By Kenny Mahoney 

Bulletstorm looks and plays like a caricature of a video game. Every ridiculous commercial and preview video that has populated the internet in recent weeks has been so laughably bad that it would make Duke Nukem cringe.  The ludicrous, over-the-top violence, swearing and “kill with skill” tagline leads me to believe that the entire game was secretly invented by a group of marketing executives as a bull’s-eye for a politician’s smear campaign or a parental advocacy group.  Either that or my mom personally hired Cliff Blezinski to construct a game that would serve as a perfect scapegoat for her failed parenting.

But when you think about it, a game like Bulletstorm makes perfect sense for today’s audience.  When’s the last time you played a shooter that didn’t involve hyper-realistic combat set during the course of a major war, only to be used as an excuse to yell obscenities at strangers online? Or how about one not about stone-faced space marines on an impossible mission to save the galaxy from aliens whose weak spots conveniently glow a hideous neon color?  Can’t remember? Me either.

That said, if you’re still with us (and have not been distracted by something shiny and/or colorful, as is statistically typical of the modern video game player and Press reader) you’re probably interested in how Bulletstorm challenges the tired formula of shooters today into something worth playing.

For starters, step into the shoes of Grayson Hunt, our potty-mouthed protagonist and his rag-tag squad, Dead Echo.  Grayson and the boys are on the run from their former commander, who fooled them into doing his dirty work until they uncovered his secret evil-ness and were subsequently blacklisted and painted as murderers and traitors.  However, Grayson ends up crash-landing on the planet Stygia after an opportunity to take out his old boss once and for all goes horribly and hilariously awry.

Shortly after his arrival, Grayson stumbles upon the game’s trademark leash, allowing him to grab onto enemies and drag them into slow motion, as well as slide into/kick them, opening up a myriad of murder opportunities.  The leash also grades him on his performance, earning him points for more elaborate and creative death scenarios and allowing him to spend those points at “drop pods” to upgrade and refill his weapons.  Miraculously, writer Rick Remender, famous for his work with Marvel’s Punisher comics, somehow manages to not only put the so-called skillshot mechanic into context but also have it make perfect sense.  (By the way, Rick, I forgive you for the whole Franken-Castle run.  Actually it wasn’t that terrible.  Honest.)

Now, apply that premise to an environment just as ridiculous and you’ve got a match made in shooter heaven.  There’s no need to duck and cover here, just run in with guns and boots ‘ablazing.  It’s no surprise, either, seeing that the game was developed by the folks over at People Can Fly, whose work on the Painkiller series of shooters most certainly shines through.  I don’t know about you, but it feels good to walk into a room in a shooter and know that I’m the only one who’s going to be walking out alive.  I’m tired of feeling scared when I play shooters – scared to die, scared to use too much ammo, scared to miss a shot.  In Bulletstorm, you’re finally the badass everyone paints you out to be.  This isn’t to say the game is easy, by any means, but the focus moves from fighting to stay alive to fighting to score the most points.  This still affords a tremendous challenge, but a challenge that rewards good performance instead of penalizing bad performance.

You’d think that the routine of scoring points for kills would start to get old after a while, and it does to some extent.  The way to combat this is to put the game’s arsenal of weapons to good use.  Each weapon plays vastly different from the other and, more importantly, each has its own array of skillshots that are unique to that weapon.  For example, the Boneduster, Bulletstorm’s shotgun, can do things that other weapons simply cannot, such as blow the top and bottom halves of your enemies’ bodies clean off, awarding the “Topless” and “Bottomless” skillshots, respectively (duh).  Each of these skillshots can be viewed in their own menu, allowing you to go through a checklist of all the potential skillshots at your disposal, barring a few secret ones, so that you can keep track of the ones you’ve done and what you still need to shoot for.  (Get it, “shoot” for? Wow, I’m hilarious.

Bulletstorm also displays some of the most breathtakingly massive and colorful set pieces seen in a shooter since Serious Sam.  Stygia is an incredibly detailed world with varied landscapes and a sense of scale that is rarely felt in games.  From massive waterfalls, giant industrial complexes, collapsed skyscrapers and mountainside vistas, Stygia is intricately detailed and colored in a way that will stop you in your tracks every time.  The bright color palette is even more surprising considering that the game is backed by designer Cliff Blezinski, known for his work with Gears of War’s drab black/brown/gray color palette.

Bulletstorm also sets itself apart from today’s shooters by skipping competitive death-match multiplayer in favor of a cooperative mode.  You and up to three friends can battle wave after wave of encroaching enemies, earning points while upgrading and buying weapons between rounds in specially-made arenas.  This mode has its ups and downs, and can be really satisfying when you and your team get together to pull of special “team skillshots,” but can be an absolute drag when you’re forced to replay the same wave over and over again because your teammates are too stupid to score enough points to push you into the next level.

The game also includes a mode called “Echoes,” in which you run through bite-sized sequences of the campaign and try to score as many points as possible.  When it’s over, your score is uploaded to a leaderboard where you can compare your performance with your friends and players worldwide.  This mode is great if you want to brag to your friends, but seeing as most of it is a re-hashing of the campaign, it’s not worth getting too excited for.

If you’re like me and are tired of buying the latest iteration of Call of Duty year after year, give Bulletstorm a shot.  I might even go so far as to call it this generation’s Duke Nukem or Serious Sam, as it comes off just as crude and ridiculous now as those games were way back when.  Regardless, Bulletstorm gives gamers pampered on modern shooters a swift kick in the nuts.  And then calls them “dicktits.”

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