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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

BulletStorm (8.4/10)

I've been looking forward to  BulletStorm since I first saw it in Game Informer last year. I'm a huge fan of Epic and their Gears of War series and had heard good things about People Can Fly, the main developers. But just like everything with a Star Wars logo on it that has come out in the last, oh... fifteen years, I think my expectations were just too high. It's got a great gimmick and can be a blast to play, but I found myself curiously disappointed...

BulletStorm revolves around Grayson Hunt, a badass (former) soldier, and his team of space pirate mercenaries. The game starts with Grayson, drunk as usual, coming out of a warp right next to the ship of his nemesis and former boss, General Sarrano. This unexpected turn of events causes Grayson to completely lose his nut and he decides to go out in a blaze of glory... by flying straight through the command ship. After a brief flashback explaining his disdain for their former commander (let's just say they have good reason to be pissed... and pissing off elite operatives is never a wise choice), the team crash lands on the rather intriguing planet of Stygia. It's a beautiful paradise resort planet... but something has gone horribly wrong.

Somehow surviving the impact Grayson teams up with Ishi Sato, one of his former brothers in arms. Ishi didn't fair too well in the crash and has been hastily patched up into a sort of hybrid cyborg construct (and is severely annoyed with Grayson for his ill conceived attack). They learn that Sarrano's ship crash landed as well, and that the bastard is still alive! They reluctantly team up to pursue... and promptly run into the local denizens who, it turns out, are not in a particularly welcoming mood...

I think the "story" in BulletStorm is supposed to be fairly tongue-in-cheek, providing an excuse for the awesome gunplay mechanic and 'Skill Shot' leveling system. Sure, the banter of Grayson and his teammates is amusingly awful (I'm pretty sure I learned a couple of new swear words... and how to use the old ones to form entirely new sentences!), but then that's part of the shtick! It doesn't take itself seriously so you certainly shouldn't. Still, it takes some clever, if obvious, twists that made me laugh.

Soon after leaving the wreckage Grayson finds a 'Leash'... but not just any leash! An illegal personal modification, this energy leash only allows him to grab enemies or parts of the environment (like, say, exploding barrels) and fling them willy-nilly all over the battlefield. Grabbing an enemy and pulling him towards you only to kick him in the face then blast him with a machine gun as he goes flying back is suitably satisfying. But more importantly, the leash has a sort of pseudo-A.I. which keeps track of Grayson's exploits. Points are given out for especially disgusting or clever kills. Those points are then spent purchasing new weapons and ammo or upgrading the current loadout.

And this is where the game gets fun (and the reason it has been so widely anticipated). There are over 100 different 'Skill Shots' ranging from the simple 'Headshot' (shoot the bad guy in the face) to 'Vertigo' (kicking the bad guy off of a cliff) to 'Afterburner' (killing the bad guy who is on fire). But that's the easy stuff... shoot the bad guy in the crotch, then finish them off with a kick to the head is called 'Mercy' and earns you more points. There are environmental kills ('Pricker' involves impaling some poor sod on a cactus) and weapon specific 'Skill Shots' as well. As you play through the game and unlock newer and more intriguing weaponry (the Flail Gun rules, I had endless fun with that...), you'll be licking your lips in anticipation as you ponder the mere possibilities.

I love the pseudo-arcady style this scoring system brings to BulletStorm. But it actually becomes challenging... as you challenge yourself to attempt crazier kills to earn more points. You are limited only by your imagination... have fun with it, that's the point! Sure, you can get by spamming the same basic attacks but where is the fun in that? I found myself constantly looking around the immediate area to see what I could impale my foes upon, and what would explode if I could toss someone over there...

That said, I was never completely sold on the controls. They work pretty well, but don't seem to do exactly what I expect all the time. Noooooo... I wanted to grab that guy with the leash then kick him into his friends after I had wrapped a grenade around his balls... not chuck him into that nearby cactus. I guess it's too much to expect the A.I. to know what you meant to do, but still. Oh, and hit detection seems a bit wonky. The threat indicator isn't particularly reliable either... I'm getting whacked but I can't tell from where!

Some of the levels seem cleverly designed first until you realize they are really just corridors with lots of invisible walls to bang your head against. I was surprised by this linearity, usually you really didn't have many options to flank your opponents. Seems like this game would have been ideal for that.

I'm a bit disappointed with BulletStorm from a graphical standpoint. Don't get me wrong, it looks pretty good, but I was expecting more since Epic (the makers of Gears of War) was involved. The lip-syncing and cutscene close ups weren't particularly impressive. There's a lot going on at every given moment, and the environments look nice, but I couldn't escape the feeling that it could have looked better, more polished... but maybe that's just me.

What really shocked me though was I ran into a couple of HUGE glitches. At one point, one of my NPC  teammates stood in the middle of the only pathway through an area and wouldn't bloody move. I had to reload from the previous checkpoint. It didn't set me too far back, but was still a "Huh, what the hell..." moment. The other was a reload issue during the one major boss fight in the game. Like an idiot, I managed to die. But when I reloaded to do it again it was like the environment around the boss didn't load. There was the boss (okay), and the background (good so far) but nothing to stand on. Reloading the checkpoint did nothing. In the end, I had to restart the entire chapter... this was severely annoying.  There was also a fair amount of lag even in the single player campaign (in the Xbox 360 version anyway). This sort of stuff should never find its way into the final build of a game...

But ultimately, BulletStorm is fun... a lot of fun. I guess at the end of the day that is what's most important. Doling out the pain has rarely been as laugh-out-loud enjoyable (for all us sadists that is...). I didn't try the multiplayer, but I imagine it would be a riot with friends. As frustrated as I got at some points, and as disappointed (that's mildly disappointed) as I was with the overall product, I can't seem to get it out of my mind. I doubt it will be long before I'm back on Stygia with Grayson and Ishi finding new and interesting ways to thoroughly ruin the day of anyone stupid enough to cross our paths.


Score = 8.4 / 10


  1. I heard its extremely short. True?

  2. @Anonymous - Yeah, it is pretty short (4-6 hours depending)... but that said I think it has a pretty high replay value even if you don't play online. I unlocked 90 of the 130 odd skillshots in the first playthrough without really looking at the list, so I want to go back and try to get them all...

    I guess I'll say it's definitely worth renting if that helps.


    Actually, I'm thinking 4-6 hours is a bit harsh, it's longer than that. More like 5-7 hours.

  4. Man...I had so many ups and downs when it came to wanting this game. But your review made me want it again so...*sighs and pulls out my wallet*

  5. @EuphoricEnnui - Lol mate, check it out. If you're not gonna play it online, I'd probably recommend renting it... unless you're like me and like your "collections" :^)

    Still, BulletStorm is a good laugh is nothing else, I think you'll enjoy it.