In the past I’ve used many words and terms to describe Bulletstorm: ‘Raucous.’ ‘Insane.’ ‘Over-the-top.’ ‘Explosive.’ ‘Intense.’ All of these are accurate when discussing any single aspect of People Can Fly’s latest first-person shooter, from second-to-second enemy battles and the range of weaponry, to the available set of combat abilities, enormous set-piece action and far-reaching sense of adventure.
I’ve also used another term to describe Bulletstorm: ‘Dude-bro.’ In most social circles, this term is somewhat derisive and refers to stereotypical juvenile behaviour on the part of males aged anywhere from their early teens to late twenties – gratuitous blue language and jokes referring to human genitalia and defecation are usually the order of the day for members of the ‘dude-bro’ social club.
Is Bulletstorm ‘dude-bro’ in its presentation? Yes. Will this affect your enjoyment of the game, either negatively or positively? Yes. Can the ‘dude-bro’-ness of Bulletstorm be overlooked for long enough to get through the eight hour singleplayer campaign, and engage in ‘intense,’ ‘over-the-top’ and ‘explosive’ set-piece action to see this game unfurl like a mighty, extremely rude flower?
That depends on you. Let’s find out.
The story of Bulletstorm is at first overtly ridiculous, but as the tale of space pirates, an evil military general and a seemingly abandoned paradise world is slowly revealed, the narrative becomes more enjoyable, the characters come into their own and the planet of Stygia is realised in more depth and detail. The story is still ridiculous up until the credits, but there’s a good arc that improves over the course of the game.
You play as Grayson Hunt, one-time special forces military man turned space pirate after he and his crew were betrayed by the government he served. He’s out for revenge, but this thirst for retribution puts himself and at least one of his team-mates, Ishi Sato, in a worse predicament than when they turned rogue, now left stranded on a strange and inhospitable planet filled with murderous gangs, exotic (and dangerous) wildlife, and all manner of pointy, shocking, explosive and treacherous hazards.
Despite once serving as a paradise resort, the world of Stygia is now the last place you’d want to go for a holiday, or anything else for that matter. For this reason, Hunt and Sato are determined to escape this planet using any means necessary, fending for their lives as they fight their way through the corridors of space ships, a devastated mountainside landscape, a vast city by the sea, claustrophobic mining facilities and underground caverns, and immense cities now overtaken and strangled by nature’s intrusion.
Sometimes the pair stop for long enough to take in the breathtaking vistas, run for their lives in dramatic chase sequences and blockbuster tram rides, as well as destroy countless bloodthirsty fiends, mechanical contraptions and at least one city-sized Stygian denizen. While the enemies in Bulletstorm all pack their own variety of weapons and attack in different ways (using methods like running head on, hiding behind cover and simply tearing into you with rapid fire), it’s the arsenal of armaments and combat abilities that you have access to that provide you with the upper hand.
Armaments like your trusty rifle and other weapons you collect along the way – a sniper rifle, chain machinegun, shotgun, handgun, ‘drill’ gun, handheld cannon and a chain-grenade launcher (two grenades chained together) all make appearances, and all of them are more than capable of obliterating mutated gang members who are all out to kill you in the most horrific way possible. While certain enemies need to be taken down in their own special way, the best strategy for maximum damage is more often than not to simply keep that trigger held down.
While this may sound a little mindless (and, at times, the action can reach levels of monotony), it leaves you free to indulge in Bulletstorm’s key feature – Skillshots. Upon becoming acquainted with a key piece of combat equipment, the Leash (an energy whip that you can use to pull enemies towards you and into the air), you’re given access to a scoring system that awards you points for killing enemies in creative (and not so creative) ways. You could simply shoot a deranged foe until he drops dead to get small trickles of points, but to score big, you’ll need to think of better ways to put an end to enemies, using additional close range combat abilities including the kick and slide mechanic.
Kick an enemy into a wall of spikes? That’s OK. Slide-tackle an enemy into the air and shoot him dead as he tumbles to the ground? Alright, I guess. Set off an explosive barrel with a well-placed bullet and send that enemy flying? Ho-hum.
What you really want to do in Bulletstorm (in order to score maximum points while wreaking absolute carnage) is use different weapons, abilities and elements of the dangerous environment in concert with one another. Why not Leash an enemy into the air, chain him with grenades, kick him into a group of enemies and then detonate the charge? Or slide kick your brutal opponent into the air and take advantage of the slow-down effect to line up a clear headshot? Or use the drill gun to bore into another body and send them flying into a handy collection of explosives?
While these are pretty lame examples of the kind of Skillshots possible in Bulletstorm, every kill counts and gives you points used to buy more ammunition for guns, as well as upgrade those weapons to improve immensely their capabilities for destruction, enabling you to even imbue each weapon with ‘charged shots’ to supercharge their effectiveness. These upgrades then open up opportunities for more and varied and spectacular Skillshots, netting you even more points to continue your progress.
This brings us to my first two issues with Bulletstorm. First, the extreme violence on offer. Bulletstorm’s ‘purpose’ is to be incredibly over-the-top in everything it does, and the gore factor is no different. Limbs will be ripped from bodies in massive explosions. Heads will pop in crimson viscera. Bodies will be split and vaporise, as well as careen headlong into walls of spikes. The presentation of this violence is overall cartoony, so if you’re used to this stuff (from game like Gears of War), then maybe this won’t be an issue for you.
The second problem is a gameplay issue, and it’s got to do with those Skillshots. In Bulletstorm, you’re provided with a playground of enemies, hazardous environments, mighty weaponry and additional abilities, and then set loose to do as you will, essentially requiring you to make your own fun in this playground. Kind of like a sandbox game, only missing the mark with just not enough randomness in play. You could blaze through Bulletstorm using nothing but your accrued weapons to take down enemies, thinking nothing of being more creative with your kills, despite the fact that creative killing is arguably what Bulletstorm is all about.
Of course there’s a loop in place to ensure you at least make use of Skillshots once in a while (you need to earn points to unlock upgrades and buy ammo, after all), but if you turn Bulletstorm into a straight-up first-person shooter, it can become kind of dull with the way enemies are presented to you. It’s only when you force yourself to start thinking about innovative kills (a thought that may or may not revolt you) that the game really come into its own – you’ll need to go into Bulletstorm with this mindset to extract maximum enjoyment.
Concerns over ‘dullness’ instantly disappear during any one of Bulletstorm’s gargantuan, utterly blockbuster action set-pieces, however, and you’ll be hard-pressed to be not be impressed with certain scenarios, like being chased down by a runaway mine grinder (like a runaway Ferris Wheel, but much more deadly) or witnessing an entire city crumbling around you as a colossal creature emerges from the depths to wreak havoc. While Bulletstorm may not be the greatest looking game this year, the fact that these set-pieces are presented in such high fidelity makes them all the more enjoyable and thrilling to take part in.
If you play through even one of these mighty sequences and your eyes don’t widen and your mouth doesn’t fall open in astonishment, then I’m afraid you’re a robot. Get thee to a robot doctor.
But we’re forgetting all about the ‘dude-bro’ aspect of Bulletstorm – another issue I personally had with the game.
The characters of Bulletstorm are amongst the filthiest, most lewd personalities I’ve ever come across in a videogame, using extreme foul language and nonsensical terms stitched together from disparate words normally used to describe human reproduction and defecation. These attempts at humour and the presentation of these characters, to me, were very off-putting and at times ruined extended sequences of intense action with their inclusion.
Do I need to loosen up and laugh at these ludicrous jokes, insults and non sequiturs? No. I found them revolting and in no way ‘clever,’ just ‘dude-bro.’ I can understand hardened space pirates and military men and women expressing the odd bit of colourful language (this may be in character), but in my mind Bulletstorm’s over-the-top nature should have been limited to the gameplay with its cartoon violence, rather than very real (and, again, completely nonsensical) verbal quips. It’s a testament to the game, however, that this aspect doesn’t mar the overall experience beyond repair, and you’ll soon be left dumbfounded by the next set-piece.
And what about Bulletstorm’s multiplayer? Well, it’s there.
There’s an online competitive mode called ‘Echoes’ that tasks you with replaying five to six minute snippets of Bulletstorm’s singleplayer campaign, the aim being to rack up as many points as possible using Skillshots. The more points you score, the more stars you earn to unlock more of these gameplay segments. Your overall score, as well as your score per level, is then compared to that of your online friends and you’re also placed on an online, worldwide leaderboard to see where you rank in your ability to score Skillshot points. Depending on how much you enjoy replaying levels and your enthusiasm for Bulletstorm’s gameplay, you can keep going back again and again to increase your score and move yourself up the leaderboards.
If you’re looking for an actual multiplayer mode in Bulletstorm, People Can Fly has included the cooperative Anarchy Mode. Here, you and your online friends (or strangers) will be placed in one of six arenas and will need to survive the assault of increasingly difficult and varied waves of enemies that spawn in the area. Naturally, they’re out to kill you dead so you and your team-mates need to work together to take them down using all of the abilities from the campaign.
In-between waves, you’ll get a chance to use earned points to upgrade weapons, restock on ammo and make yourself stronger, hardier and faster. If you’re an efficient killer, you’ll quickly rank up with accrued experience points in order to unlock audio taunts/animations, as well as visual customisation options (new skins, helmets, armour etc.).
Anarchy Mode is definitely a fun addition to Bulletstorm (playing with friends is recommended), but it’s a little early to tell whether or not this mode will keep you spinning up the disc night after night like other online games. Unless the developers keep updating the game with content and support Bulletstorm with additional modes, my guess would be no.
Despite the ‘dude-bro’ language and humour, a slow and poor start to proceedings, a few segments of ludicrous story and a reliance on players to bring the fun, Bulletstorm still manages to thrill and delight in measured doses with its ‘raucous’ and ‘explosive’ battles, jaw-dropping and ‘insane’ set-pieces, and ‘over-the-top’ weapons and abilities, all contained within a very well realised universe that we’re sure to see more of in the future.
If you’re easily offended, Bulletstorm is not for you. If you can endure a little offending in exchange for many extreme, blockbuster play sessions, then Bulletstorm could be for you. If you consider yourself part of the ‘dude-bro’ social club, Bulletstorm was made for you.