Bulletstorm is stupid. It’s dumb, loud, uses crass humor and features a protagonist that’s the definition of obnoxious. That’s actually praise, believe it or not. If a gritty, realistic shooter is what you expected, you are going to be disappointed.
The tale Bulletstorm has to tell isn’t going to win any literary awards—it’s a simple story of revenge with characters in a contest over who can come up with the foulest, most nonsensical curse words possible. Meet Grayson Hunt: former assassin, current space pirate. Despite his job description, Hunt is a full-time a-hole looking to get revenge on slightly bigger a-hole General Serrano, his former commander. His brash attack on Serrano’s ship leaves his crew KIA except for Ishi: Hunt’s wingman/worst enemy now that he’s fighting the cybernetic AI in his body for control.
As if being stranded on a foreign planet with no convenient means of escape wasn’t bad enough, locals welcome Hunt and Ishi with guns, armed helicopters and other high-tech weaponry. There’s more still—killer plants, mutated freaks, and on the last leg of the adventure highly-trained soldiers. But even with the different skins, a lot of the enemies fall into the same patterns. There are only a handful of exceptions, which is a shame all things considered. If there ever was a game that needed huge boss battles, this is it.
Luckily the combat is fun, though there are only eight weapons. Each has an alternate fire that can be charged once unlocked. Some of the more exotic weapons like the quad-barrel shotgun, bouncing-grenade launcher, and drill cannon can’t be used until later in the game. They each have enough novelty to keep up interest, once the charge attacks are unlocked.
Rounding out the combat options are a slide attack (handy for speedy travel, too), a kick capable of knocking enemies into next week, and the leash—an energy-whip capable of yanking enemies hither and yon from great distances, pulling pilots out of helicopters, and once it’s acquired, the ability to send them flying with a shockwave. The leash is also frequently used to clear an obstructed path along with the kick.
These sequences provide small breaks from the combat, but mostly it serves as a distraction from Bulletstorm’s linear nature. A few other gameplay elements are thrown in to spice things up. There are timed-runs, convoy and turret sections, and in an inspired bit remote-controlling a giant robotic monster (don’t ask) as it terrorizes enemies. But the true meat of the game is where hordes of enemies are thrown at the player.
Shooting in Bulletstorm isn’t about hiding behind cover and taking potshots at the enemies. No, Bulletstorm‘s bread and butter are its Skillshots. These are stylish kills that reward players with points, used as currency to buy ammo and upgrades. The idea is to use the environment, weapons, and melee attacks to create elaborate kills—the more elaborate, the more points are rewarded.
For example, you can decapitate an enemy in midair with the carbine after leashing him. Try that again, but intoxicated. Now try leashing him, shooting him in the head with a powered-up shot from the revolver, and kicking them over a cliff while intoxicated. Now you’re killing with skill. Skillshots number in the dozens and the number only increases as they’re combo-ed together. With its emphasis on stylish execution that redefines the word overkill, Bulletstorm more in common with games like Devil May Cry than it does traditional shooters.
All of this action takes place in huge, lush environments (though exploration is largely restricted) courtesy of the Unreal engine. Some dull-colored sewers and industrial areas are thrown in later in the game, but Bulletstorm environs are rich with detail and color. The planet Stygia is home to vast deserts, caves, rivers, tourist hotspots and even a happenin’ nightclub playing Disco Inferno for your amusement. Even though the game forbids you to go off the beaten path, it’s very tempting to do so.
Once beaten, Echoes mode is unlocked. Echoes is made up of chunks taken from the campaign, the goal being to get as many points as possible in the time allotted. Scores can also be posted on the leaderboards for bragging rights. It’s fun to challenge yourself to get an even higher score, but it still boils down to just replaying chapters from the campaign sans story and with the addition of a timer.
Bulletstorm can take up to about twelve hours, so there isn’t a ton of extra content to go through. A co-op option could’ve added some replay value as well as a true competitive online mode. Compared to how most shooters cram as many multiplayer modes as possible into their games, Bulletstorm feels remarkably light in comparison.
Another complaint is that the weapon loadout has a couple of issues outside of number—the carbine can’t be swapped out and the down button on the d-pad goes unassigned, which makes it feel unnecessarily restrictive. Combat options are still ridiculously plentiful (ever see an enemy get killed by being kicked into a giant cactus?) with these constraints in place, though it would be nice to see them completely maximized for not only strategic reasons, but entertainment-value as well.
Bulletstorm is the banana cream pie the genre needs thrown in its face. It doesn’t have a gripping plot and doesn’t concern itself with trying to construct one. Bulletstorm is much more concerned about providing insane amounts of options for the player to dish out pain on enemies in a colorful environment. Its drawbacks are that there’s no multiplayer to speak of and there’s not much supplementary content after beating the (admittedly very fun) campaign. It’s hard to tell if Bulletstorm‘s silly demeanor and in depth combat mechanics are going to catch on, but despite the problems that keep it several rungs away from the gold it’s a very entertaining and unique take on the genre.