There’s a moment, about a third of the way through Bulletstorm, where a female character says to protagonist and chief cracker of wise, Grayson Hunt, that if he follows her, she will “kill” his “dick”. Your reaction to the above statement will, more than likely, sway your purchasing decision one way or another. It shouldn’t though, because for all of Bulletstorm’s nauseating bravado, underneath its shell of rippling muscles and infantile jokes, lies a spectacular FPS.
The most difficult thing a new IP has to do to succeed is to make its mark – it has to stand out from the crowd of other, already established games, as well as making itself heard above the hundreds of other new games that are barking for attention around it. Bulletstorm does this in two ways – puerility and points. One of those approaches works, the other is at best a distraction and at worst an affront.
You play through the single player campaign as the aforementioned Grayson Hunt, a foul mouthed, armour clad space pirate with a drink problem and the most magnificently back combed hair this side of an eighties revival disco. You’re aided and abetted by your foul mouthed, newly cyborg-ified friend and comrade Ishi and Trishka, a soldier who may or may not be on your side. And has a foul mouth.
It’s never explained why Trishka, unlike the other soldiers from her unit who are heavily armoured, is wearing a revealing vest, or how Grayson’s hair remains so splendidly bouffant throughout the game, but these are questions for another time. You and your sidekicks traverse a world ravaged by gangs of mutants, man-eating plants, giant stompy monsters and skittering, explosive bugs, shooting everything that moves.
And not just shooting. You also kick bad guys off buildings, blow them up with barrels, fling them into the air and bring them crashing down onto spikes, cacti or into the gullets of waiting flora. You hurl hot dog carts at them, poison them with puffballs to make them attack each other and punt them into exposed electrical wires, gamma storms and radioactive gunk.
For all these marvellous methods of slaughter, you are awarded points. Points that you can spend on upgrading your weapons, purchasing ammo and equipping yourself with charge attacks. Alongside your guns, you also have a leash, which you can use to fling, drag and throw enemies and moveable objects around to your heart’s content. Bulletstorm is incredible fun to play, always offering opportunities for new forms of carnage and mayhem. Even the guns are fun – one fires whirling drills that can skewer multiple opponents, while another blasts out exploding flails that garrote the unwary and behead the unlucky. The sniper rifle doesn’t just highlight targets, its bullets can be steered to make sure that they find somewhere squishy and mortal to penetrate.
Everything in the game is geared to making you feel like a bullet spraying super human, and it works. Whether you’re kicking an insane, green-skinned assailant off the top of a skyscraper or incinerating a masked mutant with a charge shot from your trusty carbine, Bulletstorm puts you firmly in the centre of the action, turning even the simplest of actions into a “wow” moment effortlessly.
More than that, though, the game actively rewards you for thinking up new and imaginative ways to kill. There are hundreds of skillshots to unlock, some of them only usable when you have a specific gun equipped, others only when you’re in a particular place or situation. The more times you use a skillshot in a level, the less points you get for it, so keeping your butchery fresh and different is key to racking up enough points to get that next upgrade.
Alongside the campaign there’s Echoes mode. This is a chance to rerun sections of the game, maxing out your skillshot points and trying to finish the levels under set time limits. Your scores get posted to leaderboards, allowing you to challenge your friends to beat your times and prove they’re way more manly and gruff than you are. Probably. Perfecting your runs and shaving seconds off your time becomes very addictive very quickly and it’s a testament to the design of the game that the levels can be replayed without getting bland.
The multiplayer component of the game comes in the form of Anarchy mode. At first glance, this is your basic horde game, with you and three friends or strangers having to kill wave after wave of attackers. This being Bulletstorm though, there’s a twist – killing won’t be enough to get you past the waves, you’re going to need points as well.
Chaining skillshots with other players is the aim of the game, with bonuses often flashing up on the screen, tasking you with performing actions on a specific enemy as a group. Anarchy is a lot of fun, especially when you’re playing with people you know, and whilst some may bemoan the lack of more traditional multiplayer modes, it’s great to see a shooter doing its own thing.
Bulletstorm is a spectacular game, both in terms of the way it plays and the way it looks. The vistas on show are truly stunning, and it’s nice to see that the Unreal Engine can be used for more than greys and browns – the game is a vibrant melange of colours and hues. The game world is a living, breathing, decaying place and People Can Fly should be praised for the organic way it falls apart around you. However, and this is a big however, the script, and the overall tone of the narrative, is a mess. Some of the dialogue feels like it was written by a hyperactive twelve year old who’s just seen his first episode of South Park and thinks that swearing is funny and clever. Every other word is a reference to genitalia, bodily fluids or cavities and every third word is an unprintable one.
It’s a shame that such an enjoyable experience has to be sullied by a stream of expletives, misogyny and ignorance. Bulletstorm is a hugely enjoyable game, and if you can get past the unfunny jokes and the constant scatological references, there’s a whole heap of fun to be had. It tries something different, and that should be championed – if only the characters had kept their mouths shut, Bulletstorm would have been a classic.
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