Lets face it; PC shooters in this day and age are a dime a dozen. At best,
most offer a lackluster single player campaign that serves as a tutorial to prop
up the main attraction, aka multiplayer modes. At worst, they rely heavily on
some basic gimmick or oddball weaponry thats a thinly veiled attempt to
reinvent Half Life 2s gravity gun.
And then theres Bulletstorm.
Developed by People Can Fly (of Painkiller fame) and Epic Games using the Unreal Engine 3.5, Bulletstorm seems hell bent
on becoming the next great first-person shooter (FPS) franchise, offering a worthwhile single player campaign
and, even more importantly, a highly unique spin on what you think you know about FPS combat.
But if youre expecting a deep, meaningful story to unfold as you traverse the
torn cityscapes of Stygia, youll be in for a pretty major disappointment.
Bulletstorms plot is so laughably shallow that I wouldnt be at all surprised
if it was originally scrawled down on a whisky-soaked napkin after a night of
binge drinking while watching low-budget movies on SyFy.
Thankfully, the engaging combat and exceptional level and environmental design
more than make up for the storylines many blatant shortcomings. But are these
elements enough to allow Bulletstorm to ascend to the rank of a must-have shooter
experience? Or is the game simply a vehicle to tide over impatient Gears of War fans until the third installment of that series is released later this year? Read on and find out.
Bulletstorm has been rated M (Mature 17+) by the ESRB for the following:
- Blood and Gore
- Intense Violence
- Partial Nudity
- Sexual Themes
- Strong Language
- Use of Alcohol
From the above list, the main cautions to be aware of are Bulletstorms
gratuitous violence and prolific, often vulgar use of profanity. Exploding heads, shotgun blasts that
literally rip enemies in half, and language foul enough to make even a pirate
blush are all par for the course.
Sexual Themes relates to the above mentioned overuse of profanity throughout the
game, and Partial Nudity mostly made the list due to one of the games numerous
Skillshots which involves stunning bosses, kicking them in the ass to remove the
armor plating, and sending a charged weapon blast where the sun doesnt shine.
For the most part the ESRB is simply covering its own collective ass by slapping
the partial nudity label on Bulletstorm.
Gameplay - 90 / 100
Its almost a shame that Bulletstorm is so readily lumped into the FPS genre
since the gameplay becomes infinitely more enjoyable the less directly you rely
on your arsenal of weaponry. Thats also the games fatal flaw; the thing that
keeps it from fully rising above the endless waves of shooters-with-a-gimmick.
For all of Bulletstorms unique features, its almost as if developer People Can
Fly wasnt sure quite how to turn them into a more complete game experience.
In Bulletstorm, players assume the role of space pirate Grayson Hunt, who leads
the remaining member of his former Dead Echo squad, Ishi Sato, on a suicide
revenge mission against their former commanding officer, General Sarrano. While
one might think that years of alcohol abuse and the mercenary lifestyle would
have taken their toll on Hunt, hes pretty much exactly the kind of impossibly
muscular tough guy thats more of a caricature than character found in just
about every major game released under the Epic brand over the past decade.
After Hunt crashes his ship directly into Sarranos in one of the opening sequences,
both ships crash land on the former resort planet of Stygia. A botched medical
procedure leaves Ishi looking like a cyborg enthusiasts take on Frankenstein,
and the pair immediately set off in hopes of finding a way to escape the
Your companions for most of the game, Ishi and Trishka offer little in terms of combat support, but make up for it with plenty of witty, if not vulgar, chatter to keep you entertained."
Rounding out your team is Trishka, a commando still serving under General
Seranno who initially only joins you out of necessity and a greater chance of
survival. Even though Ishi and Trishka will be part of your team for the bulk of
the game, theyre largely used as a plot device rather than offering any
meaningful combat support.
The early levels do a decent job of introducing you to Bulletstorms main
attraction the Skillshot system and basic weaponry. Youll also quickly gain
access to a device called the Energy Leash which works a bit like an electric
whip that can trigger traps or latch onto enemies to pull them towards you, and is also used to access the dropships found in every level where you
can change your weapon load out, or purchase upgrades and resupply ammo.
Skillshots are essentially a long list of creative ways to kill your enemy which
may or may not even involve using your weapons. Some of the more basic
Skillshots include things like kicking enemies into environmental hazards, or
over the edge of a cliff. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are
Skillshots that require you to do things like shoot your target in the nuts, and
then again in the head while theyre writhing on the ground in pain, or
literally shooting someones ass off while theyre flying through the air.
Using the energy leash on dropships allows you to access a full list of possible skillshots for each weapon or even environmental factors.
The more creatively you use the environment as a weapon and chain together
combos, the more points youll be rewarded for every Skillshot you unlock. These points can then be spent by accessing one of the plentiful dropships in the game. While weapon upgrades are pretty
cheap and unlock fairly quickly, youll typically only need to spend your points
to resupply ammo or charged attack modes for your weapons. Charged attacks add yet
another layer of depth to Skillshots, and often result in some absurdly graphic
Bulletstorm also includes some random collectable elements peppered throughout
each level, such as beer bottles that you can either opt to drink or destroy.
Performing Skillshots while too drunk to see straight can certainly be a blast,
but drinking or destroying all 20 bottles has no impact on the game whatsoever
outside of an achievement unlock.
The downside to all the over-the-top mayhem is that its extremely short-lived.
A first play through the campaign took me under 6 hours to complete, and the
games sole multiplayer mode never quite capitalizes on the games combat
Still, Bulletstorm is a much needed breath of fresh air in a progressively stale
genre. The combat is highly unique and rewarding, and doesnt rely on
shoehorning in pointless boss fights just to ramp up the difficulty. There are,
however, a few too many quick time events for my liking, and the constant stream
vulgarities spewing out of the main characters gets old quickly.
Graphics - 90 / 100
The Unreal Engine 3.5 may be showing signs of its age at this point, but Bulletstorm certainly capitalizes on its full potential when it comes to the games environments. Youll spend the bulk of the game on the planet Stygia, and while the cityscapes are mostly in ruins, the impressive backdrops and use of a more vibrant color palette help keep things visually interesting throughout. Some of the interior spaces are also exceptionally well done, and offer enough variety to keep the games pacing from ever feeling too sluggish.
One of my favorite levels, Worst Family Fun Vacation Ever, combines a good mix of clever interior spaces and chaotic exteriors to nice effect.
The graphics seem to scale respectably well overall, and even running the game at max settings I never dropped below 60 fps even during some of the more intense single player chapters or multiplayer waves. Bear in mind that I was running the game using 2x Nvidia 570s in SLi, but Bulletstorm supports older GPUs though if you run the game on a system closer to the required specs youll likely need to scale the graphics settings down a fair amount.
The only negative tick in the graphics department would be for Bulletstorms use of pre-rendered, horrendously compressed in-engine cutscenes. The drop in visual quality here is incredibly jarring, and unfortunately keeps the game from receiving an overall high score for graphics.
Sound - 77 / 100
The biggest standout element in the sound department is Bulletstorms voice acting, the overly cliché cyborg audio processing and inflection of Ishi Sato notwithstanding. While the overall storyline and shallow motivations of Grayson Hunt may be largely forgettable, Steve Blum (aka Rytlock Brimstone to the GW2 fans out there) still manages to help turn Grayson into a likable and, more importantly, believable enough character for you to at least feel it might be worth plodding through the game to see if hell ever complete his quest for revenge.
Jennifer Hale also lends her considerable talents to the mix, assuming the role of Trishka. While there are definitely points when you can close your eyes and assume youre listening to the foul-mouthed older sister of Mass Effects female Commander Shepard rather than a wholly believable, unique character, thats not necessarily a bad thing considering how poorly developed the characters are.
Beyond that, the audio in Bulletstorm didnt really leave much of an impact on me, either good or bad. And once you tire of the nonstop profanity (and you no doubt quickly will) the game could just as easily be played with the sound muted and your favorite record playing on your iPod.
Multiplayer - 60 / 100
If I had any major gripe about Bulletstorm it would be for the game's incredibly lackluster multiplayer mode. Anarchy mode places groups of four players into scaled-down maps and has them facing multiple waves of AI opponents. To progress between waves, your team must collectively score enough points through skillshots, or you'll be forced to replay that wave until you do.
Anarchy mode does offer a quick join option, but due to the chaotic nature of combat it works best when playing with a preformed group of friends.
While there are some awesome opportunities to expand on the core skillshot system involving cooperative kill combos, Anarchy gets pretty boring quickly. There's hardly enough variety to justify the multiplayer leveling system, but I suppose Players Can Fly felt the need to at least give players at least some reason to bother.
Considering how engaging the game's combat system is overall, it truly is a shame that there are no PvP maps. While the lack of their inclusion certainly isn't reflected in my score here, the tacked-on feel of Anarchy mode most definitely is.
Value - 70 / 100
For the hefty full retail price tag of $60, you would expect a lot more from Bulletstorm than a roughly 6 hour single player campaign, replay leaderboard system, and tacked-on cooperative multiplayer mode. The lack of a meaningful value to cost ratio makes you wonder how it could have taken four years to develop the game.
I would certainly recommend Bulletstorm to anyone looking for a unique FPS experience that rewards creativity in combat over twitch gaming skill level, but I would also encourage people to wait until the price has seen a significant drop. The overall value simply isnt there to justify the full retail price. At best Bulletstorm should have been a $40 game from the word go, but its pretty obvious that EA and Epic were simply trying to cash in on brand recognition while fans wait for Gears of War 3 (multiplayer beta access for that title is bundled in the box purchase for the Xbox 360 version). Why that same price was forced on PC gamers for the initial release though is anyones guess.
As fun as Bulletstorm is, its too bad that it has such a high price point, but one look at the game's official website and it's pretty clear the marketing department had a hand in that.
Lasting Appeal - 77 / 100
Bulletstorm is a title that clearly doesnt take itself too seriously, and that carries over to how likely youll be to continue playing the game once the exceedingly short single player campaign has been completed. The multiplayer mode available seems more like an afterthought, so unless youre the type of gamer to get hooked on achieving high leaderboard rankings in the Echoes replay challenge mode, Bulletstorm is likely to become a very fire and forget gaming experience for most.
Pros and Cons
- Clever combat that keeps you entertained for the duration of the single player campaign
- Outdoor environments are superb, and most levels are crafted to take full advantage of the skillshot system
- The voice acting is excellent, even if the talent wasn't given much to work with
- Forgettable multiplayer mode that never capitalizes on the games potential for kick-ass player vs. player mayhem
- A shallow storyline that you can never quite tell if youre supposed to take seriously or not
- Abundant use of quick time events. Did anyone ever actually like these things to begin with?
- Games for Windows Live. Worst. System. Ever.
It becomes obvious in the final act of Bulletstorm that the game is intended to develop into yet another franchise under the Epic Games umbrella. But at the end of the day, for all of Bulletstorms over-the-top chaotic combat the game still falls short of being truly epic, and feels a bit more like a tech demo for the next Gears of War release rather than a fully realized concept.
The overly abundant and vulgar use of profanity will be a turnoff for most players who arent space pirates themselves, and the laughably shallow plot certainly doesnt help matters. However, the overall gameplay experience is a breath of fresh air for the genre, even if its potential is never fully realized.
This is doubly true when it comes to Bulletstorms multiplayer. Being a Games for Windows Live title certainly doesnt help matters in that department either.
Still, Bulletstorm is worth checking out despite its many blatant flaws as a complete package. Although until a PC demo finally emerges (its still MIA a full month after release) I would expect that any lasting success as a PC release will rest solely on how heavily the game is promoted as a discount title on Steam later this year.