Lowbrow humor about dicks and latent homosexuality interwoven with wacky, off-the-wall violence are usually closer to what many would expect to find in Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino films let alone a video game, but somehow Bulletstorm pulls it off in a surprisingly intriguing way.
After all, there’s little argument that FPS titles have caught a severe case of stagnation in the last couple of years. Namely with the almost assembly line-style creation currently being applied to the Call of Duty series, but additionally the fact that almost every major shooter coming out this year is leaning closer to sequel than original. Crysis 2, Gears of War 3, F.E.A.R 3, Battlefield 3, and whatever Call of Duty titles we can expect from Activision’s grindhouse are more than enough to justify rolling one’s eyes at the announcement trailers. But, breaking from much of the established paradigm, Bulletstorm seeks to add some lime to the proverbial coconut before mixing it all up.
Not necessarily contravening from tradition is the narrative, which centers on Grayson Hunt and his liquor-fueled, raging lust for revenge against General Sarrano, it is an interesting prospect that, at least a small part of me, kept pushing to the next chapter in the name of conclusion. Sarrano, who apparently used Hunt and his team to murder innocent civilians under the supposition that they were eliminating drug dealers, mass murderers and other generally bad people via various black ops, it isn’t too difficult to empathize with Gray and his boner for vengeance after going awol from Sarrano and the Confederate Forces. Nevertheless, as the game goes on, the narrative acts more as an interesting end point on a wild set of rails.
After crashing on a planet, formerly a vacation paradise long since overrun by violent gangs, mutants and monstrously huge creatures, Gray and his fellow crewmate Ishi (who suspiciously looks like Lt. Minh from the original Gears of War) must make their way across the surface of the planet not only to survive, but get to Sarrano who becomes their ticket off-world.
Over the course of the game, it was more or less a mixture of the standout gameplay, which was a happy fusion of shockingly jaw-dropping and outright hilarious, which consistently kept me coming back for more. The gameplay, which ties together running, sliding, shooting, kicking and leashing into one of the most tightly, composed shooting experiences of the last few years. The sprinting, being straight forward enough gives way to the real fun that comes from the elemental combinational creation of skill shots players are able to pull off. The leash, a device allowing players to suddenly pull an enemy or object, acting as a catalyst to set up a skill shot by following a leashing with a kick and shooting the enemy. Likewise, should there be fighting at dizzying heights, players can simply slide towards enemies and kick them off the ledges to their vertigo-inducing fates.
At times, it was almost staggering to me how many different skill shots there are for players to unlock over the course of the game. Some being specific to various locations and some to specific weapons or even the leash itself all garner the player Skill points. These points can be used at supply pods ejected from Sarrano’s crashed ship to re-arm or unlock upgrades for the leash and weapons, but players will quickly develop a preference for weapons that suit them most, regardless of the variety. Yet all are satisfying to use for the most part and encourage players to try everything they can to kill whatever is in front of them to unlock a new skill shot and, by proxy, a slew of points.
When not slaughtering anything and everything in your way, the traded dialogue between characters is more than enough to warrant a second playthrough, if for no other reason that to make sure you heard what you think they said – and odds are the assumption will more than often be correct. The violence isn’t the only reason this game is rated M. There are insults in this game that would give even George Carlin pause. But for all the vulgarity, it’s refreshingly new verbiage that I can guarantee you’d never hear uttered in tactically-oriented shooters like CoD or Battlefield and that is definitely a welcome change.
As a small and relatively quick aside, it’s worth mentioning that the game does have its fair share of quick time events and small environmental interactions that either require the player to hit the left and right triggers at the proper moment or tap A, B, X, Y at the appropriate time. These aren’t obtrusive or cause any disruption; I just felt it worth noting that in 2011, the QTE is still alive, well and driving gameplay forward in a pseudo-progressive guise.
Stylistic violence and amusing commentary aside, the game is at its heart worth playing. Very similar to Crackdown, which many suspected sold simply because it was a free ticket into the Halo 3 multiplayer so many years ago, ended up being a historically fun single and multiplayer experience that deservedly received a sequel after the fact. Analogously, having the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta attached to the Epic Edition could be a contributing factor to why Bulletstorm sold so well initially, but it doubtfully isn’t the primary reason.
For all the FPS shooters currently available, from Halo to Call of Duty and on to the Battlefield games, Bulletstorm offers something that even Epic’s own Gears of War franchise doesn’t and it’s an inherent uniqueness that has been sincerely lacking in many games as of late. Ever easy to ride a franchise forward, it’s always more difficult to come up with a new, original idea and that’s what Bulletstorm is to the FPS genre. Something refreshingly twisted where the player is part-hero, part-drunken vengeance seeker and part-guy who gets rewarded for shooting an enemy in the testicles.
Truly unique with a subtle mainstream appeal that’s enough to leash any FPS fans in by the wrists and not let go until the credits roll, Bulletstorm really stands out as a bit of a game changer when it comes to the FPS genre.