Bulletstorm Review

Here are a few phrases:

•Ultra-Carnage

•X-Rated Über Violence

•Savage Bloodletting

•Insane Gun Toting Nutters

•Gore Soaked Adrenalin Rush

•Gut Gashingly Gruesome Fun

•Inventively Visceral Mayhem

•High Octane Mutant Munching Gore Fest

•Chain Gun Hog Heaven

These are just a couple of the terms that sprang to mind after playing EA’s Bulletstorm for about a minute and a half.

Multiply these terms by about a bajillion and you get to where I am now with it while writing this review.

If extreme hand cannon carnage is your thang, then first person shooters don’t come much more fun than this charming little foul mouthed excretion.

I’m definitely bringing the rain and dealing the pain with so much gleeful abandon and high calibre ordnance that the idea of wielding anything less than my trusty ‘Attitude Adjuster’ on overload just wouldn’t do.

So what’s the deal with Bulletstorm I hear you say? Surely story based, narrative driven first person shooters (FPS) are something of an ongoing anachronism harking back to the days of Doom et al? They’ve had they’re day of innovation right? Obviously still popular, but in the same way that crappy Mario platformers are still being successfully hocked to Wii and DS owners the world over right?

I mean it’s all about online team deathmatch and the call of shooty now right?

Well, I think that a lot of folks would agree that single player story or campaign mode on some modern FPS games is not where the attraction lies for most gamers. I myself while not a COD type nutter, have played many, many, online team deathmatches while barely bothering with the single player missions in Campaign/Story mode. These types of FPS games are very much all about the online team play; sometimes neglecting story and narrative altogether.

Bulletstorm is different in that it’s an FPS that is all about the story, and amongst all the mayhem takes it very seriously indeed. The narrative drive is the main beef and potatoes of the package, along with the entire maximum gun fun of course. It then adds comedy, über machismo nonsense and stunning environments to the mix.

It’s subjective admittedly, but I feel we have come full circle with FPS games, and Bulletstorm is a fine example of the way in which a very well worn format can still excite….and no, despite my unreservedly gung-ho enthusing re: weaponry related thuggery, there’s more to Bulletstorm than mere brutish carnage….there’s really clever and twisted brutish carnage for example.

Pivotal early FPS titles like Wolfenstein and Doom solved two massive gaming issues; firstly, the idea of making the game ‘first person’ created an automatic sense of immersion and involvement with the action that was absent from most other types of contemporary games. It put YOU the player right in the thick of it. Secondly it eliminated the need for realistic (or not), expensive ‘on-screen’ character models like third person shooters have (think of all the development expense thrown at making the original angular 300 polygon Lara Croft model work). The only thing you have to animate in an FPS (other than oncoming enemies and the environment etc) is the weaponry poking out in front of you (and the carnage inducing let-rippery when you press the ‘Woop-ass’ button!).

That’s one of the reasons why Doom worked so well; it got you all involved, on edge and tense, and then allowed you the weaponry to deal some serious monster pain.

Bulletstorm is built upon Epic Games’ excellent ‘Unreal Engine’ now in v.3.5 from; which has powered some really top flight titles recently (my fave definitely being Batman: Arkham Asylum). This engine allows huge interactive environments, fluid movement and excellent responses. The controls are complex but intuitive and mostly unobstructive. The only demerit here is the ‘X’ button for hopping over low obstacles, which you have to get used to pushing at exactly the right time and is disabled if you’re TOO close to the obstacle (necessitating a quick move backwards to re-engage the vault option).

Gameplay is direct and immediate, and the story rips along at a cracking pace, never getting overly bogged down in its own exposition. There’s a decent amount of variation in the bloodletting too, ranging from the usual vehicle commandeering to a very fun stint controlling you’re very own 60 foot high mechanical, twin mini-gun equipped Dino. Pretty cool.

Important ‘How to’ tutorials appear during gameplay while you tear through the first chapter, so getting to grips with your growing arsenal of high calibre weaponry and the game’s ‘skillshot’ system is a breeze.

A word about ‘Skillshot’ – this has become a slightly controversial aspect of Bulletstorm as it’s the latest violent game to be seized on by a few fevered folks in the media and accused of being a threat to our moral compasses. I’m not gonna get into this discussion here, suffice to say that I don’t subscribe to the notion that violent video games create violent criminals.

So back to ‘Skillshot’. Simply put, the system scores all your kills and awards points for originality, ingenuity and all round gooey splatteriness. There is also an enormous table (viewable in-game) that displays impressively long and increasingly wacky (and tricky) lists of ways to dispatch a foe. Once one of these methods has been employed during gameplay you get a check mark and extra points towards unlocks etc.

I can imagine some folks taking the time to try and fill in all the check boxes, but me; I’m more of a get the job done whichever way works best kind of fella. I give the chart a once-over now and then to see if I’ve filled any more in, but for me it’s not a major draw.

I do have to shamefully admit to finding the sheer joy of obliterating ones enemies in incredibly schlocky ways, quite the crack though, and happening upon a new one (like bouncing a mutant dude into the air and shooting him square in the goolies), well it’s the cornerstone of any nutritious ruff’em up right?

On a more serious note regarding the violence; I think there’s a general rule that I stand by when it comes to violence in games (or movies for that matter), and that is that it’s important to set the right tone and context in order to make the violence that subsequently appears either shocking and disturbing, or not. For me Bulletstorm’s tone falls into the ‘or not’ category. I would contend that walking up to an innocent (non combatant) woman on the streets of L.A. or Miami in a game like GTA, and pounding her to death with a baseball bat for no other reason than simply because you can; is a worse type of violence than splashing a mutant enemy to the four winds of a fictitious planet’s streets with an obscenely large gun, or anything else I’ve seen in Bulletstorm. But that’s just me, and others obviously think differently.

It’s not gonna be everybody’s cuppa tea, so best take that 18 certificate seriously if you’re of a nervous or easily offended and upset disposition; this isn’t Asteroids!

Bad points? Well the game suffers from that most woeful of environment shortcomings, which is the old ‘even though it’s just a knee high raised bed in a garden, if the game doesn’t want you go over it, it might as well be a thirty foot high solid steel barricade’ – I first encountered that playing Doom, where your character seemed to lack the ability to negotiate a raised curb! Or the first Tomb Raider on PS1 back in the 90’s, y’know where a plant could stop you going somewhere in a quite unreasonably unrealistic way. And it seems that even in 2011, this is still something game designers have yet to completely eliminate from what’s supposed to feel like a free roaming environment (albeit one where there’s almost always an obvious pathway/direction to head in. One of the best games I’ve ever played in that respect was Assassin’s Creed, which allowed much more free roaming and object interaction within truly enormous game arenas, and very rarely presented you with an unrealistic physical barrier.

I think game developers should introduce a new rule, it’s a very simple one:

If it’s something a regular human being could do without even thinking about it, then the game should always allow it too.

I mean what’s the point in being able to kick and blast through all manner of obstacles if a piece of 2be4 across an entrance can completely halt your progress?!

Annoying!

So, the above criticism aside; I think it’s safe to say I’ve enjoyed Bulletstorm immensely. The look of the game is very impressive, there’s a good dose of convincing realism and hi-def density, but it’s wrapped up in a very appealing, overwhelmingly ‘Graphic Novel’ look. Whenever you’re outside there’s always a lovely layered design with vast impressive backdrops that remind me a little of some of the best vistas from games like Final Fantasy.

It’s immense and a lot of fun to look at and play within.

Also on the disc:

There’s the usual downloadable content that includes maps, weapons and other bonuses, plus a multiplayer mode. It’s worth checking out the PS3 Store for what’s available.

Some bonus level content is unlock-able using a code found on the retail packaging, which I was unable to sample as my review copy was not retail packaged.

So in summation I would say that if ultra high octane mega weaponry based carnage, huge body-counts and coarse language are your thing; you will love this game even more than I did.

Now let’s reload the attitude adjuster and bring the pain!!

Ben Pegley

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