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Bulletstorm Review

4
  • PS3
  • X360
  • PC

Bulletstorm presents a thrilling alternative to today's first-person shooters.


Grayson sounds a lot like Wolverine and sort of looks like him, too. 
In some weird alternate universe, John Romero is still a part of id Software and every first-person shooter out there is filled with new iterations on the old "riding the rocket" or "sucking it down" death messages found in the original Quake. Games went in a different direction in that universe, eschewing the petty grasps at realism found here in our dimension in favor of seeking out new--but still totally juvenile--ways to tell someone that they suck. On top of that, they're all finding bigger ways to blow things up and new ways to have guns rip polygonal bodies apart, often while making as many "edgy" references to Satan as they possibly can. In that universe, Bulletstorm gets two stars for being too colorful, wholly repetitive, and a shameless bite of the ideas found in the Grudgehumper series, namely Grudgehumper VI: The Devil's Warehouse. Back here in the real world, however, Bulletstorm is a refreshing shooter that challenges you to do more than just hide behind a burning car and shoot soldiers in the face.

Bulletstorm is the next game from People Can Fly, the people that brought you a gun that shoots both exploding ninja stars and lightning, which should give you a pretty good idea about where their head is at. That gun comes from Painkiller, and you can see some of the studio's past in portions of Bulletstorm. But there's also a distinctly "Hollywood blockbuster" edge to everything, courtesy of Epic Games, which bought the Polish developer back in 2007. In some ways, this game feels like a reaction to Gears of War, which some folks like to slag off as being too gray, too self-serious, and too repetitive. By comparison, Bulletstorm contains a bright, colorful world with a great amount of variety. It's hardly serious, and the way the points system is implemented all but begs you to switch things up as often as possible, which prevents the game from feeling like a one-note affair. Not every aspect of the game hits every single time out, but it's more than solid enough to stand out as something fresh and exciting.

You might not get any of that feeling from the game's opening hour, though, as Bulletstorm starts quite slowly. As Grayson Hunt, leader of an ex-military hit squad that wants revenge against the maniacal general that sent Hunt's team out to kill innocent people, you'll start out with an assault rifle and not much else. The tutorial sequence eventually introduces you to your melee abilities, which include a Sub-Zero-like slide and Duke Nukem big boot, both of which will knock an enemy into the air and slow them down, giving you the opportunity to gun them down while they're floating away. You'll also get an energy leash that can be used to pull enemies in, setting them up for a kick or more gunfire. The leash and your foot are also the main ways you interact with the environment, mainly by leashing things down to fill gaps or kicking objects that are blocking your path.

 The pistol can also shoot explosive flares.
Before too long, you're introduced to the game's skillshot system, and this is where the game starts to come together. By killing enemies in specific ways, you'll earn points that can be spent on weapon upgrades and ammo. Some of these are as simple as shooting a guy in the head. Others require more setup, like using the leash's secondary ability to thump a group of enemies up into the air, shooting some other enemies that are still on the ground, and looking up to shoot the still-suspended bad guys afterwards. Or shooting a guy in his crotch, then running up and kicking him after he drops to his knees in agony. Or killing two guys with one bullet. The list goes on and on, so much so that the game gives you a separate menu for all of the skillshots so you can see how many of the 131 different tasks you've completed. The tasks are broken up by weapon, giving you new things to try each time you acquire one of the game's seven guns. This is the thing about Bulletstorm that requires you to play it differently than the average shooter... or at least you'll want to play it that way, because playing it like a standard shooter makes it a pretty boring game. If you're the sort of guy that likes to hoard ammo in case there's a big boss fight around the corner, you'll need to get past that and get into the idea of shooting off as much of your stuff as often as possible, because that's the way to keep the higher-scoring kills coming in. This, in turn, lets you get additional abilities and ammo for your guns, which gives you new skillshots to try, and so on.

Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the guns themselves weren't any good. Thankfully, weird future guns with multiple firing modes just happens to be People Can Fly's specialty, and the game delivers with things like the Flail Gun, which shoots out two grenades strapped together with a chain. You can take heads off with the chain itself, or wrap the grenades around enemies or other objects to set up some fun explosions. So, for example, you can wrap a flail around a garbage can, kick it at a group of enemies, and then manually trigger the explosion to take them all out. If you want, you can even wrap up one of your AI-controlled partners and hit the explosion when they're getting swarmed. Then there's the Boneduster, a four-barreled shotgun that will blast enemies in half if you hit them up close. Or the Penetrator, which fires a large, spinning drill bit that carries enemies away when you hit them, nailing them to the wall where the drill spins them around for few seconds. The weapons all also have secondary fire modes, giving you another layer of things to play with, though the secondary fires require their own ammo, rather than draining from your pool of primary ammo. In some cases, this will make you want to make sure those shots count, since they aren't as easy to come by.

The play in Bulletstorm is fast, even though you can slow down individual enemies with a boot or leash. The game keeps up a pretty frenetic pace once you start fighting, though it'll break up the action with quiet spots, giving you time to find a resupply point or exchange some dialogue to advance the story. Considering that you're usually trying to kill enemies in specific ways to score points, you might think that the speed would start to work against it. The game gets around this by making most of the AI fairly basic. Guys with melee weapons rush at you in a pretty straight line. Other enemies will take cover, but they're just as likely to pop out and stand there while you gun them down. The minibosses, which are armed with chainguns or other heavier weaponry, plod around and don't turn very fast, giving you plenty of time to outflank them. This doesn't make Bulletstorm completely simple, but the challenge comes from knowing just how far to push it and just how long to stay out in the open to nail some heavy skillshots before hanging back to let your health recharge. Overall, it feels pretty well-balanced, though I found myself wishing for some kind of sandbox sort of mode with no ammo constraints, just to have more time to play around with the various skillshot techniques. That said, I still managed to complete over 75 percent of the skillshots by the time I made it through the campaign.

 Kicking guys into electricity is pretty effective.
Bulletstorm's script is ridiculous and curse-filled, and the recurring gag is that they like to insert the cursing into sentences where it doesn't make any immediate sense. So when you first meet up with Trishka, she threatens to "kill your dick." Later on, the general you're trying to murder starts calling your Asian associate "Sushi-dick." They talk about "getting all murdery." Out of context like this, it's going to sound awful, like the exact kind of forced attitude that ensures that the mainstream audience views games as power fantasies for the developmentally arrested. But you know what? In context, it's layered on so thick and at such odd times that it actually works pretty well. The script takes some time here and there to sort of wink and nod at you as if to say "yeah, we know, that doesn't make any sense at all" or "we're going to have the guy get offended at the racist remark because we know that obviously is way uncool." Your personal taste is going to dictate how much dick-tit you can handle, but after rolling my eyes at the writing for the first couple of hours, I started to get into it.

The nature of the story is probably what saves it from feeling like it's trying too hard. Over the course the game, Grayson goes from a drunken space pirate to the idiot that realizes he's doomed his entire crew to something approaching respectable. And it's interesting to watch as your partners grow together and grow apart over the course of the story. It's not some huge story with deep fiction and it's not going to spawn any novels, but for a game that's trying to get by on the number of ways which you can kill someone, it's surprising that the story is even cohesive to begin with.

In addition to the campaign, Bulletstorm has a single-player scoreboard-based mode called Echoes, which takes small segments from the campaign and breaks them out into mini-levels. The goal is to finish them quickly while scoring as many points as possible. You'll earn stars and hit an online leaderboard once you're finished. These are pretty good little chunks of action, but it's disappointing that so many of them are ripped right out of the single-player.

 Trishka, like most AI partners, tends to let you do most of the work.
The game does have an online multiplayer component, but it's limited to a four-player wave-based survival mode called Anarchy. The spin this puts on the Gears-style Horde mode is that each level has a points threshold that must be met in order to proceed. So you can't just jump in there and lazily shoot enemies to move ahead. You'll need to work together to perform team skillshots, too, like yanking an enemy back and forth with multiple leashes or having one guy kick someone while the other follows up with bullets. Between rounds, you can spend your points on additional weapons and upgrades. Since this mode requires actual cooperation, it's best enjoyed with friends or motivated strangers who want to communicate about when to kick, shoot, or leash on those team skillshots. As you play, you earn experience points that unlock cosmetic upgrades for your armor and weapons.

The console versions of the game perform as you'd probably expect for a modern Unreal Engine game, but it feels like extra care has gone into giving the game a bright color palette. The environments throughout Bulletstorm are great, with majestic backgrounds and nice lighting both indoors and out. The PC version of the game, as you'd probably expect, is capable of looking much better than the console versions. It's a Games For Windows Live game on PC with its own separate set of achievements and full support for gamepads. With a mouse, you'll probably want to fiddle with the settings a bit, since it feels a little odd out of the box and maps controls in a way that makes perfect sense if you've played it with a gamepad before, but might not be the most intuitive thing for people who never venture off the PC.

After being really down on Bulletstorm for the first couple of hours, I was pleasantly shocked to see how well it started coming together once I started getting better at using the different weapons and once the story started moving at a faster pace. While it's easy to see spots where the game could have been more fully featured or offered more unique areas instead of repurposing campaign spots, it's a solid new entry that truly offers an alternative to the standard sci-fi or military-themed first-person shooter.     Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
115 Comments
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Posted by Maxery

YEA!

Edited by jmic75

Played through it and it was really fun though not sure of its staying power, has a serious lack of modes, co-op campaign and competitive multi-player would have been nice. 

Posted by tkalsey

i loved it

Posted by Ghost407

I think I want to play this!

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

Did I see two of the same images? Oh just a bit different.

Posted by ZombieHunterOG

4 huh 
 
 
not bad

Posted by Sackmanjones

Killzone 3 right now. Bulletstorm later

Posted by Slaker117

Called it again. :D I'm on a roll with 4 star reviews from Jeff.
 
Also, glad to hear that it doesn't suck. Felt like something that could have easily gone up it's own butt and be totally unbearable because of it.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

As always, great review Jeff-y old boy.

Posted by Jackhole

Great review. I'm really enjoying it to. So does anybody know if the dick jokes will just stop after Chapter 2. If so, 5 stars.

Posted by LiquidSwords

War of words in 3.....2.....1......

Posted by WorldDude
@Sackmanjones said:
" Killzone 3 right now. Bulletstorm later "
That's exactly how I feel.
Posted by JJOR64

Dick tits.

Posted by august

Everyone knows the Grudgehumper series peaked at III.

Posted by Chango

Cool review. But why is Jeff reviewing everything as of late?! Help the man

Posted by poser

The the game is dull, I'm surprised by this review.....

Edited by Crushed

Sounds awesome. Interesting that after people were kinda on Jeff about playing it like a standard shooter during the live QL, he actually came to that conclusion himself. Nice review.

Posted by Underachiever007

Great review as always, Jeff.

Edited by boylie

Nice review banana dick :p

Posted by Marokai
@poser said:
" The the game is dull, I'm surprised by this review..... "
Jeff's final reviews have been unpredictable lately for some reason.
Posted by SuperSambo
@poser
The the game is dull, I'm surprised by this review.....
Why do you think it is dull? Just from the demo it seems crazy and very fun.
Posted by SSully

Can't wait to start this after KZ3, it sounds like a great time.

Posted by GeneralBison

Abe Lincoln approves of this review

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I just finished up the game this afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing a sequel somewhere down the road.  Also, "come lick on the salty taint of doom, you brain-dead biker whores!" is now my favorite game quote.

Moderator
Posted by sociald1077

After looking through the comments on the QL and the comments here, I'm sort confused. Going from "This looks like crap" to "Gonna play this!" Seems kinda manic.

Posted by Daveyo520

No he sounds like Spike Spiegle.

Posted by Demon_Sandwich

Nice to know it plays wells; after hearing how short it was. Its still sitting in my room unplayed alongside killzone

Posted by bassman2112

Thank you for the review, Jeff =) 
Very concise for such an ecclectic game. I will be holding off on purchasing it until the price goes down a little; but it definitely looks like fun for what it is =)
 
Thanks again

Posted by floodiastus

Very nice tech, its the best looking PC game ive tried yet and the framerate is very smooth on maximum settings. If they tweak the unreal engine like this im gonna be all over every game that comes out on it ;)

Posted by Hailinel
@sociald1077 said:
" After looking through the comments on the QL and the comments here, I'm sort confused. Going from "This looks like crap" to "Gonna play this!" Seems kinda manic. "
He had only played the first act or so of the game and a little multiplayer prior to recording the Quick Look.  He wasn't anywhere even close to finishing the game when the recording was made.
Posted by CornBREDX
Great Review, Jeff. I totally agree. The game is great for an old school gamer like me. I didn't expect anything from the story, and wouldn't have cared if it wasn't well fleshed out, but I've noticed the arc going on and was pleasantly surprised as well how that is turning out. 
 
I haven't finished it yet, but this game is so fun to play and I'm having a blast with it.
 
@Jackhole: They're still there, but from what I have noticed so far it gets more eclectic. The crude humor doesn't stop, but at least as far as I've gotten the dick jokes settle down a bit at least for a little while.
Posted by Skald

Yet another 4 star review.

Posted by Malakhii

This game looked pretty awesome from what I saw in the quick look, which was pretty surprising because up until it came out I thought it was going to be crap.  Glad to see Jeff ended up digging it, I thought he wasn't going to the way he was responding during the QL. I'm not going to support the trend of $60 PC games, but I will probably pick this one up later on. 

Posted by Undeadpool

You kicked an enemy into electricity. 
It's SUPER EFFECTIVE.

Posted by mordukai

Looks like you have more fun playing the co up the SP. I will probably pick up when it goes on sale. 

Posted by wsowen02

Called it

Posted by JeanLuc

Good review Jeff, I can't wait to sink my dick into this game!

Posted by Landon
@Daveyo520 said:
" No he sounds like Spike Spiegle. "
Spike didn't sound that gruff.
Edited by MarkWahlberg
@august said:

" Everyone knows the Grudgehumper series peaked at III. "

I'm excited for the reboot though. The trailer for The Grudgehumper actually looked kind of tight. 
 
@Landon said:
" @Daveyo520 said:
" No he sounds like Spike Spiegle. "
Spike didn't sound that gruff. "
It's the same voice actor, I think. Just more dick-tittish.
Posted by Zabant
@Malakhii: Buy the console version and pirate the PC.
 
That way you get two games and no guilt!
Posted by Daveyo520
@MarkWahlberg said:
" @august said:

" Everyone knows the Grudgehumper series peaked at III. "

I'm excited for the reboot though. The trailer for The Grudgehumper actually looked kind of tight. 
 
@Landon said:
" @Daveyo520 said:
" No he sounds like Spike Spiegle. "
Spike didn't sound that gruff. "
It's the same voice actor, I think. Just more dick-tittish. "
It is indeed the same voice actor. Steven Blum. He does lots of game work besides just anime dubs. He is in more stuff then Nolan North pretty much.
Posted by CorporalGregg

Spot on review. A Slow start that had me wanting more and then the game delivered. It's nice to play a fps that doesn't feel like cod. I'm happy with the purchase.

Posted by Enigma777

Good review. I should be (hopefully) getting my copy tomorrow, so I am excited to get my hands on it.

Posted by gla55jAw

I'm really feeling this game so far. I just really wish there were more modes! I feel like after I finish the campaign and a few goes at the mulitplayer, I will be done.

Posted by JerichoBlyth

Stop hogging all the big release game reviews for fuck sake. Give someone else a go.
 
Also, not buying this.

Edited by beard_of_zeus

I've played the single-player of this for a good 6 or 7 hours so far, messed around with the Anarchy mode, and put up some pretty decent Echoes scores. Having a lot of fun! I'm excited to sink my teeth into Killzone 3 after I finish up Bulletstorm's campaign.
 
I really wish they had done a few more unique Echoes levels that weren't right from the campaign because I've been having a lot of fun doing some score chasing. Playing the game in little 3-6 minute chunks and trying out new methods to rack up points has been pretty addictive.
 
I pretty much agree with all the points in this review, from the slow start to the ludicrous story/script eventually growing on me to the weapons being a lot of fun, especially if you break out of the "normal" way of playing a shooter. This was a well-written, informative review Jeff :)

Posted by PK_Koopa

Put in a Wolverine costume and you got a deal.

Posted by Nettacki
@floodiastus said:
" Very nice tech, its the best looking PC game ive tried yet and the framerate is very smooth on maximum settings. If they tweak the unreal engine like this im gonna be all over every game that comes out on it ;) "
What are your specs? Just wondering.
Edited by bybeach

I hear the Painkiller reference, and I start to twitch. Or side strafe. Or something. I know this isn't the same thing, but this review does tell me, well, I'm probably going to own this game at some point. Maybe soon, but I am already bouncing between DS 2 on the PC and KZ 3 on the PS3. It does leave the 360 open, doesn't it?   :) 
 
this seems to own the same niche Crackdown ocupied, not in it's form of course, but  rather as a game valued enough for the other frnachise to tie to outside of universe. Lets hope that if something else happens,  if it is not ultimatly a one-off as it could respectively well be, it does much better on it's own legs than Crackdown.

Posted by Chubbaluphigous

For me, points based combo games live and die by their replayability.  If I don't want to play it over and over again, then I don't care about my score.  If I don't care about my score, then why play it when I could play another game that I care about.

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