As a pack of ravenous cyberpunk psychos run up to me, I plan my options. I kick the most eager one in the face, leaving him suspended in midair long enough for me to fire an explosive flail at the rest of his friends, causing them to explode into delectable chunks. The heavy gunner with them lumbers towards me, and I kick his bouncer volleys back at him. Once he’s stunned, I literally kick his ass, shoot his butthole, then leash him long enough for my thumper to activate, earning me boatloads of points. All of this is done with a smile on my face, the sort of smile a serial killer must get when he sees his next victim.
Bulletstorm is surprising to me in many ways. I knew I would enjoy it, but I did not think it would be this enjoyable. Whereas most shooters have you fighting the same gaggle of enemies using the same strategy of shoot, grenade, take cover, repeat, Bulletstorm encourages you to do more. The Skillshot system asks you to go out of your comfort zone and stand out in the middle of an open battlefield so you can leash, slide, and kick your way to more Skillpoints. Using the leash at just the right moment opens up some great combos, especially when combined with the thumper move accessed not far after you pick up the leash.
The weapons in Bulletstorm are probably some of the best in the shooter staple to date, including a shotgun that does incredible damage at close range, a gun that shoots metal bolts, and a sniper rifle that you can steer in slo-mo to deliver some Skillshots without having to get too much in someone’s face. Each weapon is upgradeable with a charge shot that adds a little more boom when players want to rack up more points, and in turn, buy better upgrades or increase your ammo slot. An amazing auto-aim function and the ability to perform limb-specific damage goes a long way into killing your enemies in horrifically violent, yet hilarious ways. As the Secret 1st Amendment states, “All men have a right to bear arms, and to have those arms shot off with a shotgun.”
Much like the leash, the Skillshots make up the majority of the game. Each Skillshot is rewarded once you complete a specific kill, depending on variables such as whether you kick or leash someone, how many you kill at once, or what weapon you use to deliver a heap of pain. You can check the Skillshots you have and have not completed at any time, though the list will sometimes unlock new ones after you have already pulled them off at random. That should be a downer, but having all the descriptions laid out for you would remove some of the fun of randomly pulling those Skillshots off. Most of them are easy to pull off, and give you a lot of points for thinking outside the box. More than anything, there is something amusing about watching a man-eating plant chow down on some unfortunate soul and blowing up his friends and the plant.
The game also succeeds in throwing several blockbuster moments on screen. Imagine all the titanic scenarios that other games only allow you to watch–Bulletstorm lets you actively take part in them so you never feel like you are on the sidelines. From taking control of a robot dinosaur as if it is an RC car to smashing dinosaur eggs to get out of a cave, you will be surprised at what the game throws at you. There is one point, near the end, where the game pretty much throws most of the enemy types you have encountered throughout the campaign for you to slaughter, and it is just fantastic to play through. It is not particularly hard (strangely, I found myself able to beat that section without dying at all, even when backed into a corner three times), but it is a hoot, thanks to the gaggle of armaments you’re able to pick up from the enemies you’ve already killed.
Even more surprising is the game’s story, which is good for an Epic game. Given the fact that its writer, Rick Remender of current Venom and Uncanny X-Force fame has decided to add every possible swear word in there, and even some new ones, the story should not be as good as it is. You play as Grayson Hunt, an ex black-ops soldier who wants revenge on the man who used him and his crew as his personal assassins, and end up stranding yourself and said General on a casino planet filled with the usual cyberpunk bandits, cannibals, and strange scientific experiments gone wrong. What makes the story, other than the colorful language, is that no one in the game is innocent of anything. Everyone is an ass in some one way or another and are not afraid to call each other out on it. In fact, others do call Grayson out on his mindless bid for revenge, and the fact that he acknowledges these mistakes, is a welcome turn of events through the story.
It also helps that the game is probably one of the funniest and well-written I’ve played so far. The script is gold, and the voice actors know how to sell it with the best timing. Kudos to Steve Blum and Jennifer Hale, who most will recognize as Grunt and female Shepard from Mass Effect 2. Gray and Trishka have great banter together, but the real praise goes to Ishi and General Sarano. Ishi’s dry delivery makes his occasional jokes funny, and Sarano is too foul-mouthed and insane to not be likeable. If you like humor in your games, and depending on how much profanity you can stand, this will be your type of game.
From reading these last few paragraphs, it may sound like I’m 100% in love with Bulletstorm. While it is true that the 6-10 hour ride is one filled with twists, turns, and is an altogether great time, the game occasionally makes some stumbles. For starters, after what is basically a solid ride, the game ends on a whimper and takes the easy way out. Without getting into spoiler territory, you end up trying make it back onto the ship you destroyed at the game’s beginning, which you ended up being jettisoned from after making a last-ditch attempt to get back on after you tried so hard to escape. It makes no sense, and feels very Halo 1 in its design. The ending is weak, and ends the way it does only to set up the sequel that could have been hinted at in a much better way.
Also, while the game doesn’t really care how you get through an enemy encounter, there are a few moments where it wants you to play a specific way. Specifically, there are two moments where you are fighting snipers and the game demands that you use the sniper rifle to take them out in a specific way. While steering a bullet into an enemy’s face in slow motion can be fun, the snipers take your health down extremely quickly. Controlling the bullets is sometimes difficult, as the enemies will dodge out of the way at the just the right time, and the bullet will only go to that specific target, so you can’t shoot at the explosive barrels nearby.
On a final note, the multiplayer in this game is currently lacking. The two modes that they have to offer are, put bluntly, pathetic, and should be considered to play only if you want to kill time. Echoes mode has you play parts of the campaign to beat your friends on the leaderboards, in the same vein as Halo 3’s campaign scoring feature. It is fine, but all it asks you to do is the same thing that you do in the main story mode; killing people in various ways for different points.
The second mode is Anarchy, which pits four players against a horde of enemies to kill. The draw, if one could call it that, is that you have to restrain yourself from hogging all the kills and being a team player while simultaneously contributing enough to survive the waves. There are co-op specific combos that you can pull off with other players, but at the moment, a limited player base thanks to the Gears 3 beta and some connection issues don’t do much to make this mode a must play. In fact, given that this is an Epic game, it is surprising that there is not a campaign co-op, or at least some interesting multiplayer modes. You have an AI teammate with you at every moment, enough for two people to pull off some combos.
Complaints aside, I enjoyed my time with Bulletstorm. The environments are beautiful and varied, the characters are funny, and the overall concept is solid. It provides a lot of freedom while also making sure you go down a path, and this ultimately works in its favor. There is no telling what will happen with this game since the Gears 3 beta has ended, so for the moment, it will be in your interest to pick it up and play it.
I mean, c’mon, you get to shoot people in the nads. Who wouldn’t want to get points for that?
4 out of 5