Epic games have been heavy hitters in the video game industry ever since Gears of War touched-down on the Xbox 360 in 2006. Since then several highly successful developers have used Epic’s Unreal graphics engine like it is going out of style. So it comes as no surprise Epic along with developers People Can Fly, develop a game which plays very similar to Gears of War and uses the Unreal Engine. Bulletstorm for the Xbox 360 is an over-the-top first person shooter that will surely please all those hardcore Gears of War fans looking for something to sink their teeth into until the next instalment in the Gears franchise arrives in the fall. But will Bulletstorm have appeal for all those looking for something different in a market saturated with first person shooters? I am sure it will; however, a little more could have been done to make Bulletstorm a much more complete experience.
As far as the games plot is concerned, Bulletstorm takes place in the 26th century, where the Confederation of Planets are protected by a secret black-ops army called Dead Echo. You play as Grayson Hunt who was dishonorably discharged from Dead Echo after they were betrayed by their commanding officer, General Sarrano. Grayson is a killing machine who thrives on drunkenness and chaos to escape the haunting memories of the brutal acts he committed under the orders of General Sarrano. After a spontaneous and liquor-induced attempt to take revenge on the General and his forces, Grayson and his sidekick Sato’s ship crash-landed on the planet Stygia. It is a planet overrun by criminals, meat eating plants, flesh eating gangs and monsters. With the help of Sato, your primary objective in the game is to find a way off the planet while doing battle with the General’s forces.
Overall, Bulletstorm storyline is decent yet at the end of the day nothing incredibly earth shattering. What I did find interesting however was the relationship between Gray and Sato. The tension at times was intense. Throughout most of the single player campaign I found myself waiting for something to happen between to the two of these unpredictable and reckless characters. As good as the plot can be at times, the crude and some times cheesy voice acting at times took away from the story somewhat. As much as I chuckled, I was also left shaking my head at other times. I cannot help but think the story really tends to take a backseat to the real enjoyment of the game which consists of eliminating enemies in a variety of ways using the multitude of weaponry you obtain as you progress along in the game. It should come as no surprise that with a game called Bulletstorm the real entertainment value rests with killing.
Bulletstorm’s single player campaign mode is the meat and potatoes of the game. There is a multiplayer component but it is rather thin in terms of match types and maps. But I will get into that a bit more below. Overall, the single player campaign is enjoyable but rather short. You can burn through the single player campaign in about 6-8 hours depending on how much time you take exploring for ammo, searching for destructable bots, finding booze bottles or taking your time slicing up your enemies. I am the type who likes to take his time going trough each of the areas searching every nock and cranny. Despite this I still found the experience somewhat short. This being said, Bulletstorm features no side-missions or backtracking through levels. So the developers get plenty of kudos for that. Bulletstorm plays out like many other first person shooters as each level is objective based. It is linear but it certainly is one heck of a ride. Fortunately, Bulletstorm does not feature level upon level of shooting the enemy, advancing and repeat. The boss battles and timed based objectives spice things up a bit. Not to mention there is also one really cool sequence where you are controlling a remote control giant dinosaur which shoots the enemies on command. Sure this segment could have been fine-tuned a bit better but there is no question it is highly enjoyable and was a nice break from your typical first person shooter chaos.
Aside from the over-the-top language and shooter action, Bulletstorm introduces some other unique elements to the mix which sets it apart from your typical first person shooter. For starters, Bulletstorm introduces a point system for kills called “skillshots”. Every kill earns points, but the more difficult or stylish the kill the more skillshot points are rewarded. Accumulated skillshot points allow you to purchase weapons, upgrades and ammo. Shooting your enemy in the ass, for instance, earns you a specific amount of points. Likewise, flinging an enemy into the air with your energy leash and kicking him into some electric wires will also earn you a decent amount of skillshot points. You can view information on skillshots at the skillshot database in the skillshot menu. Confused yet? It is a unique system but works like an XP system that became somewhat common place after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare arrived on the scene. Essentially you are rewarded for the more creative ways in which you kill the enemies. I have to say as the game progressed I was looking for more and more creative ways to take out the enemy. It makes for some hilarious and fantastic moments. It also gives the game that addictive element which made it had for me to put down.
Did I mention electric Leash? Whether it be kicking your opponent into a giant cactus or using your electric “Leash” to fling an opponent into an electric gate, Bulletstorm encourages you to get creative when you kill the enemy. Using your “Leash”, which Gray collects at the beginning of the campaign, adds to the creativity kill process. Yet the Leash still feels awfully similar to energy weapons we have used in games such as Bioshock and Infamous. The Leash allows Gray to snatch enemies from a far and fling them towards you in the air. It is fun at first but the novelty wears off quickly. Fortunately as you progress along in the campaign, you accumulate a variety of weapons and some of which have amazingly satisfying results. Also all weapons have secondary fire options which can be unlocked provided you have enough skillshot points. For instance the Peacemaker Carbine gun fires a special purpose clip of 100 bullets in one concentrated blast which completely obliterates the enemy. The secondary fire options are nice and sure help when fighting some of the bigger enemies. All in all, I was quite happy with all the weapons and the game did a nice job of making each weapon unique in their own way.
The controls in the game are very similar to Gears of War; however there is no cover system like we see in the Gears series. A jump button would have also been nice but alas there was no such button in the game. Instead of a jump button or typical melee button, Bulletstorm features kicking and sliding. Simply double tap the ‘A’ button and your character will go sliding away just like we have seen in games such as Mirror’s Edge. It works well and there are some intense moments where you character is sliding down a collapsing landscape. Likewise kicking an enemy launches them straight back in slo-motion. Again it works well and but doesn’t make up for the absence of a jump or punch button. At the end of the day I just felt a few more control options would have made the experience a little more complete.
Overall, the visuals in Bulletstorm are very strong. I still recall when I had my first glimpse of the game at E3 last year. Bulletstorm looked great back then and it looks even better today. Bulletstorm features a tremendous amount of eye-candy and it still amazes me the work the developers can do with the Unreal graphics engine. Everything from the characters to the vibrant environments all comes to life. Bottom line, Bulletstorm is a game which shines in the visuals department.
Just like the two games in the Gears of War franchise, Bulletstorm’s character design and animation is top notch. The level of detail with each of the characters, including the enemies, is stunning. Sure our main heroes in the game will remind you of Marcus and Dom to an extent in terms of their size and stature. They are large and look like they have been on the “juice” but they do suit the games over-the-top style quite well. There is also quite a bit of variety with each of the enemies and it comes as no surprise all the characters move pretty fluidly with out a stutter in their step.
The games environments are also a sight to behold. The games levels are linear; however, there are a lot of open areas to go along with tight corridors. Bulletstorm takes place in the 26th century on a planet filled with meat-eating plants, feral mutant tribes, random hoodlums, and Godzilla-sized monsters. The details with each of the areas on the planet are phenomenal. Each level looks different and there is not a whole of repetition.
My only concern with games visuals would be some of the games cut-scenes. They just did not look as polished as they could have been. Some look great but others especially early in the game do not look as clean as they could. I can’t recall the last time I played a game where the in-game graphics were consistently visually superior to the games cut-scenes. This being said, the cut-scenes are hard to skip as the crude and profanity-laced dialogue of the characters has you hanging on every word.
As with the games visuals, the sound in the game is top notch. Granted, you will have to make sure the kids are not within ear-shot of the game as Bulletstorm features likely the most profanity laced language and sexual innuendo I have ever heard in a game since I can remember. It can certainly be a little ridiculous at times but can also be quite humorous. For instance, in one scene one of the female characters yells something to the effect that she is going to “kill his dick”. Our hero then questions what that means, which made me chuckle yet left me shaking my head and I almost felt embarrassed I was playing such a game.
The games soundtrack is well done. The music really gives you the feeling you are immersed in the big screen movie. As we typically see with games in its genre, the music amps-up as the action becomes more intense and settles down after you have sliced up all the enemies in sight. In some instances the music seemed ill-timed however for the most part it went quite well with the game.
Aside from some of the language, I found the voice acting pretty darn good. Sure, it won’t win any academy awards, but each characters dialog has a role to play and the way they interact with one another is believable, if not cheesy now and then. Each voice is crisp and clear and the lip syncing is bang on.
The sound effects in the game are also impressive. From the sound of your various weapons to the explosions to the blood gurgling noises enemies make after they have been splattered, everything makes for a very engrossing sound field. A lot of this has to do with the Dolby Digital encoding that went into this game. If you play your Xbox 360 through a full surround sound system be prepared for an audio experience second to none. The sounds that come from each and every speaker really convey all the action that is going on on-screen. I was fully amazed how localized everything was. As you make your way through the levels you come to appreciate each and every audio byte included in this game.
There is a co-op mode but unfortunately it is reduced to playing only certain levels. There is no such cooperative mode where you and a buddy can progress along in the single player mode from beginning to the end. This would have been a nice addition as playing through the entire single player campaign with a friend would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, no such ability exists and to me this was a major disapointment.
The overall online modes in Bulletstorm is also an area which caused me some concern. For starters, Bulletstorm does not features a deathmatch, team deathmatch or capture the flag type modes. Instead you get the equivalent of Gears of Wars Horde mode. Sure is plays a tad differently than Gears Horde mode but stripped down that is exactly what it is. Frankly it is not my cup of tea but I do recognize many may love the online play in Bulletstorm. For me, it was enjoyable for awhile but I was craving some kind of deathmatch in a mater of minutes. The lack of multiplayer options unfortunately brings down the replay value of the game.
Bulletstorm is the equivalent of a summer time big-screen Hollywood blockbuster. Sure it is fun and features plenty of eye candy which pushes the limits of the Xbox 360’s hardware but it lacks in depth and substance. The lack of multiplayer options, short single player mode and lack of a cooperative mode where I can play through the entire campaign from beginning to end with a friend were all significant issues for me. There is no question, Bulletstorm has all the ingredients to be considered a ‘Triple A’ title. Yet at the end of the day, Bulletstorm will likely only wet the appetite of Gears of War fans until the next instalment arrives later this year.