Most FPS games in the history of FPS games fall into one main category. You guessed it, the FPS category. Say ‘First Person Shooter’ to somebody and they will likely picture the same thing, regardless of what game it is; running around, jumping around, crawling around, and well, walking around, shooting endless enemies with a range of same-old, same-old weapons. Bulletstorm, however, brought a whole new set of ideas to the existing FPS template, and boy did it do it bloody well.
Bulletstorm is a roughly 8 hour long romp of complete and utter gunslingin’, gory, ‘dick’ yelling madness through some of the most visually stunning scenes and set pieces I have ever laid my eyes upon in a video game. Developed by the same folks who made Gears of War, you can really see that the artistic style and story writing was strongly derivative of the GoW franchise, just with less doom, less gloom, and far more dick jokes; not to mention Steve Blum stars as the voice of Grayson Hunt, the game’s protagonist.
The object of the game, in a short-but-sweet paragraph, is that you and your team of space-faring pirates/mercenaries are on a quest to take your revenge on a very bad man for some very bad things that made you feel really bad. One thing leads to another, and you and your crew end up crashing your ship into the side of a generally adult-themed, paradise-like, Utopian tourist planet; one that has kind of recently gone completely and entirely to shit. You don’t like this planet, and you want to get off of it. Epic game, GO!
Starting from the beginning, you are taken you through a fairly cinematic, hand-holding sequence of ‘do this; now do that’ moments that take you from the introduction to the characters and story, to the moment you first get your hands on the games patented ‘Leash’, the cornerstone weapon/tool that the game is almost entirely based on. Implemented by the Confederate army (yes, there’s definitely a Firefly vibe going on in this space-pirate vs. galactic empire setting), the leash serves as a tool for members of Final Echo, the private army of one General Serrano, a foul-mouthed, mother-cursing, racist, sexist, complete and utter bastard.
The purpose of the leash itself is actually threefold; first and foremost, it gives you what is essentially a futuristic Indiana Jones whip, allowing you to grab enemies and objects from a distance, yank them into the air toward you only to be suspended by a cool, blue field of slow-motion-ness, giving you a precious few seconds to a) kick them in the face/crotch b) shoot them in the face/crotch or c) all of the above, combined with launching them into any of the nearby death traps (spiked cactus, jagged metal protruding on a wall, electric fences, cliff edges, fans, exploding barrels, giant man-eating plants.. etc. etc.) you may have set your heart on.
The most important feature of the leash, however, is that it integrates itself with your character’s brain, allowing you to see a HUD (a really cool way to explain it!), but more importantly still, provides you with a database of ‘skill shots’, the other half of the game’s entire concept.
Completing skill shots (including impaling an enemy on any of the deadly environments mentioned earlier, or simply performing the most outlandish kills with specific weapons possible) earns you skill points. The more difficult and extraordinary the kill you pull off, the more points you collect. Simple! The points aren’t just there for show, however, as they provide you with an income you can then spend on ammunition, upgrades, and charged abilities for each weapon. It’s imperative, in fact, that you do, because – should you run out of ammo – you will most likely end up flailing your arms around in the air screaming “THERE’S TOO *EFFING* MANY OF THEM!” like me.
Bulletstorm is a very successful combination of the key aspects of both the arcadey FPS (Duke Nukem 3D, Serious Sam, Doom) and the more ‘realistic’ FPS (Call of Duty) into one best-of-both-worlds-action-madness-kill-everything-that-moves-in-tons-of-awesome-ways shooter. What do I mean about the combination then? Well, you have your waves upon waves of crazy enemies that range from cannibalistic tribal men with guns, to mutant monsters who want to rip your face off, to big fat mini-bosses with chainguns, to the largest, meanest monster boss fight I’ve ever seen in my entire life, as well as a range of utterly bizarre yet fantastically genius weapons to fight them all with and a fast-paced charge through almost every moment (all of these things are distinctly arcadey by nature), and yet we are still treated to the beauty of CoD style ‘iron-sights’ on every weapon to help us nail those tricky-ass skill shots, the regenerating health when you find cover to stop being shot instead of scrounging for health kits wherever you go, and the classic ‘realism-maker’ of only being able to carry three weapons at a time.
The weapons themselves are truly the love-children of the words ‘fun’ and ‘disturbed’; to name but a few, there is the ‘Grenade-Flail’ – a weapon that fires two grenades connected in the middle by a chain, great for wrapping around somebody’s face and creating a human-landmine – there’s the ‘Head Hunter’ – a sniper rifle that lets you guide a remote-controlled bullet into your target, then fly him directly into another target, after which it explodes and creates a large mess of pasty body parts – and my personal favourite the ‘Penetrator’ – a drill-firing cannon, able to impale enemies and send them rocketing off into the nearest wall or person, after which they will spin around haplessly like a breakdancing rag doll. Yes, the weapons in this game are certainly very difficult to get bored of, and after having got about 95% of the total skill shots throughout the game, I definitely made the most of every single one of them.
The story in the game itself is nothing particularly mind blowing, and yet because the environments and set pieces – usually involving gigantic things that want to eat or explode you – are so amazing and truly epic, I found myself simply sucked into the game’s world, enjoying every moment and every piece of dialogue because I couldn’t wait to see what enormously over-exaggerated bat-shit crazy event was going to occur next. The landscapes and feeling of scale throughout the game blew my mind, and during one particular act when running down a street, witnessing an entire city falling to pieces around me with a really genuine feeling of absolute and utter destruction, I couldn’t help but feel like I was completely and utterly screwed; this was a recurring theme throughout.
I’ve given a lot of praise about Bulletstorm so far, but it’s only ever fair to comment on anything that I didn’t like too. Thankfully there was very little I disliked, and to be honest I struggled to think of anything particularly bad at all, but I definitely picked up on one or two things that are worthy of a mention…
As I said, the visuals and environments in this game are spectacular, yet because of the fast-paced nature of the game and the constant ‘need’ in the story itself to be getting places quickly, it’s easy to feel like you’re being rushed through each of the areas; but while there are certain moments that involve a countdown timer basically telling you to hurry the fuck up, it isn’t particularly common and the majority of scenarios you find yourself in can be done as slowly or as quickly as you like. When you are in the rush of combat, however, it’s also very easy to get swept up in the excitement and the fighting, feeling the urge to run to the next area after killing your opponents, because you want to impale them on each other or kick them in the nuts while shotgunning their shins off. The only thing really creating this problem is that it comes down to you, as the player, to care enough to stop and look around long enough to appreciate the beautiful vistas and skyscrapers that surround you from start to finish.
Coming back to the skill shots, the one thing I noticed about them which began to feel like a bit of a let down toward the end of the game when I was fighting ridiculous amounts of enemies, was the fact that despite pulling off what could be described only as absolutely, ridiculously impossible (for instance, whipping an enemy toward me, firing a grenade flail around his face, then firing the penetrator drill into his chest, sending him spiraling into another enemy, both being impaled on the wall, and then watching them both explode from the blast of the aforementioned grenade) and after sitting there with a huge grin on my face, thinking ‘that was possibly the best thing ever!’ I find I somehow only get one skill shot reward for exploding two men at once, worth about 50 points. Though the range of skill shots are around 100 or so, the ability to combine them properly is rather lacking, and your insanely impressive kills are often restricted to specific things you did with one weapon, because you generally only receive your points on the event that your enemy dies, therefore, because you can’t actually kill an enemy in more than one way at a time, you are fairly limited with your huge combo kills to being only rewarded for one or two of the skill shots you made at a time (multiplied by how many people died).
One thing that not so much irritated me in any way, but rather just made the game feel a little bit too simple at times, was that every time I came across something in the environment I had to activate, leash, kick, shoot, climb over, or crouch under to get past, was lit up with a glowing blue, with ‘PRESS X’ or ‘LEASH’ written above it. Once you’ve completed the first hour or so of the game, you should be pretty familiar with all the things you need to do these things with, and yet the game insists on telling you exactly what and how to do them for the entire duration of your play-through, almost like an annoying tool-tips or hints panel that keeps popping up when you don’t need it. As I said, though, it didn’t bother me too much, and there were definitely one or two occasions when it may have actually been impossible to figure out what to do or where to go if it hadn’t been for the flashing blue tips. (I did say I was clutching straws to find anything wrong with the game!) Thankfully, it is possible to turn them off in the menu (the blue glow will remain, but the control-tips themselves will be no more).
So, after writing all this drivel about what is essentially my love for this game, I can happily conclude for you that you need it in your life. The power you feel while destroying the enemies you face in the most hilariously over-the-top ways, the satisfaction you get when you finally pull off that stupidly difficult skill shot you’ve been pining after for hours, and the laughs you’ll get out of hearing just how many ways the word ‘dick’ can be turned into a threat, insult, or compliment, are entirely worth every minute you’ll spend blasting your way through each and every chapter.