"Carnage and Artistry"
Trite, rote, lowbrow, and gimmicky; these are some of the adjectives one could use to describe Bulletstorm. I, on the other hand, would use superlatives such as hilarious, addictive, challenging, and unique. Perhaps more than any other title I’ve played, Bulletstorm seems to be a truly polarizing experience. Depending on your perspective, you could very easily love or hate this game. If you’re looking for anything other than a bloody romp tinged by a healthy dose of frat-boy humor, you may want to look elsewhere. That being said, shooter aficionados who pass on Bulletstorm will miss out on a brand new kind of shooting challenge that only gets better the longer you play.
To be sure, this isn’t the greatest shooter out there, but there is an amazing amount of depth to be found if you can get past the seemingly repetitive gameplay mechanics. I must admit, after playing the demo I was a bit worried about Bulletstorm. While I was quickly hooked by the arcade nature of the game’s trial, I had the sinking feeling that Bulletstorm was going to be little more than a lowbrow shooter wholly dependent upon a gimmicky gameplay mechanic that wasn’t going to hold my attention for very long.
- Linking Skillshots is what gameplay's all about -
Thankfully, the full game completely blew that preconception out of the water. Whilst playing the demo and even the first act of the Campaign, my tendency toward utter killing efficiency (drilled into me by years of online competitive multiplayer across a hundred shooters) was actually taking away significantly from my enjoyment of Bulletstorm. It wasn’t until my mindset switched to embody the game’s mantra, “Kill with Skill”, that I really began enjoying the experience.
In the three different game modes – Campaign, Echoes, and Multiplayer – players earn points for killing enemies in creative and amusing ways. You've got to use the environment, the leash, your boot, and the comical weaponry at your disposal to make the most out of the Skillshot system. No matter what mode you’re playing, Bulletstorm’s levels are set up like playgrounds of death. Analyzing the environment, terrain, enemy types, weapons in your arsenal, etc. effectively will contribute drastically to the lethality and badassery of your attacks. In Bulletstorm, you have to take your time and savor the game’s unique flavor. Take a look around, plan your attack, and rack up the points. Moreover, players are awarded even more points when killing methods are varied. It is easy to fall into the trap of using a few different Skillshots, but you have to fight off muscle memory and keep kills fresh to really have fun. Doing so will award you with new weapons, upgrades, high scores, and a deeper sense of satisfaction.
Playing through the Campaign, I was pleasantly surprised by the fun narrative, interesting characters and their interactions (despite the machismo), and hidden gameplay complexity. Sure, lowbrow dialogue and the use of the word “dick” might become tiresome to many, but I found the constant stream of expletives to be funny and even creative. Of course, I never heard a fart joke I didn’t like, so take it for what it’s worth. Still, there’s actually an interesting story being told in a Running Man meets Animal House kind of way.
- Set-piece segments and boss battles break up the Campaign nicely -
After playing through Campaign once, Echoes and Multiplayer keep the fun going. Arguably, these are the best modes because this is where a sense of community and competition comes into the game. In Echoes, you run through sections of Campaign levels, typically 4 to 7 minutes in length, harvesting points by delivering death in the most skillful and original ways possible. Getting through a particular Echo under a certain time limit and with a high enough point tally will award you stars (the rating system), which are then used for unlocking more challenging Echoes. Opening new Echoes is great, but accumulating points on well-trodden Echoes is truly addictive. You could easily spend a couple hours improving your score on a particular Echo, climbing up the global leaderboard, and setting insurmountable point totals for your friends to chase. Again, the sense of community and competition on both a local and global level is excellent.
In Multiplayer, there is only one mode of play: Anarchy. In Anarchy, players join forces with friends or get matched to random players in order to fight their way through waves of enemies. Of course, you’ll accumulate experience and unlock customization elements, and you’ll also be able to turn in Skillpoints to improve and upgrade your equipment. While subsequent waves of ever-more-difficult baddies do up the challenge ante, survival is not necessarily the toughest part of the mode. Anarchy is all about teamwork, because you and your squadmates need to not only kill all the enemies, but you need to do so in style in order to attain the requisite point tally minimum. While pulling off individual Skillshots will net your team points, they’re not enough to get you to the goal. You’ll need to tear enemies apart in concert in order to really get the multipliers on your side. Kicking an enemy off a cliff for a “Vertigo” Skillshot is great, but two players kicking him in the head simultaneously instead for the “Das Boot” Skillshot is truly satisfying and more rewarding.
After playing through a bunch of Echoes and getting great at Anarchy, it’s time to return to Campaign and play through on the higher difficulty settings. You’ll be amazed at how much better you are and how much more enjoyable taking out the psychos on the former resort planet of Stygia is. Bulletstorm definitely rewards players with loads of content with scaled difficulties, assuming you enjoy the core gameplay.
- Quality enemy designs, detailed environments, and great lighting -
As far as presentation, this is a very attractive game both aurally and visually. The main menu’s musical theme is surprisingly epic and very well scored. Voice acting is a bit coarse, and I didn’t feel the voice casting necessarily matched the avatars particularly well, but the actors did a good enough job reciting the silly dialogue that I was constantly giggling to myself and even chuckling out loud.
Of course, any game developed with Unreal Engine 3 is going to look great, especially when Epic Games itself is overseeing development. The copious amounts of blood, dynamic explosions, breathtaking vistas, masterful lighting effects, and smooth animations all support Bulletstorm's gameplay perfectly. A few glitches pop in now and again such character movement shuddering and even system freezing (especially when shooting glass), but this is a mostly solid, bug-free experience with an ideal control scheme. The only control issue I had was the irksome crouch function which is mapped to the left stick button. Of course, this is not meant to be a cover-based shooter, so that’s an almost meaningless complaint.
Bulletstorm is a wild, irreverent ride that only gets better the more you play. Still, this game is not for everyone, as the crude language and “Kill with Skill” gameplay mechanic may seem hackneyed to some. Admittedly, it is pretty easy to pass this game off as a pedestrian gimmick, but there’s a truly compelling shooter experience to be had once you dive in with both feet and revel in the killing. A pearl of wisdom from General Sarrano to end on: "Move Your Ass Butter-Dicks!"
GameDynamo's Score for Bulletstorm (PS3)
Cutting his gaming teeth at Aladdin's Castle and on the Commodore 64, JC entered into video game journalism in 2008. Helping run GameDynamo as its director is both a dream and a rewarding challenge.
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