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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bulletstorm

Review written by Mahervin Slick


How many times in the past have you been in the middle of a campaign when, in a moment of destructive genius, you end up bringing your enemy to his demise by shooting him in the ass, or unloading an entire clip of bullets into nothing but his foot?  If you’re anything like me then your answer to that question is “hundreds.”  Now, how many times have we been rewarded for such innovation?  Not nearly enough.  Developers ‘People Can Fly’ and ‘Epic Games’ have teamed up in order to provide us with a game that can finally give us the pat on the back we all so rightfully deserve.  ‘Bulletstorm’ is a sci-fi themed first-person shooter that sets itself apart from the competition by actually rewarding players for killing enemies in highly creative and messed up ways.  The campaign, flawed though it may be, is packed with immensely satisfying combat and general moments of brilliance.  The story, on the other hand, is packed with immensely horrendous dialogue and general moments of idiocy.  As long as you remember to mute your television each and every time the characters begin to speak to one another you should end up enjoying the hell out of this game.
‘Bulletstorm’ begins on board a ship outside of Confederate space.  You control Grayson Hunt, a space pirate who has apparently caused enough trouble to warrant a five-hundred million dollar bounty to be placed upon his head.  We find out through a flashback that Gray is a former member of Dead Echo, a now-defunct squad of confederate mercenaries who were hired to assassinate gun runners, slave traders, and mass murderers.  Shortly after murdering one of their targets, however, Gray and the other members of Dead Echo discover that they had actually been manipulated into murdering innocent civilians.  Still thirsty for revenge years later, present-day Gray orders a drunken attack on the ship of the man responsible, effectively sending himself and everyone else on board both the ships to a whole new world of pain - literally.
After an overly long introduction, the game picks up on a former resort planet now inhabited by criminals and warring tribes.  Having crash landed, Gray is forced to fight his way through countless enemies in hopes of finding his way off the planet.  Luckily, Gray is not alone on this journey as he is accompanied by Ishi Santo, another former member of Dead Echo, who has essentially been recreated as a cyborg in order to survive the injuries sustained in the crash that brought him to the planet.  Ishi makes it very clear early on that he does not appreciate the horrific situation that he is in and holds Gray personally responsible.  The tension between the two as well as the conflicting feelings Ishi harbours as a result of his make-shift operation helps keep things interesting as the story moves forward.  
The adventure itself is very linear, to the point that your AI companions will lead the way if you hesitate to move forward at any point.  Exploration is both limited and rarely rewarded; from time to time you will find a separate path that contains a hidden box of ammunition, but that’s about as good as it gets when you wander off the beaten track in Bulletstorm.  
The average-at-best story is made even worse by the immature dialogue and excessive expletives exchanged between each of the vulgar characters in the game.  Profanity in video games is nothing new but is brought down to a whole new low in Bulletstorm.  There may be moments where you find yourself entertained by random chatter in the game but in reality you will most likely spend the majority of the game sighing in disgust.  There is such a thing as trying too hard to be funny and Bulletstorm goes out of its way to prove it.

Although ‘Bulletstorm’ falls short of delivering an original and compelling story, it more than makes up for it with gameplay.  The main draw of the game is the way in which the new ‘skillshot’ system is implemented, which rewards players with points for killing enemies in various and unique ways.  Sure, kicking an enemy into the air and shooting him in the chest a few times will get the job done, but will it net you as many points as shooting an enemy in the testicles before kicking him into a cactus?  These are the types of questions gamers must ask themselves in order to accumulate as many points as possible.  Acting as the games form of currency, all points earned can be used to purchase ammo as well as upgrade the various weapons discovered as the game progresses.  Discovering the many different ways in which you can punish your enemies keeps the game fresh and exciting throughout, even when it starts to lose a little steam about three-quarters of the way through.
The controls are pretty much standard fare for what we have come to expect of first person shooters these days, however the game does introduce a 'kick' mechanic, which upgrades the effect of the standard melee attack, and the 'energy leash,' which compensates for the absence of grenades.  The 'leash,' which can be used to grab enemies and pull them into cacti and electrified wires among other things, never runs out or degrades and will most likely become your most relied upon weapon throughout the course of the game.  There are a few enemies that are fast enough to dodge the kick and the leash but almost every enemy in the game is vulnerable to the slide.  Each of these three attacks hurl enemies through the air and slows down time, allowing you a greater opportunity to inflict more damage and to kill with more skill.  In addition, you will be required to use the kick and leash at certain points in order to remove objects that will otherwise prevent you from progressing on your journey. Fans of 'Dark Sector' will notice a familiarity with the sniping system in the game, which zooms in on the bullet as it leaves the rifle and gives you the ability to direct the bullet in slow motion in order to strike a dodging enemy.  This system slows down the action and almost completely removes the challenge of sniping found in most other first person shooters, but that’s not to say you won’t still be satisfied each and every time you successfully guide a bullet through the skull of your enemy.  Given all of the weapons at your disposal, the overall difficulty of the game borders on easy and therefore those well-versed in the world of first-person shooters should have little to no problem completing the entire campaign on the hardest difficulty within ten to twelve hours.
If the campaign was too short for you liking, you can always revisit small chunks of it in ‘Echo’ mode.  Echo mode allows you to play through shorts sections of chapters from the campaign in order to earn as many skill points as possible in hopes of getting a good ‘star’ rating.  The downer here is that you’ve seen all of this before.  It can be fun if you are the type of person that wants to show up everyone on your friends list with your high score, but if you were hoping for something fresh then Echo mode probably isn’t for you.
  
In contrast to some of the titles previously developed by Epic Games,  the environments in Bulletstorm are bright and full of color.  From character models to weapons, the graphics as a whole are top-notch.  There were some textures that were noticeably rough but nothing that distracted from the gameplay.
The sole multiplayer mode in Bulletstorm is ‘Anarchy’ mode, in which you team up with other players online and work together to earn as many skill points as possible in order to proceed to the next level.  This mode is very shallow and gets old quickly.  The lack of a competitive multiplayer mode keeps the online aspects from being fresh and exciting and instead offers more of the same.

Despite it’s shortcomings, Bulletstorm is a hell of a lot of fun.  The gameplay is exciting and refreshing and should keep you coming back for more.  Bulletstorm isn’t going to rewrite the way interactive stories are told, but it is going to help change the way you kick ass ... and shoot ass ... and whip ass.  And there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.



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