an exploding barrel to take out even more foes as well. While the other weapons are all awesome, this one feels the most unique and gets quite a work out before the adventure is over.

The other weapons are all equally as absurd and have certain crazy comic book charm to them where realism is thrown out the window in favour of awesomeness. My personal favourite is the Flail Gun which fires two mines attached by a long chain. Wrapping it around an enemy is fun enough, but then booting them into another enemy and detonating it in time to blow them both up never gets old. I won’t spoil anymore of the weapons, including the brilliant new take on the classic sniper rifle, because there’s actually a lot of joy to be found in learning about all of them and their individual strengths.

Plus what’s great is that there’s a point to all theses crazy guns and their bizarre effects – to earn points from Skillshots. Earning points is done through killing your enemies in unique ways. For example you can slide across the floor (a trick that comes in handy a lot), kick an enemy into the air, take out his friend with a headshot then without taking your finger off the trigger kill your original target will get you a few extra points. These points can then be used to upgrade your arsenal with bigger ammo clips buy and unlock their alt-fire modes. In short the game rewards experimentation and isn’t just about getting head shots, it’s also about shooting a remote controlled rocket into some guys arse and then slamming him into his buddy and watching the two explode into a red mess of detached legs and arms.

But don’t think for a second that just because you have this incredible arsenal at your disposal that you’re invulnerable. Large bullet-proof enemies, speedy ones that can’t be whipped and mutants that have to be shot in specific places are all challenges you’ll have to face. But thanks to the range of weapons at your fingertips you should be able to find the right tool for the job.

So if the armoury is the game’s biggest strength than its graphics would have to be a very close second. The game looks absolutely stunning and is filled with colours not usually seen in action games like this. The resort is surrounded by clear blue water, the green palm trees sway in the wind while neon bars and clubs add to the games already expansive palette. Gone are the browns and greys of your typical space-marine games – Bulletstorm’s brilliant use of colour makes it stand head and shoulders above it’s competitors in terms of visual fidelity.

So after all this praise there has to be a downside, right? Well there’s a few unfortunately that hold Bulletstorm back from being truly brilliant. For starters the sometimes repetitive nature of a shooter like this is all too evident when you’re trapped in yet another fire-fight that felt a lot like the one before it. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the battles are actually quite fun, but there are times when you just want to get to the next boss or cool vehicle sequences to break up the gun-play a little.

But by far the games biggest weakness is that it takes far too long to get going. The opening chapter is spent setting up the story, which is perfectly acceptable, but the plodding nature of it is very annoying. The slow doling out of weapons, and the fact that the alt-fire modes often come much too late in the game, means that you can’t enjoy what makes Bulletstorm so great until hours into it. And then it’s all over too soon, taking around eight hours for the end credits to start rolling after a very disappointing ending. Those issues aside Bulletstorm is proof that the journey can be better than the destination – it starts weak and ends weaker, but somewhere in the middle is an awesome game that will one day be the basis for the even better sequel. But until then we have a great game that is well worth your time, just don’t expect it to stay for very long.

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