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Variety is the Spice of Death

Score: 8.5/10

Bulletstorm

PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: People Can Fly/Epic Games

Publisher: EA

Release Date: 2/22/2011

 Pros:

  • Unique take on an FPS
  • Incredibly satisfying Skill Shots
  • Encouragement to mix up weapons and approach
  • Weapon upgrades and collectibles warrant multiple playthroughs
  • Surprisingly stunning vistas and overlooks

Cons:

  • Foul-mouth dialogue begins to annoy more than entertain
  • Friendly AI gets in the way more often than not
  • Multiplayer maps feel far too cramped
  • Lackluster ending

Bulletstorm has tossed the gauntlet at other popular shooters in its recent ad campaign. The Halo diaorama was mocked with a more humorous take, and an entire game was created to mock the Call of Duty franchise over the typical shooter formula. Needless to say, Bulletstorm was aiming to change the typical FPS and were making sure everyone knew their goal. Though not perfect, Bulletstorm does deliver a fresh take on the first person shooter genre.

Full Metal Jacket in Space?

Bulletstorm tells the story of Dead Echo, a former elite military group who are on the run after discovering their targets have all been innocents trying to expose government corruption. Grayson Hunt leads his team in downing a war vessel carrying General Serrano, the very general he has been after all these years. With his last remaining crewmates, he seeks to exact his revenge while surviving the alien planet, Stygia. Along the way he encounters Trishka Novak, another foul-mouthed Echo assigned to protect the general. Putting differences aside they must work together to survive the terrors the planet holds, and uncover the truth behind the colony and Serrano's true motives.
For those big on story, Bulletstorm offers little. The character design is FAR too similar to Gears of War, despite the impressive voice actors on board. Grayson and his crew spit out quirky one-liners and head-scratching cuss words every five minutes. While being called dicktits the first time is entertaining, the important dialogue is soon drowned in f-bombs. I am a guy that laughs at fart jokes, and even I had to admit it was getting stale around Act 4.

The characters do have some appeal to them, as everyone loves a good anti-hero protagonist, and Grayson is just what the game needed. The most appealing character ended up being his partner Ishi, who after some emergency cybernetic enhancements, constantly struggles to maintain his humanity with a persistent AI switching him to reason by logic. The cast lacked any real emotional investment, and became just another rag tag group of bullet wielding warriors in a predictable outcome. That is not the say their personalities are not entertaining, just not as unique as they could have been. 

Kill with Skill!

Bulletstorm does have a uniqueness in its gameplay with the addition of a rating depending on how you handle each combat scenario. Each kill nets you a certain amount of skillpoints. The goal is using everything at your disposal to clear out a room of baddies in the most unique, stylish way possible. The more you mix it up, the more points you are awarded. This is alleviated in the slo-mo break you get everytime you kick an enemy or use the leash to pull him your way.

Blazing through the game shooting enemy after enemy in the usual fashion will only net you about +10 skillpoints for each baddie. If you leash an enemy, kick him away, then pop off a headshot you are looking at about +50 skillpoints. Using the thumper to send them into the air and blowing them up with an explosive barrel will be about +500 per enemy. Did you do it drunk? Tack on another +50 for each. This constant ability to increase your score makes it less like a FPS, and more like a puzzle game...a really violent bloody puzzle game.

You will find yourself constantly planning what you need to do next and how you can mix up your kills further. Repeating the same moves over and over will net fewer points than before, so you are encouraged to experiment and play around with the options. Once you get the hang of things and start clearing rooms with single shots, the game becomes much more satisfying. There is still the occasional need for pausing to look up exactly what is required to obtain a certain skillshot, but you eventually commit it to memory and doll out pain and points at each room. 

This Ain't a Scene...

The main campaign uses the score based system to upgrade your equipment, further encouraging your variety in combat. Besides upgrading ammo capacity, you can include a "charge shot" for each weapon; and every weapon becomes more satisfying than the last. There are your standard weapons; shotguns, machine guns, pistols. It's the upgrades for these guns that really make them fun. The charged shot for the pistol can send the enemy rocketing into their friends setting them ablaze for an Afterburner bonus. The shotgun instantly vaporizes any targets hit. Personal favorites include the Sniper Rifle, in which you actually steer the bullet into an enemy, and if charged, can use them as a ticking time bomb.

You are not limited to kills for skillpoints. Viewing an important event by pulling the Left Trigger awards points, pressing the appropriate response for each QTE quickly, and collecting/destroying the various collectibles in the game can also boost you further. In this game ammo is precious and costly, so saving up skillpoints becomes a necessity.

There are a few drawbacks to the campaign. Your AI partners do little more than provide dialogue and take the occasional bullet. They will bash enemies when close, but are basically useless and actually blocked a few of my shots. This feels like a missed opportunity for some assisted skillpoints. The actual campaign itself has a few high moments, but ends with a disappointing boss fight and even more disappointing cliffhanger ending. The Campaign only clocks in at around 6 hours, but the various scenarios and desire to unlock all the skillshots possible will have you coming back for another round. That or you could jump to the Echoes mode, which has you play sections of the campaign and get ranked the appropriate amount of stars based on performance on a worldwide leaderboard.

Bro-mance

In addition to the Campaign there is a co-operative multiplayer. Four players are thrown into an arena with wave after wave of enemies, and a goal score to achieve. You must work together to take out baddies in a combined, stylish effort. Achieve the max points and the next wave occurs, increasing in difficulty...yes, I know this sounds familiar. Every now and then a "Team Challenge" will pop up, requesting a specific skillpoint. If you perform it as intended, expect a huge boost in your score.

The key to this mode is teamwork. Earning stylish points on your own nets you a few skillpoints, but having two people team up to take out a baddie does much more. Let your buddie leash a bad guy and you kick him into the cactus for even more points than if you did it alone. As each wave demands more points you really have to mix it up and work together. This can become frustrating as one terrible partner can essentially ruin the experience. If one guy is failing to use a new skillshot or ruining your Team Challenges again and again, there is little you can do but retry. This cannot really be helped and I put no blame on the developer for it, it is just one of those unfortunate side effects.There is also the fact that each map is surprisingly cramped. I understand emphasizing teamwork, but that shouldn't mean I need to be stuffed into this cramped closet, as each map is usually an oval or a square with a few hazards in-between.

Overall

If you can overlook a few smaller troubles, Bulletstorm is an incredibly satisfying shooter. The added point system and skillshots make the game one-of-kind, and a great start for new IPs this year. It's brutal, fast, and satisfying...in a "clear the whole room with one bullet" sort of way.

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