wheel

Review – Bulletstorm

Developed by:  Epic Games/People Can Fly
Released: 2011
Platforms:  PC/Steam (Played), Xbox 360, Playstation 3

You might be able to tell if you will enjoy Bulletstorm by your reaction to the following line of in-game dialogue:

‘Take a lick of the salty taint of DOOM, you braindead biker whores!’

I find this sentence representative of the game in general.  Bulletstorm is exceptionally immature and stars a cast of idiots spouting insults and contrived one liners.
However, what makes the humour bearable (and at times, even funny) is that Bulletstorm is also very fun.

The installation process was smooth for the most part, except for the additional install requirement of Games for Windows live.  A now retired platform that for some reason still required me to login with every session.   This was an exercise in complete pointlessness which I will say over and over again wastes time and does not serve the game in any way. I did not have to endure it for long however, I had the game completed in two days.

Epic Game’s influence can be immediately seen as two armored strapped mountains of meat pose on the title screen, guns ready.  It’s easy to imagine Bulletstorm as a Gears of War (also from Epic) spin off as both look to have been plucked from that series directly.   Even the world in which the action takes place could very well be in the same universe as it contained many war destroyed cities and factories that shared a suspiciously similar aesthetic.  A mine/cave section early on instantly reminded me of the Imulsion factory Chapter from the first Gears of War, including a moment whereby the ground collapses and both soldiers slide chaotically to their destination.

standoff

Two important aspects of Bulletstorm differentiate it from Epic’s famous franchise (other than it being an FPS), and those are the Skillpoints system and an almost complete lack of seriousness.

Mechanically the combat is that of a standard first person shooter but with the implementation of the Skillpoints (SP) system.
To explain, early on you obtain a wrist device call the Energy Leash that allows you lasso enemies towards you via electric beam.  It also acts as an interface to terminals where you can purchase ammo, upgrades and exchange weapons.  This adds the SP feature to your HUD.  Whenever you kill an enemy you gain SP, the more unusual or spectacular the kill the more you receive, which in turn can be used to make purchases at terminals.   This also keeps the action varied.  Much of enjoyment in the game comes from experimenting with this system -playing with the different weapons , their alternate functions and what parts of the scenery can be use to creatively murder enemies.

For example, cactus plants litter many areas and with appropriate positioning you can use the energy leash to yank enemies into the comically over sized spikes –  impaling them horribly (and hilariously).  A similar method can be used with exposed wires, metal rods, electronics and other scenery.
Kicking enemies will result in them floating in air, giving time to make an accurate shot, or better position them to be kicked once more and be liquidized by something hazardous in the environment.

The standard pistol, shotgun, assault rifle and sniper are available, as well as a few ‘zany’ weapons such as ‘Flailgun’, a weapon which fires an explosive chain that wraps around an enemy and can be detonated remotely.  There’s the ‘Penatrator’ which launches rocket propelled drills into victims,  causing them to violently spin whilst being screwed into the nearest wall.  All weapons have alternate firing modes and a long list of potentially different ways of killing enemies that will award large amounts of SP.

A feature list of all the different ways to kill the enemy can be referenced while connected a terminal.  This allows you to try out different methods that you may not have realised were possible.

shocker

Every aspect of combat is over the top and comically violent.  Shoving an enemy into a light fitting will result in a cartoonish electrified skeleton having a seizure.  Knock back an enemy’s grenade with a well place kick and they will launch into the sky from the resulting explosion.  Opportunity for ridiculousness exists in more or less every situation and it’s very satisfying to see experimentation pay off when you discover a new kill method and receive of large deposit of SP.

It’s rare that you see a game with such deliberately immature humour have such high production values.  Many combat set pieces are simply jaw dropping to behold, such as making a getaway on a railway tram while a sky scraper sized mechanical wheel of death bears down on you.  Another section involves flying through an enormous canyon while gunning down pursuers.  A favourite moment of mine was remote controlling a Godzilla type monster through a town.

Bulletstorm sticks to a juvenile mentality of bigger being better, resulting in truly spectacular moments. To once again compare, it follows Gears of War’s fondness for spectacle and megalomania, but does so shamelessly.

I found the spoken humour to be hit and miss.  Genuine moments of wit occasionally occur, usually prompted by the idiocy of the protagonist and the
reactions of those nearby.  For example; throughout the game you are accompanied by Ishii, an intensely honour bound soldier that (during the campaign) becomes heavily augmented with machinery and is effectively a cyborg.  His code of honour combined with the clinical logic of his AI makes him completely devoid of humour or patience.  The ‘odd-couple’ style relationship between Ishii and Grayson is a source of humour that at times genuinely made me laugh.

elevator

Excluding Ishii, every character is foul mouthed, immature and slightly stupid.  A setup from which the game draws much of its humour.  The world is presented as very serious, gritty futuristic world of class divides (as with GoW, Killzone, Warhammer 40k etc…) but the inhabitants of which act like selfish teenagers – even the military General.

There is further subtle environmental humour, such as signs, billboards and broadcasts.  I encountered an advertisement robot that enthusiastically informed me on the benefits of recycling my elderly.

You’ll find this next one funny, I swear!

Unfortunately the dialogue humour is more miss than hit.  As mentioned above, there are some funny moments, but they are usually buried within about 5 unfunny ones.  Every spoken sentence attempts to be witty or colourfully explicit but ends up just sounding contrived.  Characters attempt to insult each other through of strings of curses and genital references, such as the opening quote on this article, or another example:  ‘I’ll kill your dick’.

It tries so hard to be random and witty that it ironically becomes tiresome.  It’s wasn’t so painful that I stopped playing, but humour should be appreciated, not tolerated.  I rolled  my eyes more than I laughed.

I found there to be not a single likable character as direct result of this forced humour.  Aside from the deliberately serious Ishii, every character is a snarky, egotistical loud mouth and irresponsibly selfish.   About 80 percent of the dialogue is ‘witty’ come backs or insults spoken sarcastically or just angrily.  I believe the intent was to amplify the silliness of the characters, but this still doesn’t make them likeable.  They don’t have any personalities or charm of their own, they just project the humour in which the game is written and all dialogue seems to maintain the ‘wacky’ tone.

I know that there was a female soldier in it, because that was her only distinguishing feature – her gender.  She spoke, acted and fought exactly like every other character.  Grayson, the protagonist is a cross between Hugh Jackman and Patrick Dempsy and so generic for this genre that I had to search  a wiki to remind myself of his name.

trishbeating

The Plot

Grayson, captain of a mercenary space ship,  is notified that they have encountered the Ulysses, a military vessel occupied by General Saranno.  A general who years earlier, duped Grayson and his squad into killing innocents.    Out for revenge, a drunken Grayson gives the order to attack the Ulysses which results in the deaths of half his crew and severe injury to Ishii, who requires major  mechanical implants to survive.  Both ships crash into a nearby planet where Grayson and Ishii continue the pursuit.  Ishii’s consciousness is slowly being taken over by his implant’s A.I and the immediate goal is to find a way to suppress the takeover, find the General and escape the planet.

I do not wish to spoil, but to indirectly reference the ending, nothing much is actually achieved.  It’s a revenge story that ends up almost exactly where it started.  Admittedly Grayson has a bit of an arc as he eventually expresses regret for the death of this crew, but it’s a bit hollow when it ends with him expressing determination to further pursuit revenge.   Essentially by the end, the characters are just in different locations.

There are some attempts at drama and tension but since 99 percent of the game is pretty much deliberately silly it’s impossible to take these moments seriously.  One might say it is unfair to criticise the story of a game made to be immature and completely action orientated,  but nothing should ‘excuse’ story.  There’s no reason that a game can’t be humorous, immature and have some sort of engaging story –  this could only enhance experience.

cockpit

A final criticism is that the ‘Wacky’ weapons aren’t very practical.  As with the humour they were just too contrived and mechanically convoluted.  The
‘Flailgun’ can occasionally result in nice splash damage but for the most part will just kill the target, something that can be done more effectively with the traditional weapons.

Ammo for special weapons were also the most expensive.  You could spend your skill points on a couple of rounds for the ‘Bouncer’ ( a grenade launcher type weapon) or buy far more ammo for the more standard and effective guns.  Since I could only hold 3 guns I stuck to the ones I could reliably use and for which I could regularly obtain ammo.  The handgun, shotgun and assault rifle were just more practical;  no need to mess about, just point and shoot.

The sniper rifle was rendered pretty much useless by the change to its traditional design.  On firing, the camera follows the bullet in slow motion, allowing for player controlled guidance.  This at first seems cool, but you quickly realise that the slowing down of time doesn’t scale with the enemy, so it gives them more time to dodge the bullet.  Had the bullet just shot where the crosshair was pointed, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.

giant

Still, pretty fun

Reflecting on my time with Bulletstorm I can confidently say that the fun outweighed the frustration.   I had to tolerate the aspects of the game that I above criticised but they rarely resulted in actual frustration or anger.  I rolled my eyes at the humour and attempted drama, and just stuck to the weapons I enjoyed most.

It is a fairly short game, I had it finished in two or three sittings for a total of about 8 hours.  It’s also noticeably easy.  I increased the difficultly level to hard early on and still very rarely died.  It may be worth starting on Hard and then deciding from there.
This is subjective to each person, but if you do not care for re-playability and are done with a game once finished the first play through then you may wish to wait for a sale.

Bulletstorm is extremely fun and jaw dropping to behold.   Though the humour is eye rolling and characters and plot uninteresting, it’s still a blast to play.