Bulletstorm is a breath of fresh air after being bogged down with so many military shooters. It takes place on a terraformed resort planet called Stygia that has been taken over by some angry people that are hell bent on killing you and everyone else. Through creative killing you will kick, slide, and leash your way across the resort to escape the hellish planet.
The initial question I had when I first played the Bulletstorm Demo a few weeks ago is how the hell is a story going to work? How are they going to incorporate the skillshot system into the story so that it makes sense? Truth be told, it was done pretty well. This game isn’t a story telling masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it is decently written, entertaining, and provides a classic fallen from grace, hell bent on revenge protagonist that you can get behind.
The story starts out with Greyson (Grey) and his team Dead Echo walking down the side of a building to assassinate a target. Dead Echo is a sanctioned team of assassins that work for the military under General Serrano. After they assassinate the target the quickly discover that the target was a reporter and the other targets were also innocent civilians. Betrayed by Serrano they vow revenge (classic right?). They escape attack by Serrano’s forces and become space pirates. When we see Grey and company again they are aboard their small ship, torturing a bounty hunter out to claim the bounty Serrano had placed on Dead Echo’s head. The crew jumps into a nearby sector after disposing the bounty hunter only to come across the Ulysses, the flagship of the military and home of General Serrano. Grey and crew launch a surprise suicide attack on the Ulysses, bound and determined to take Serrano to hell with them. Gray cripples the Ulysses and his own ship causing both to crash land on the planet below. Gray and crew are determined to get off the planet when they hear the voice of Serrano, still alive and kicking, adding fuel to the fire.
Alright, so there is a story, but how does the skillshot system work within the confines of it all? Great question. After crash landing you continue with tutorial sequences and obtain a leash. This leash does more than provide you a way to pull things toward you, it acts like it is augmented with your body, creating an interface between you and the leash. Through this interface the leash scores your kills providing you with skillpoints. The more creative and unique the killing method, the more points awarded. These points are the currency of the game, so when you come upon a Dropkit, you can leash it to bring up your inventory and a storefront where you can purchase ammo and weapon upgrades using the accumulated points. The theory behind the leash is that it separates the wheat from the chaff with the Echo soldiers. Only the talented ones would be able to purchase equipment and survive. A little convoluted? Yeah, but it works.
So how about those skillshots? I’m glad you asked. Killing enemies creatively is what this whole game is based on, and it works pretty damn well. It takes a little while to get used to the whole skill shot system, and in the beginning it is hard to mix up the combos due to the fact that you haven’t unlocked all of the weapons yet. For me this was very apparent in the first half of the third chapter. It was a stage where I had exhausted all of the new skillshots from the weapons I had unlocked, I had a hell of a time bringing environmental killing into the fold, and in general it was a dry spot in the game. But once you unlock some of the more interesting weapons the skillshots almost become second nature. How are these skillshots performed you ask? Some of them are as easy as kicking an enemy onto protruding rebar (Voodoo Doll), exposed electrical wires (Shocker), or kicking them over a railing (Vertigo). Others require a combination of moves, slide + headshot = bulletslide and headshot (combo!). Launch someone up into the air using the Thumper (secondary ability of the leash) and shoot them while suspended in the air for the Trap Shooting skillshot. My personal favorite (because I am a man child apparently) is the nutshot + head kick = Mercy, always a winner.
Now, I’m not going to lie, the game uses A LOT of sexual innuendos. A LOT. This game is not intended for minors at all. That being said, if you are not into toilet humor you will probably not find this game amusing. But if you enjoy some toilet humor then the more humorous skillshots will entertain you. For instance, using the Pentrator (a gun with a large drill head for the bullet) in its charge mode will spin the drill head very fast. Slide into someone from behind an you get the ‘Drilldo’ skillshot. Shoot someone in the neck for the ‘Gag Reflex’ skillshot. Kill multiple enemies with one flail grenade? Gang Bang. Is it immature and distasteful? Yeah, but that is the whole damn point! What does this mean? If you are easily offended or worship the Fox News channel this game is not for you!
Back on point, we have the weapons and all their glory. The weapons in Bulletstorm are traditional for the most part, but each one hase a great twist that makes them immensely fun to use. Each weapon has two modes of fire, a primary mode and a charge mode. One exception to this is The Bouncer which technically has three fire modes, primary, alternate primary, and charge.
Peacemaker Carbine: This is yours, the military, and the whole damn planet’s standard gun. Ammo is plentiful most of the time.
- Primary: is that of a normal assault rifle, just simple automatic fire.
- Charge: a 100-round burst that shreds anyone in front of it. Kinda feels like a badass shotgun round.
Screamer: A high powered revolver pistol. I rarely used this later on in the game as the sniper rifle had nearly the same effect only 10x better.
- Primary: standard semi-automatic fire.
- Charge: fires an explosive flare that lights enemies on fire.
Flail Gun: One of my personal favorites. This is a gun that fires two grenades attached by a chain to form… a flail! What makes it fun to use is when you shoot it at enemies it will wrap around them like a twisted form of bondage
- Primary: fires a grenade flair that can be detonated by the player or allowed to detonate on its own.
- Charge: fires a superheated grenade flail that will cut through anyone in front of it and will only stop if it hits a solid object. After a period of time the flail will detonate.
Boneduster: A shotgun with four barrels, other than that it isn’t that special. Most enemies can be killed with one close-up blast, but there are some tougher enemies that require two or three.
- Primary: fires a standard shotgun round. One thing I noticed though is that it only has an spread effect on human enemies. For instance, there are swarms of electric flies and I tried to wipe them out with a shotgun blast, but there was no spread which seemed odd.
- Charge: fires a superheated blast of air that shreds enemies in its path. Similar to the Carbine’s charge shot, but it has a spread effect on human target, and costs much more in the Dropkits.
Headhunter: This is the sniper rifle in the game and it is my opinion the best weapon in the game. Every hit is a one-shot kill, except for bosses. No matter where you hit the enemy they are dead with a single bullet. Also, both firing modes allow you to guide the bullet to the target so you can kill enemies behind cover.
- Primary: fires a bullet that can be guided to the target.
- Charge: fires an explosive bullet that can be guided to the target. When the target has been hit, you can then guide the target (they look like rag dolls) to other enemies and detonate the bullet. Both modes are highly effective and the ammo cost is relatively inexpensive for the killing power.
The Bouncer: This is a fun weapon to use, but I only found it useful in a few situations. The gun fires an explosive cannonball that will maim your enemies.
- Primary: if you pull the trigger and release it will fire an explosive cannonball in an arc and explode on impact. If you hold the trigger, the cannonball will fire in an arc and roll after hitting the ground. This allows you to bowl targets over. Release the trigger to detonate.
- Charge: fires a cannonball that bounces up and down in place causing minor explosions with each landing. This is very useful in corridors to kill enemies that will run through the path of the cannonball. It can be repositioned by kicking or leashing it.
Penetrator: This is one of my favorite guns as well simply because of how it kills. The Penetrator is an industrial looking gun that fires a large drill head into your enemies. It is great for taking out a long line of enemies coming your way. After they are hit it will pin them to a nearby wall.
- Primary: fires a large drill head into enemies and pins them to walls.
- Charge: makes the drill head spin faster and allows it to be used as a melee weapon. Also, when you fire the charged drill head it will hit the target and then hover in position for a few moments allowing you to kick them into other enemies before it drives them into a wall. I find the regular mode to be more useful in this case.
Leash: Last of all we come to the electric leash. This little baby allows you to pull enemies toward you, initiating a slow motion flying event allowing you to setup skillshots. You will also interact with the environment a lot with the leash. If you see weapons out of your reach you can also leash them towards you for ammo. This is a very versatile tool that is essential to gameplay.
- Primary: grab and pull objects, weapons, explosive objects, people, etc. towards you.
- Charge: also called Thumper, this mode slams the ground launching enemies and objects into the air. This is not only fun to do, but it is also very useful in a lot of situations where you might become over-run. You can get a break from the combat by launching everyone into the air, or, if you are in a room with lower ceilings you can smash them into the ceiling for the ‘Flyswatter’ skillshot.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, but does have an ‘on-rails’ feel to it. You will do that same thing over and over again, but the skillshot system helps to distract you from that. Once you unlock all of the weapons you don’t really notice the repetition as much. It also helps that you change venue often opening up new environmental ways to kill. But there are things that really stuck out to me, the biggest being that you cannot fall off of ledges – which just feels off. On the one hand it is nice because when sliding around it can get a little hectic, but it also felt like bowling with bumpers – easy. I would have liked the additional challenge of having to maintain a greater control over my character, but I suppose that would get in the way of the mayhem. Either way it felt as though I was playing the game with my hand held being told, “we don’t want you to go there. No go this way. Here is the only path you can take.” It just felt too scripted for my taste. For a game that pushed that it was new and different, stopping the character from going off ledges felt like it was from a bygone era.
NPC models were another glaring issue that was a little distracting. There are three main gangs on this planet. The Skulls, the non-mutated humans. Creeps, the partially mutated humans, and the Burners, the fully mutated humans. My problem with the NPC models mainly is with the Skulls as there are only five character models and you keep seeing them over an over again. The clothes don’t even differ. It is just another part of design from a bygone era where enemies didn’t really change. It just felt kind of lazy to be honest. The mini-bosses aren’t any better. All of them are the same fat guys with bald heads. The only difference is depending on what weapon they are carrying their armor will change. But, once you blow their armor off they look exactly the same. Maybe there is a cloning problem on this planet, it would certainly explain their stupidity if they were cloning clones. Which brings me to my next point of how the enemies behave – which is pretty dumb. There are a few that will dodge and hide, but for the most part a little patience will dominate all.
So what is the good? The great part of Bulletstorm is that it is a blast to play. It is gory, juvenile, and completely refreshing when compared to the Russian vendetta military shooters. Bulletstorm is a great palette cleanser, especially after the last four months of Call of Duty. Bulletstorm is going to give you that great, I-don’t-give-a-shit gameplay. Bulletstorm does a great job of challenging you without being a drag and the skillshots are extremely satisfying to both pull off and watch. More than once I found myself giggling like a school girl after a particularly gruesome death.
If you strip away the kiddie pool deep storyline you are left with Echoes. Echoes are Bulletstorm’s way to introduce some competition into the fray, without taking you online. In the Echoes you play through sections of the campaign, taking advantage of the skillshots you have learned. The idea is to score as many points as possible as quickly as possible. Your scores are posted to a leaderboard so that the people on your friends list can see just how much of a badass you are. It brings in a nice element of social media, allowing you to connect with friends without full-on multiplayer.
Speaking of which, the multiplayer mode is all about the co-op. I will have the multiplayer review up later this week, but for now I can say that the multiplayer is great for a party setting. Four people pulling off insane skillshots on wave after wave of utterly stupid enemies makes for some gruesome and juvenile fun.
Bulletstorm doesn’t have a deep story, intriguing characters, or much in the way of variation. But the weapons, skillshots, and irreverant gameplay make this an insanely fun game. At the end of the day having fun is the most important part of any game, and Bulletstorm has that in spades. Stay tuned for the multiplayer review later this week, but in the mean time, pick yourself up a copy of Bulletstorm, if nothing other than to give yourself a break from Call of Duty. I mean seriously, how many times do you have to prestige before it loses its…. prestige?