The easiest way to approach reviewing Bulletstorm would be to dismiss it as a brainless diversion. A violent, swear-word laced, low brow shoot ’em up. And to be honest that review wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate. Because Bulletstorm is all of those things. It’s perhaps the single most violent game I have ever played and it contains some of the most impressively inventive swearing I’ve heard. But behind all of it’s bravado is an incredibly intelligent advancement of the FPS genre.
Under the guiding hand of Epic Games mastermind Cliff Bleszinski developers at People Can Fly have positioned their game opposite the FPS mainstays. Games such as Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield sum up what Bulletstorm seeks to change about gamings most popular genre. This game is about all out fun rather than simulation and about style over efficiency. And at the heart of this philosophy lies the Skillshot. The fundamental difference between this game and pretty much every other modern FPS. It’s not about what you do so much as how you do it.
The Skillshot mechanic sums up Bulletstorm and it’s tag line ‘Kill with Skill’ is particularly crass. It invites all the old clichés from the media about how video games poison young minds and encourage violent and anti-social behaviour. And it’s an invite that was duly taken up by Fox news who asked ‘Is Bulletstorm the worst game in the World?’. Having played Mafia II and The Saboteur I can safely say it’s not even the worst game of this generation. In fact Bulletstorm makes a case for being perhaps the single most creative FPS of this generation. Because underneath all the adolescent bombast is, in essence, a puzzle game of sorts.
In most FPS games you will approach an area full of enemies with one thing on your mind; ‘kill, kill, kill’. But true to it’s design Bulletstorm makes you see it differently. With a ridiculously bloodthirsty array of weapons at your disposal and environments full of novel instruments of death you start seeing this game as a challenge, a brainteaser. And one that, using Echo mode, can be tried as often as you like.
The idea throughout the game is to come up with brand new ways to kill your enemies. You have three basic tools at your disposal, a leash, kicking/sliding and shooting. You are encouraged to combine these elements with the world around you to come up with hundreds of different routes to annihilation. Each one being awarded a score. From dragging air-borne enemies to the floor with your leash to score a ‘Slam Dunk’ or performing an ad-hoc ‘Root Canal’ with an oversized Drill gun. And those are two of the most basic shots you can attempt.
With liberal use of ‘bullet-time’ you are allowed plenty of room to be as creative as you can. To add to this freedom, the game is not broken into sections like many other shooters. There aren’t ‘sniper sections’, ‘stealth sections’ etc. You pick your weapons and you approach a situation how you see fit. A lengthy Skillshot database allows you to keep track of your creativity and shows which available shots continue to elude you. On completing the campaign mode I achieved roughly 70% of the Skillshots. Echo mode will certainly prove it’s worth as I look to near 100%.
The game comes with three modes. Campaign, Echo and Anarchy. Campaign Mode offers a ludicrous but largely enjoyable tale of revenge and redemption. Stranded on a ‘resort planet’ (basically sci-fi Las Vegas) you will battle for freedom through ever more preposterous set pieces pitted against endless waves of the planet’s abandoned and now mutated denizens. It is over the top and silly and it knows it. All the characters are painted in vivid primary colours but are none the less pretty likeable. They certainly didn’t grate on me and even made me laugh at times. If you have played Gears of War, expect a similar thing but even less serious.
Echo Mode takes segments of the main game and turns them into individual Skillshot-based challenges. And lastly Anarchy mode. Again, if you have played Gears of War 2 you will be familiar with the basic premise. Yep it’s the ever popular Horde Mode. But the objective is to achieve the highest Skill score with a group of three other players online. Up to twenty increasingly difficult rounds in which you and your team are judged on how inventively you can dispatch your foes. It’s hectic and truly displays Bulletstorm at it’s anarchic best. Anarchy and Echo Modes will certainly add hours onto Bulletstorm’s shelf life. So if you like the sound of the violent madness Bulletstorm deals in, you will be pleased to hear that said violent madness does not cease once the Campaign finishes.
Visually Bulletstorm, once again, takes it’s lead from Gears of War. However where Gears is all about war torn dark brown colours Bulletstorm offers a much more colourful palette to enjoy while dishing out destruction. The Unreal Engine at times shows cracks but overall the game is impressive to look at. Compared to two other recent/forthcoming releases in the genre, Killzone 3 and Crysis 2, it’s not a sparkling display of technical prowess. However it’s art-direction and use of colours more interesting than the oft-used brown, dark brown and grey certainly earn it points for style.
If you are not a fan of the basic video gaming delights that are massive explosions, extravagant set-pieces and cringe inducing violence then this is certainly not for you. And yet if that is all you expect from the game you will be in for a surprise. Because Bulletstorm makes you exercise your brainpower more than any first-person game since Portal. If you intend to get the most out of it you will have to be anything but brainless.