Or: How Epic and People Can Fly made “Puke-Dick” a household phrase.
By Matthew Dykstra
“Suck the tears off my dick you ugly motherfuckers!”
This is a quote from a later part of Bulletstorm’s curse laden campaign mode, and spoken by the psychopathic war-criminal General Sarrano. The fuck-head General used Grayson “Gray” Hunt and Ishi “Sushi-dick” Sato and the rest of their Dead Echo crew to assassinate various reporters and political figures who could come between Sarrano and his thirst for power. When Gray and Ishi discover the dip-shit General’s plot, they haul ass into deep space and begin to resort to piracy for survival. Apparently that’s how you handle shit in the 26th century.
For some reason they wait 10 years before a random encounter with Sarrano’s premiere warship the Ulysses makes a pissed off (and piss drunk) Gray decide a serious space drive-by is in order. Realizing too late the futility of their attack, Gray sends the ship on a kamikaze route directly into the Ulysses, causing both ships to crash on the nearby fuckhole planet, Stygia. Filled with crazy motherfucking mutants, douchbag rival soldiers, dick-eating plants, and massive Godzillaesque lizards, Stygia is a clusterfuck of mutilation and death.
And you, as Gray, are stuck on it. Your only ride offworld is with that dick-wipe General Sarrano. Your best friend Ishi is fighting an artificial intelligence for control of his cyborg body. Everyone wants you dead. You’re boned.
That’s the setup for People Can Fly and Epic Games’ Bulletstorm, and if the language above annoyed you after a couple sentences you likely wont survive the awful dialogue of the game’s 6-8 hour campaign mode. Between the threadbare sci-fi story and horrid dialogue is a lone bright spot however, the character of Grayson Hunt feels like a fully formed character whose feelings are explored in the game. It’s rare to see a character in a video game suffer from regret, and Gray changes for the better by the game’s somewhat anti-climactic ending.
But who gives a fuck about story right? Bulletstorm has an ace in the hole; fun, addictive combat against a variety of enemies in some of the most well developed environments I have seen in a console game to date. The good folks at People Can Fly removed the monotony from combat by using clever level design to challenge the player to innovate your kills and rewards you for thinking outside the box. Something other games (COUGH* Killzone 3 COUGH*) seldom take advantage of.
When you get the Leash, a sort of cyber-electric whip for pulling enemies around the map, the combat opens up immensely. The Leash grades you on your kills or “Skillshots” and the better the kills the more points you get, the more points you get the more points you can spend at Dropkits on new weapons and upgrades. This cycle of points essentially reinforces you to squeeze every last point out of combat scenarios. For example, in another game I would just shoot an enemy until his head popped off, well in Bulletstorm that option is there for 10 points, but why do that when you could leash a plant spore, kick it onto an enemies head and then brutally leash them into the spines of a giant cactus. This is called the Scarecrow, and its worth 500 points.
Bulletstorm is better than 90% of shooters simply because it doesn’t expect you to mindlessly shoot your way between cutscenes. Points are multiplied based on which Skillshots you do and how many you can do at the same time. It wants you to excel. You can feel the game design doing more with less simply because you aren’t bored. Bulletstorm reinvents the wheel a little bit, and in the overcrowded First-Person-Shooter market, that makes all the difference.
What Bulletstorm lacks in visuals compared to recent FPS releases (COUGH* Killzone 3 COUGH*), it more than makes up for in variety and well executed art design. I will say it here, Bulletstorm has some of the most beautiful and realistic environments I’ve ever seen. Stygia feels like a real planet, a really fucked-up planet, but an actual place nonetheless. Chapters and setpieces aren’t so far removed from one another that the game is disjointed (I’m looking at you Modern Warfare 2), Bulletstorm is a consistently awesome experience, a rarity in the FPS market.
Every Chapter in each of the seven acts feels unique and driven by a combination of fresh environments, unique gameplay set-peices and tongue-in-cheek humour. At one point, you have to fight your way through a maze of giant Godzilla eggs or gun down mutants on dune buggy’s while being chased by a giant wheel, see photo above. All of that is before venturing into the miniture amusement park and getting your hands on the remote to a giant, weaponized, robot T-Rex that shoots lasers from it’s eyes.
That’s usually the point where people stop reading the review and simply head out to the store to purchase this game. And you should, there is definite replayability to the campaign that most shooters don’t have. The Skillshots and crazy fun alt-fires of each of the eight weapons makes me want to go back and experiment a little more. I keep thinking of the opportunities I missed like a combat area in a skyscraper where I badly wanted to wrap a mutie in a chain-grenade from my Flailgun, kick him over the edge and watch as he explodes moments before hitting the ground. Sigh.
There is also content outside of the campaign that’s above and beyond the standard addition of online deathmatch in other shooters. Bulletstorm has a timed-run mode called Echoes, a Mirror’s Edge-esque timed run through various stages to see who can get the most points in the least amount of time. There is also the multiplayer mode Anarchy, where up to four-players are faced with increasingly tough enemies and you have to strike in unison to string Skillshots together for more points.
Bulletstorm isn’t perfect, but it’s flaws are almost endearing. I did encounter a few technical hiccups like being stuck in the map or textures not filling in (a common problem for Unreal engine), but never bad enough that it took away from the experience. The machismo characters have style and substance, it’s just too bad they’re wrapped in a confusing, unambitious plot. Epic and People Can Fly have made one damn fine shooting experiance, and have managed to set themselves apart from other shooters and actually Leash the attention of a market too focused on Call of Duty and that other Sony franchise that launched the same day.
Bulletstorm is a fun, addictive shooter with gorgeous environments and fantastic level design. It’s not surprising that Epic and People Can Fly made a great game. It’s surprising they made me want to play it again the second it was over.