Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Post-Launch Review
Developers: People Can Fly / Epic Games
Released: February 2011


Bulletstorm is a sci-fi FPS following Grayson Hunt, a former black ops agent working for General Sarrano. In what would become their final mission, Grayson's Dead Echo team discovered that Sarrano had them killing innocent civilians, and they desert the military to become hunted pirates. Ten years later, Grayson stumbles across Sarrano's flagship and attacks it on a suicide run, destroying both ships and crash-landing on a planet full of hostiles and mutants. Grayson and his friend Ishi, the only survivors of their crew, set a course through hostile territory to try to find a military survivor named Trishka, hoping to escape the planet on her evacuation shuttle... and hopefully take revenge on Sarrano along the way.

At Launch

Bulletstorm pulled in average review scores in the low 80's. Critics loved the core gameplay and skill shot system, but opinions were divided on just about everything else. Some felt that the game's goofy tone didn't match the more serious plot, and the crude, profanity-laced dialogue was highly controversial (even drawing the attention of Fox News). Eurogamer's quote does a pretty good job of summing up the general reaction to Bulletstorm: "an astonishingly clever game folded up inside an exquisitely stupid one".

Post Launch

Two DLC packs were released: Gun Sonata and Blood Symphony. Both add multiplayer maps, Echo missions, and achievements.
In 2012 it was announced that Bulletstorm would not be getting a sequel due to poor sales.

The Good

Ridiculously Badass
Everything is awesome all the time. Someone turned the awesome dial to 11. Awesome.

Shooter Mechanics
Core gameplay is rock-solid and top-notch. There's a good selection of surprisingly unique and fun weapons, including stuff like explosive bolas (sort of), a drill gun, and bouncing explosive cannonballs. Each weapon has a "charge shot" which uses its own special ammo, which boosts the weapon to absurd levels. The pistol becomes a flare gun, the assault rifle vaporizes enemy flesh, the sniper rifle fires a high-explosive shell... fun stuff.
You also have three combat maneuvers you can perform at any time: kick, slide, and leash. The kick is exactly what it sounds like: you kick an enemy and knock him back. The slide trips enemies, but you can still fire while sliding, which makes it useful for evasion and offence. And finally the leash will grab an enemy and fling him towards you. Chaining and combining these maneuvers allows for some really cool tactics - you can grab an explosive barrel, pull it towards you, and kick it into another enemy before shooting it. You can leash an enemy towards you and use a kick or slide to redirect him into an environmental hazard, such as spikes. Some enemies are fast and will dodge the leash, but if you slide-tackle them first, they become vulnerable. So you've got a lot of options in combat... and that's before the skill shot system even kicks in.
Skill Shots
This is Bulletstorm's top draw. In-universe, the skill shot system was implemented to motivate soldiers to be more efficient in combat. Skillful maneuvers earn points, which can be spent at drop pods to resupply ammo and weapons. Good soldiers get resupplied, bad soldiers don't.
In practice, it's just great fun.
There are just over 130 different skill shots you can unlock and earn, worth different amounts of points. More difficult or more situational skill shots will earn you a higher reward - for example, a headshot is relatively easy and/or boring compared to setting off a chain reaction of explosives to fling multiple enemies off a cliff simultaneously.
Skill shots are great for three reasons. First is that they reward you for all those silly or ridiculous things you might be inclined to try anyway, which is just fun. Second, since each skill shot gives a massive point reward the first time you pull it off, it makes you want to try every weapon and every tactic, adding variety. And third, they encourage skill, tactics, experimentation, and precision over simple mindless blasting.
In summary: most FPS games have you shoot the bad guys with an assault rifle until they die. Bulletstorm constantly nudges you and goes "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if you threw that guy into that carnivorous plant, knocked two guys into the air and impaled them with the same drill, and then kicked the boss's head off?" Yes Bulletstorm, yes it would.
Graphics & Environments
The game generally looks pretty good, but it's at its best when you're fighting outdoors with open sky and long sightlines. There are points in the game where you overlook a landscape from a high point, and those backdrops look fantastic.
What's also nice is that the variety of environments is huge. You've got spaceships, ruined cityscapes, caves, jungle-like gardens, shattered wasteland, a dam... tons of stuff.
In terms of negatives, some textures look a little low-res up close, and facial animation isn't great. I did run into a couple of graphical glitches - all associated with Trishka, oddly enough.
Echoes is a separate game mode where you can replay portions of the single player campaign and compete with other players for the highest score. If you want more gameplay and/or want to work on optimizing your skill shots, this is the place to do it.

The Neutral

Peaks in the Middle
In act 5, you climb into a helicopter to fight what basically amounts to Godzilla. Giant monster... explosions everywhere... I almost can't describe how amazing this sequence is. Seriously, it's fantastic.
Unfortunately in the two acts that follow you just fight normal dudes and you don't really get a big explosive finish. Well you do, but not in the same way. It's almost like the final boss showed up in the middle of the game instead of the end.
Like just about every game that didn't have great sales, Bulletstorm's multiplayer is just about dead. But why is this neutral and not bad? It's because Bulletstorm's multiplayer is purely co-op and not competitive, so if you have a couple of friends who own the game (or who you can convince to own the game), you can still have plenty of fun and earn achievements in multiplayer.
Crude Humour and Profanity
Bulletstorm got a lot of attention on this topic at launch. Some people thought it was hilarious, others found it pathetically juvenile. As to whether you'll like it, it's up to personal preference.
For the most part, I thought it worked pretty well at reinforcing the ridiculousness of the game, and was often pretty funny. It works best during the occasions where the game actually points out how stupid it's being. For example, when you first meet Trishka, she tells you that if you follow her she'll "kill your dicks". Grayson replies "Kill our... what... what does that even mean?! I'll... I'll kill your dick!"
I did, however, have one major problem, which you'll find just below...

The Bad

General Sarrano
The General (the game's antagonist) is... well... let me put it this way. Bulletstorm is basically an absurdly over-the-top parody of sci-fi action, and yet the General is so ridiculously psychotic that he broke my suspension of disbelief. He's so crazy that I can't possibly believe he could ever actually become a General. I understand that this is the kind of game/narrative that wants you to hate the bad guy, but this is just too much.
No Conclusion, No Sequel
Bulletstorm is obviously set up for a sequel. Unfortunately, though, it was recently confirmed that (for now at least) the franchise is done and there's no sequel coming. It's really too bad, because the gameplay is excellent.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
If you're a fan of FPS games, the only possible reason not to play Bulletstorm is a strong dislike of swearing and dick jokes. It looks great and the gameplay is absolutely top-notch, doing a great job of integrating skill, silliness, and the joy of blowing stuff up. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given the amount of negative attention it's received, so maybe you will too.


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