Bulletstorm

8.0 Overall Score

Written by on March 8, 2011 in

To reduce Epic & People Can Fly’s new game, Bulletstorm, to a feature list on the back of a box sells it short:

  • stylistic kills
  • innovative swearing
  • generally tasteless dialog

Sure, it has all these things in droves, but what I found over the course of my time with the game is something that transcends the features and ventures into territory rarely occupied by videogames: self-parody.

Bulletstorm has a number of parallels with the film Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s over-the-top double-feature poking fun at a bygone cinema sub-culture. Both satirize genres of fiction within their respective mediums; these genres unwittingly became almost self-parodies themselves. The primary difference between the two is the genre Bulletstorm lampoons is still around and seems to be begging its audience to take it seriously despite an escalation which sees each release trying to one-up the ridiculosity of its predecessor. The target for Bulletstorm is the ubiquitous dudebro shooter.

If we, as gaming enthusiasts, are honest with ourselves, Bulletstorm is the logical conclusion of the Modern Warfare formula. Make the next one at least ten times the intensity of the last. Let plausibility die a slow and painful death in service of delivering the next round of shocking “epic” moments. In a way, Bulletstorm is Modern Warfare 7 without all the self-seriousness delivered directly to our consoles from three years in the future. (Yes, three years. That’s based on historical Activision release schedules.) The game sets and maintains an unrelenting pace of explosions, near-deaths, and impossible scenarios that make the word “thrilling” seem to lack the proper punch. Where these scenes seem oddly out of place in a so-called “realistic shooter,” they are perfectly naturally in the context presented here.

The dialog is often engineered to shock, but it becomes meaningless after several instances of the word “dick” in awkward contexts. Luckily, the writers seem to realize this and slow things down significantly as the game progresses. It settles into an interesting story with genuinely likable characters and some hilarious moments after the newness of the cursing wears off.

Environments in this universe carry with them yet another surprise. Abandoning all pretense of realism has opened things up for the artists allowing them to craft some beautiful outdoor environment. My prejudices coming into this would never have permitted me to speculate it could actually be colorful. Outside, you’ll be presented with skies of purple, orange, and reds along with green plant life. It really adds some spice to the modern shooter palette of grey, brown, and greyish-brown. The character designs are distinctive and interesting. Average enemies aren’t terribly impressive, but some of the larger enemies are awe-inspiring. I can’t recall seeing enemies of this size in a game before.

The draw from a mechanical perspective is the skillshots which reward you for killing in new and novel ways. As it is implemented, players get out of the system what they are willing to put in. You could certainly play through shooting guys in the head as with any typical shooter. You’ll no doubt organically stumble upon many skillshots in the course of the game’s minute-to-minute insanity, but, if you really want to tap into everything the game has to offer, you’ll want to check out the skillshots database. Not all of the skillshots are apparent without looking them up. It’s a bit clunky. It would have been nice to put them front-and-center rather than hiding them behind a menu. Players can easily miss out on many of the moves because the onus is on them to do some searching.

In our climate of buggy releases, it’s refreshing to find a release with so much polish. Most everything works as it should, and nice touches like pausable cutscenes show a degree of care and finish rarely exhibited. Not everything is perfect. It’s difficult to determine when the game has saved. Checkpoints are liberally placed, but it doesn’t always seem to perform a hard save at each checkpoint. In several instances, I would turn off the game having completed a chapter only to have to replay the finale in my next playsession. For a game with so much polish elsewhere, it seems silly to misstep on such a trivial-to-implement yet indispensable feature such saving.

Multiplayer is available in a couple of forms. First a score challenge/time trial mode called Echoes repeats the levels of the campaign asking you to score as many points as possible. Leaderboards track your progress against your friends and the Internet at large. Co-operative multiplayer mode Anarchy allows you to buddy up with online players to take on waves of enemies. Rather than an emphasis on surviving as long as possible, the trick is to maintain the scores necessary to advance past each wave. This mode plays well to the strengths of the skillshot mechanic and adds some new skillshots that can only be performed with other players. As the skillshots alone were not the primary draw of the game to me, these modes were a nice value-add but little more. It was somewhat difficult to get into a quick match even on a Saturday which suggests populations may already be dwindling.

While not a seminal work by any stretch, Bulletstorm is a near-perfect execution of what it is: a work of parody that is actually fun to play. The game shattered my expectations which, granted, may have been set artificially low given the juvenile nature of some of its aspects. It serves as a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for the “realistic shooter” genre and does so deftly making it enjoyable apart from the material it references.

A copy of Bulletstorm was received by The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.

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Author: Devon Campbell View all posts by
Devon's childhood has crept way into adulthood... and he's cool with that. He's embraced it by continuing the nerdy pursuits of his youth and indoctrinating his poor wife, Tiffany, and daughter, Ambria, thereby possibly spreading the disease to them. They don't seem to mind so much.

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