Game Over Online ~ Bulletstorm

GameOver Game Reviews - Bulletstorm (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Thomas Wilde

Game & Publisher Bulletstorm (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements Xbox 360
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Monday, March 7th, 2011 at 06:59 PM

Divider Left By: Thomas Wilde Divider Right

People Can Fly is a Polish developer with a relatively short resume. In 2004, they came out with Painkiller, which was and is one of the most straightforward shooters ever: you're in hell and you want out, so you'd better kill everything you see. Painkiller was beloved by all who saw it, and got a huge resurgence in popularity a couple of years ago when "Zero Punctuation" covered it.

One of the reasons Painkiller is so much fun is that it's a deliberate antidote to a lot of the silly crap that's clogging up the modern FPS. There's no drama, little dialogue, next to no plot, and not even a faint pretense of realism. It's just you, a selection of inventively awesome firearms, and the entire population of Hell, in a series of levels that don't even really have a thematic connection.

We don't talk about the sequels, though.

In the last few years, Epic Games acquired majority ownership of People Can Fly. Bulletstorm is the result, and some people call it a "spiritual successor" to Painkiller. The problem with that is that Bulletstorm is very much a modern American sort of FPS, with a heavy emphasis on plot, dialogue, characterization, and story. The main campaign mode is cinematic almost to a fault, which makes it the poster child for exactly the kind of overwrought, post-Half-Life boy-we-wish-we-were-Hollywood-filmmakers school of FPS design that you play Painkiller to get the hell away from.

Bulletstorm itself might be the best thing Epic's ever put its name on, though. It's fast-paced, profane, has a sense of humor that's so childish it loops back around into being awesome, and often a hell of a lot of fun. I can't really say anything too bad about a game that rewards me for drunkenly stapling a man to the ceiling with an auger. That's just not me.

It's set in that vague science-fiction future you see in a lot of shooters, where it's far enough out that you can be comfortably assured that awesome things have become possible. After a series of unwise personal decisions, Grayson Hunt crash-lands on the former resort planet Stygia, which used to be a popular vacation spot and which is now a picturesque hellhole.

Gray's goals, in no particular order, are to save his buddy Ishi's life; to find a way off of the planet; and to get revenge on his treasonous former commander, Serrano, who also crashed somewhere else on Stygia. It's him and Ishi against an entire planet full of cannibals, mutants, and radioactive horrors.

Early on, you get a "leash," which is half a telekinetic whip and half a network interface device. The leash lets you yank enemies into a slow-motion dive through the air, destroy weakened parts of the landscape, and connect to a variety of dropboxes that are scattered throughout the game. As you fight, the leash tracks your performance and awards points based upon the style with which you kill opponents; the more points you get, the more you have to buy ammunition from the dropboxes.

This is sort of vaguely justified in-game, which I wasn't expecting, but the general idea is that you're instantly rewarded for killing enemies in as elaborate and vicious a way as possible. Just about any method you can think of for killing an enemy is in the game as a skill shot, and you can chain several of them together for even more points.

(I recently complained about the inconsistently-located stores and benches in Dead Space 2. Bulletstorm, by comparison, does this absolutely correctly. It makes the dropboxes absolutely crucial to gameplay, and then is careful to stick a dropbox somewhere after every major fight. The only reason you're ever out of ammunition in Bulletstorm is if you're actively trying to play it badly.)

If you're anything like me, you already play an FPS like this, with a healthy dose of sadism just to liven things up. Bulletstorm rewards you for it; using your best weapons to score big combos lets you buy more ammo for those weapons, and before long it's just a question of how best to use your environment to your advantage. In its best moments, you're plowing through guys three and four at a time, looking forward to each new attack and destroying everything you see.

The worst thing you can say about Bulletstorm is that it's a slow starter. Your basic weapon is about as painfully generic as you can get in an FPS, and you're stuck with it for the first couple of levels. That restricts your possible skill shots to the least interesting ones, so the first hour of the game is also the worst. Once you've got the revolver and shotgun, things get better; once you have the flail gun, Bulletstorm really opens up and lets you get creative.

The engine itself is where most of the other problems come from. The game has inconsistent hit detection, which is truly obnoxious when you're trying to get some of the harder skill shots, and everyone I've seen playing Bulletstorm spends a lot of time sliding into barricades while they're trying to find the one magical part of the wall that lets the context-sensitive commands work.

You also can't jump. This isn't a problem most of the time, but it's way too easy for some of the enemies to backhand you up on top of a short ledge, which means you can't get down and have to restart from the last checkpoint. It doesn't happen often, but it's frequent enough to mention.

As a sequel to Painkiller, spiritual or otherwise, Bulletstorm is a disappointment. The best way to approach it, if you played Painkiller, is to forget there's a link between the two games at all. Instead, take Bulletstorm for what it is: a ridiculous arcade-ish FPS with a goofy sense of humor and a talent for amazing action sequences. It's not quite as good as I'd hoped, but it's still a lot of fun, and the inevitable sequel is likely to be damn near perfect.


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