Does Epic’s new shooter bring something new to the table?

A scene from Bulletstorm.
A scene from Bulletstorm.

Review: Bulletstorm

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC

Published by: Electronic Arts

Developed by: People Can Fly and Epic Games

YOU’VE heard it all before: colossal explosions, guns so large they make your eyes bulge and the clichéd, hyper-macho-man with muscles so obscenely titanic they could rip entire planets in two - without even breaking into a sweat. It’s a formula derived from the successful Gears of War franchise, which has since been cloned by so many others. On the surface it appeared that Bulletstorm would just be another blonde bimbo of a game. How wrong we were.

Bulletstorm is in fact something quite special. It’s a potty-mouthed, frag-fest of a game that kicks you in the crotch and plants its size 13 boot print across your face. The game manages to do something that a lot of the ‘clones’ before couldn’t pull off- it’s actually fun.

Bulletstorm tells the story of Grayson Hunt- commander of Dead Echo, an elite team of 26th century Confederate assassins- who has become an intergalactic outlaw. Grayson is driven by booze and a bloodlust for revenge against General Sarrano, who betrayed his squad a few years earlier. Finally his opportunity arrives and he sets his ship on a kamikaze run against the general, marooning his crew on the hostile world of Stygia in the process.

Trapped on the planet with a part-robot ally and a feisty female commando it’s your job to fight through the hoards of mutants, alien plants and savage inhabitants before escaping. It’s a high-octane and intense race through crumbling skyscrapers, alien lairs and lush jungles.

Powered by the Unreal 3 Engine, Bulletstorm is one of the prettiest games out there at the moment, with its vibrant colours and scenery pushing console (and PC) to the limit. It’s the perfect backdrop for the blood-drenched action that ensues.

However, graphical finesse aside, the real champion in Bulletstorm is the Leash, a Confederate energy weapon that allows you to snag enemies and fling them into the air like rag dolls, whilst performing gut-wrenching kills that even the most masochistic of gamers will find brutal (the ‘homie missile’ is a particularly gruesome technique involving you wrapping an explosive flail around the head of an enemy and then propelling the poor victim into a group of his friends before he explodes).

The Leash rewards skill points to players that show balls-out combative bravado. Merely running through the level, shooting people, will get you nowhere fast in Bulletstorm. You have to experiment with various combinations of ragdoll-skewering and pin-point shooting to

unlock titles and skill points. The bigger the combo, the more points you’ll get. Imagine a Tony Hawk-like score system, with the skateboard replaced with a gun and the grind rails replaced with explosive barrels and cacti, and you won’t be far off the mark. The skill points that you earn can then be used at the dropkits scattered throughout the levels to upgrade your weapons.

A pleasant addition is the Echo mode, which allows you to replay certain set-piece segments of the game, whilst trying to rack up the highest score possible. There are online global leaderboards that track your progress throughout. Bafflingly there is no such thing in the single-player mode. Nor is there the option of co-operative play in either of these modes.

However, fear not. There is a chance to play with friends online. Rather than the standard death match option, which features in most FPSs, Bulletstorm chooses to throw you into a co-operative team-based game called Anarchy mode. It involves four players joining together to kill waves of enemies whilst trying to rack up enough skill points to unlock the next wave of cannon fodder.

However games can become dreary and repetitive very quickly particularly when reaching the further stages of the game. It is here that Bulletstorm is really let down. The single-player mode is varied and exciting. Sadly the multiplayer option is less so. Particularly when the campaign, as exciting as it is, is a mere 6 hours long, the multiplayer really needs to stand out. Bulletstorm’s doesn’t.

So should you be perturbed by this? No. Not at all. Bulletstorm’s a ridiculous and at times hilarious sci-fi romp from start to finish. It’s both cool and memorable, with characters that you grow to love. Yes it has its flaws. But the single-player shines so brightly above most others in the genre that it’s absolute joy to play.

Rating

8.0 Gameplay: An absolute gem of a first-person shooter. Witty, charming and more importantly fun.

8.0 Graphics: Settings are gorgeous and lush throughout the game. Textures are solid too, with huge fields of view.

8.0 Sound: Guns have a satisfyingly beefy clank to them. Characters are well acted too.

5.0 Lasting appeal: The relatively unimaginative multiplayer combined with the short single-player really let the game down. Fingers crossed Epic will do a better job next time

7.0 Verdict: A fantastic, if brief, shooter that hits most of the right notes.

Thomas Cotterill