Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Review: Bulletstorm

Bloody, brutal, fast paced and foul mouthed. Welcome friends to the World of Bulletstorm. The brand new IP from the folks behind Gears of War and Painkiller is finally with us. Riding in on a fifty foot wave of hype to crash in a blood splattered explosion of ultra violence onto our TV screens.

The story behind the game is classic sci-fi B movie fare as you’re placed into the incredibly sturdy boots of Grayson Hunt, the one time member of Dead Echo squad was betrayed, and now bitter and frequently drunk has, along with the rest of Dead Echo, gone rogue. After a failed revenge attack wipes out all but one of his team he finds himself stranded on a desolate Planet, his only companion ‘Ishi,’ once Graysons best friend, now a half human half robot shell in which the two minds clash for control of the body. This sci-fi tale takes us on a journey of revenge, fractured friendships, big guns, bigger explosions, screaming mutants and bone shattering violence and all the while it keeps it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek.

The dialogue in Bulletstorm is a combination of classic cheese and brilliant one liners and at least adds a little flesh to the otherwise skeletal bones of the characters. Grayson, Ishi and co are you’re typical sci-fi stereotypes. Grayson with a voice that sounds like he spent his youth smoking forty Marlboro a day while watching Clint Eastwood films, sports a gung ho don’t give a damn attitude and wears 3 day stubble on his chin and Ishi, like Terminator with a heart, battling to stay in control of mind and body to keep his soul alive. Later we’ll meet Trishka the bad ass female Commando and the deranged General Serrano, the focus of Grayson's wrath. Hardly groundbreaking but to be honest it hardly matters.

Despite the cliches the main protagonists are still very likeable and although the story isn’t going to be discussed in Hollywood as a potential blockbuster movie anytime soon it still serves to drive the game on beautifully, and when I say drive on I mean pedal to the metal.

So, on the back of all the hype the big question is 'does Bulletstorm deliver?'
Simple answer. 'It sure does!'

To fully appreciate the genius on display here you have to forget about what you've come to expect from the modern day FPS. Bulletstorm just doesn't take itself that seriously. It harks back to a bygone age when the driving force behind our shooters was fun. Embrace the game with an open mind and a desire to be entertained and entertained you shall be.

At it's core Bulletstorm is a massively OTT, brutally violent and wonderfully witty arcade game. It isn't going to re-define the FPS genre but it will change the way you play. Largely because in bulletstorm it's all about the 'Skillkills.' Where once your sole focus would be on the enemy now you'll spend just as much time scanning your surroundings, seeking out ever more devilishly cruel ways to dispatch your foe, and it's this that really sets the game apart from it's contemporaries.

Taking an enemy down with gunfire only feels a bit cheap, as though your letting yourself down and should be glowing red with embarrassment at your lack of imagination. Bulletstorm challenges you to be inventive, look at the World around you and use it to wreak blood soaked havoc.

You'll start the game with a run of the mill Assault Rifle but before long there's a whole armoury at your disposal, and what an armoury it is. The Flail Gun and Headhunter rifle being two personal favourites. The Flail fires two grenades connected by a chain which can then be detonated manually and the Headhunter is Bulletstorm's very own sniper rifle complete with Singularity-esque bullet control as the shot nears it's target. This provides some very satisfying bullet cam headshots. Certainly one of the most talked about weapons is the leash, and it works very well, grab an enemy, fling them towards you and then stick the boot in, literally, but it pays to not to rely on it too much. Thankfully not every enemy can be leashed meaning there's plenty of opportunity to fully explore the vast array of alternative ways to inflict pain.

Each weapon has it's own unique set of skillkills to try and pull off and on top of that each can also be charged, and believe me charged weapons do some serious damage. Watching the aftermath of a charged pistol bullet hitting an enemy never gets old, unless of course the sight of said enemy flying 50ft into the air like a 5th of November rocket doesn't appeal to you.

The enemies look superb but are nothing out of the ordinary, we have the ones that run screaming at you, the ones that run screaming at you with a pack of explosives, the duck and cover shooters, the snipers and the mini-gun wielding, grenade launching bosses.

Graphically the game is absolutely top notch, this first becomes apparent as you slide out of your downed spacecraft in Chapter one straight into the Mountainous savage beauty of the planets landscape. It's truly a breathtaking scene and you'll be forgiven for taking a minute or two to breath it all in. Moments like this are frequent throughout Bulletstorm's World, whether you're in the caves or the nightclub or escaping a crumbling building there's always something to make you stop and stare. The game handles high speed gameplay and multiple on screen enemies with consummate ease, there's no noticeable drop in the high standards being set here regardless of the madness unfolding on screen. Sonically the game also packs a punch, the weapons sound suitably powerful when fired, there are rafter shaking explosions aplenty and the voice acting while cliched fits the tone of the game perfectly.

Bulletstorm though, like most games isn't without it's flaws and there are two that stuck out for me. Firstly the bosses dotted throughout the single player campaign don't really pose much of a challenge, most easily disposed of within a minute of entering the action. The second downside......Bulletstorm is short....very short. Granted I played through the campaign on the Normal setting but still, the fact that six to seven hours later I was watching the end credits roll was more than a little disappointing. I felt like I'd just started to get comfortable in my Bulletstorm shoes and it was all over.

After those credits roll though fear not, there's more fun to be had in the shape of Echoes mode and Anarchy. The former a run and gun jaunt through a section of the game attempting to rack up as high a score as possible and climb the online leaderboards, echoes is all about speed, skillshots and beating your friends. While the latter is Bulletstorm does Gears of Wars Horde. Unlike Horde though, teamwork is essential to progress past even the first couple of waves, Anarchy requires you not only to defeat the wave of enemies but also to notch up a high enough score to progress, this takes solid teamwork and communication.

So we don't have online Team deathmatches but what we have in Echoes and Anarchy should keep Bulletstorm in your disc tray for a good few months to come.

In conclusion Bulletstorm is a game that deserves to be in everyone's collection. It's brash, it's fast, it's incredibly bloody, it swears a lot and it takes video game violence to a new level but it manages to do it in such a way that it's never offensive. Bulletstorm will make your pulse race, your heart pound and your sides split. Killing (with skill) has never been so much fun.