Bulletstorm rains hell on everything you know about the shooter genre.
To be perfectly honest, I was prepared to not like Bulletstorm.
I know that sounds bad. There was a lot of marketing hype at stake. The ads oozed out the things that for some reason the kids these days like to hear. ‘Kill with skill.’ Pictures of hyper realistic gore and mayhem. Boots stomping into faces and getting points for drilling your opponents in a place that is intensely uncomfortable. Penny Arcade boldly stated that ‘[ass shooting] changed the game’. I’m usually right there with Penny Arcade, but… it all seemed rather gratuitous.
Maybe I’m getting older, but the promise of maiming one’s enemies… not really what I’m looking for. I tend to shy away from gratuitous torture as something I willingly participate in. I’ll admit, there was a dumber, younger time when I saw the allure of such violent, digital pastimes. Wild 9 comes to mind – cartoonish though it was (and to some degree lessened in impact by the cartoony nature of the game). I’m inclined to not like the idea of maiming and hurting people for the sheer hell of it as a willing participant these days in the same way I don’t give money to the Hostel or Saw movie franchises. Violence may be the oldest macguffin in the playbook when it comes to storytelling (and I’m in no way shying from violence in my novel writing) but torture isn’t my thing. I like FPS as much as the next guy, but I like an explanation – even a thin one – of why I’m the good guy here.
As it turns out, ‘wanton torture’ are perhaps the wrong words. Perhaps ‘penitent ass-beating’ is better?
In games like Bulletstorm, storytelling counts for a bit. My first encounter with the game was at a friend’s place in the city. They’d got Bulletstorm via the GameFly program, and so, I watched them play a little bit. It begins with a scene in which a bounty hunter is being drunkenly interrogated at gun point and threatened with physical harm by Gray, the game’s protagonist. I was smug in the satisfaction that my opinions were warranted when they then spaced the bounty hunter out of an airlock. I then proceeded to watch the whole situation go pear-shaped as they drunkenly take on an opponent that is way too big for them and are put into a terrible situation as a result. I then watched, through Gray’s eyes, the better part of the ship’s crew die because of the main character’s booze-soaked decision. You then find out a little more about why they’re where they’re at. As it turns out, the characters were a part of a black-ops murder squad under the impression that they were killing some very, very bad hombres. Too bad their marks were actually innocents crusading against their commander. When they find out they’ve been played, they decide to go rogue and take on their former leader. At some point the crusade went wrong and alcohol – lots of it by the sound of things – became involved, and the goal became something less than what it should have been. The character has a moment of clarity after watching his crew die on his drunken say-so, and finally sees exactly how bad things have turned on his watch. Realizing this, he sets out to toward the same goal – but for better reasons than just drunken revenge. This begins his quest to save the life of his single remaining crew member who is now an AI-influenced psychopath; something which is, again, the main character’s own damned fault.
The story turns it a little more into the redemption quest than I thought.
‘But the wanton violence!’ you cry out. ‘What about the objection to wanton violence? Killing with skill! Surely this sickens you?’
Once you face the opponents you’re up against, you stop really thinking in those terms. The shitstorm you land in puts you in the middle of a paradise world turned DMZ. The fighting factions? Hyper-crazed gangers and hideous mutated monsters twisted into horrendous mockeries of human beings. It’s unclear exactly what the creatures are and how they came to be, but it is apparent that the Confederacy has played a hand in transforming the inhabitants of the planet into monsters, and uses the place and it’s folk as a training camp of sorts for their black ops kill teams. Once you realize this, it doesn’t seem too bad to toss them about like ragdolls and throw a little precision in for good measure.
There was my albeit thin explanation for being the ‘good’ guy (and Gray is hardly a ‘good’ man). I picked it up and now you get a review!
Yes – the game does meet the description on the box. Killing with skill is not simply a gleeful bonus in which you laugh and guffaw as some meathead dies impaled on rebar. Skill kill has to do more with ensuring that you get a continued supply of upgraded weaponry and ammunition. For each kill you can get a measly ten Skill Points. Not enough to keep you supplied in ammo or guns. But, with appropriately challenging skill kills – say kicking an opponent into the sky and doing him in (Bullet Kick), you get thirty-five points: ten for the kill, twenty-five for the mid-air elimination. With that in mind, you can add to it. Head shot? Another twenty-five. Knock him into a nearby set of impromptu spikes? Voodoo Doll: One hundred points. Shoot him in the butt? Rear Entry: two-hundred fifty. That’s an ammo clip and then some right there.
Now add in the device keeping score in the first place, the Leash. The Leash lets you throw out a beam of energy to a target and pull them toward you. This is good not only for pulling things out of your way, but yanking your foes off their feet and bringing them to you for a kill. It offers a few ways of getting skill shots off as well, such as the Flyswatter (thumping multiple enemies to death with the Leash) or the various environmental kills (Pricked, Voodoo Doll and Environ-mental respectively). It’s the game’s signature mechanic when you come down to it. It reminds me more than a little of the Rig of Wild 9 infamy come to think of it.
As Epic is fond of doing as well, the game is visually amazing to look at. Likewise, the voice acting is pretty good too, starring the voice talent of Steve Blum (the voice behind Spike of Cowboy Bebop). Between gameplay, visuals and voice talent, the result is a game that is very fun to play and that keeps the action moving. Yes, I’ll agree, it’s gratuitous, but it’s also kind of fun. I imagine there’s not a lot of replay value here, but there is a multiplayer component that I haven’t played yet. This is in part because I really don’t care about competitive multiplayer (so sue me) and partially because XBox live interactions tend to end up with joining a PUG full of idiots. Some of them vocal. If people want to talk about multiplayer stuff, the comments field is there for you.
At the end of the day, this is a pretty solid entry. I’ll give it a 4 out 5 stick rating, and recommend it for those looking for mayhem to go along with their FPS experience. And for those who can say they’re old enough to stand by the ESRB M rating.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Electronic Arts, Developer: People Can Fly/ Epic Games ; Release Date: February 22, 2011; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Bulletstorm purchased by Hey Poor Player.