February 28, 2011
The hardest part about Bulletstorm is the first few minutes, where storyline and tutorial take a priority. It's easy to sit down and judge the game early, as the very core mechanics of this title are nothing without the weaponry. Players can run at high speeds, slide and kick enemies into the air, and subsequent airborne enemies will slow down for further combos. But these parts of the game, while absolutely integral to the experience, by themselves fail to provide any kind of amusement. Kicking people is fun once in a while, and sliding around is one of the coolest (if not most reckless) means of entering combat ever created, but as players slowly unravel exactly why the main character is on an adrenaline fuelled rampage it's hard to see the full picture. Only when players make it past the first chapter does it finally click. Bulletstorm is absolutely awesome.
It's because the game is so dependent on the weaponry working in perfect conjunction with melee moves, simply shooting enemies isn't enough. Yes, it's absolutely possible to sit around and empty an entire clip into the opposition, but that very same scenario can be handled in dozens of different ways. Kicking explosives into a fray is a simple move, but once players start to get the grasp of Bulletstorm's mechanics all kinds of alternatives begin to appear. Snagging someone with a grenade and then kicking them into nearby reinforcements, using the leash to pull an enemy that's too far away directly into line of fire (or alternatively into enemy fire) or guiding explosive sniper bullets around corners where foes desperately try to leap out of the way. The level of creativity in Bulletstorm is pretty staggering; and seeing all these weapons perform even more effectively together than they do individually just opens up even more options.
Even assuming these skill shots weren't available on a gun-to-gun basis, the game also has one of the most interesting (and deadly) level designs ever created. Where most FPS titles simply use the level as a backdrop to the combat (in addition to providing places to hide during combat), the level design in Bulletstorm is also central to gameplay. Blowing up enemies is effective, but so is knocking them into fans, flame pits, over cliffs and into electric currents. These elements of the environment lend a helping hand when it may be hard to reach an enemy, or when a particular mini-boss is doing a good job giving his goons cover.
Where the action and gunplay in Bulletstorm reign supreme, the storyline can be extremely hit or miss depending on what kind of gamer you are. Sometimes the humor is spot on, coupling itself with the games ridiculousness to make for a good time, but others it tends to push on for a little too long. It's also a game which really makes full use of the M rating, with a script that easily puts to shame even the most crude and absurd rap songs, possibly even setting a record for the number of times the word 'dick' is said in a single hour let alone across the entire game's existence. In a way it's funny, but it's also a trick that can get old extremely fast.
Thankfully the game doesn't just have the campaign mode to entertain, as both online multiplayer and a an offline 'arcade mode' exist to test players' skills. Offline it's possible to replay various levels of the game with a pretty simple goal: get as many points before clearing a level as fast as possible. Knowing exactly where the key points in the level to exploit are helps for sure, but since the objective in the end is speed and efficiency players should find themselves pretty well tested in some of the later (longer) Echoes.
Multiplayer works in a similar fashion to Gears of War's horde mode, in which players find themselves facing an increasingly difficult number of enemies over a period of time. However, unlike Gears of War where the focus is on a team's ability to bunker down, control entry points, and isolate the dangerous targets, Bulletstorm's focus is very similar to the single player. Waves can only be passed when enough points are acquired, and the most points are earned when players on a team work with one another. Kicking an enemy only to have it be finished off by someone else would seem like kill stealing in some games, but this sort of teamwork is actively rewarded in Bulletstorm's online world. Only by working together will players really get enough points to push through to the next wave, meaning players must always keep in mind that killing alone isn't enough to get the job done.
Graphically Bulletstorm is a treat, offering one of the few environments in-game that's both fantastic to look at and absolutely mandatory to scour. Even things as simple as overgrown cacti become a valuable resource to players, giving quick ways to dispose of enemies and rack up some impressive points. The game also features a pretty decent soundtrack, which while not emotionally tugging, fits the wild and frantic combat of the game. It won't win any awards anytime soon, but at least it's not grating.
Bulletstorm is one of the rare instances of a game that absolutely must be experienced to appreciate firsthand, it's simply impossible to judge the title without playing. Stringing together a series of kills is fun, and online modes provide that extra bit of entertainment for those interested in the Gears of War horde mode, but the real reward behind Bulletstorm is getting good at the game. There's something to be said at learning when to intuitively kick, slide, and blast your way through the right groups, not to mention being awarded tremendous amount of points while doing so. Bulletstorm is a game about the journey, rather than the destination, and though it's journey is violent, crude, and often times extremely immature, it's one that's also extremely memorable and worth taking at least a couple times.
Bulletstorm was reviewed on the Xbox 360. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.