Having debuted in 2011, Bulletstorm is once again garnering the hype. The original title was well received by critics, but sold poorly. A re-release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2017 was a surprise, but did little to convince us of the need for a sequel. And now, the recently announced Bulletstorm VR is going to give it another try. Looking back at the original, we seek to answer whether or not all this effort is worth it.
People Can Fly’s first original project under the guiding arm of stalwart developers Epic Games was met with the expected thunderous reception. Both the core gaming audience and critics alike raved about the title, and given the remarkable amount of publicity Bulletstorm received in the run-up to launch it was hardly a surprise. But while the plot of Bulletstorm is the typical balls-and-brawn manliness in its delivery, the gameplay is a refreshing change of pace for the single-player FPS genre.
What’s in a Story?
You play as Grayson Hunt. Hunt is a humanist assassin gone rogue after discovering the true product of the employment of his murderous skills. Gamers are taken on a whirlwind tour through a crashed space ship, decaying bone yard and briefly venturing into a futuristic city before the game even truly starts. The storyline itself is just about bearable in it’s overly machismo tale of misdirected heroism, drunkenness and revenge. However, Hunt himself is not a likeable character. Neither in appearance nor personality.
While seemingly a comical pastiche in a similar vein to Duke Nukem in small doses, here in the final game he is presented with all the seriousness of Marcus Fenix. Hunt simply isn’t enough of a washing machine build to push the gruff black hat hero agenda, yet also isn’t charming enough to be believable in his fight-for-right retribution. Aiming for somewhere between Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger, People Can Fly have come away with Steven Seagal.
Let the Bullets Fly!
Putting aside the plotline and maligned characterisation, Bulletstorm is a much better experience in play. The game takes the familiar FPS tropes and remodels a handful for its own agenda. However, unlike Mirror’s Edge, Bulletstorm’s tutorial mission retrains the players in this renovation of the core mechanics. Each of the game’s unique features are introduced one-by-one, giving the player a few moments to adapt before bringing on the next. First the kick, then the leash, then the Skillshot. Essentially the crux of the game, the Skillshot is both a scoring mechanic and a currency.
Skillshots come in many varieties, depending on the weaponry equipped, enemy you are facing, objects in your surroundings and any number of other factors. Simple Skillshots, such as using the leash to draw an enemy closer before shooting them, headshots or shooting explosive barrels close to their position, will reward the player with fewer points than more complex kills.
The system is easy to learn but difficult to master. Precise aim and quick reactions are needed to capitalise on the situations you will find yourself in. Beginning with the above suggestions, then perhaps mixing them – leashing an opponent the getting the headshot while he is in the air – is certainly the best way to learn the ropes. But Bulletstorm won’t wait around for you to learn these techniques. Reaching that all-important 100% Skillshot figure will take most gamers more than a single playthrough of the campaign.
Bulletstorm is a Campaign of Uncomplicated Aggression
The single-player game is a reasonably lengthy affair, though is strictly linear for the most part. Bulletstorm wears it’s Serious Sam influences on it’s sleeve – almost directly with some of the enemy types. Occasional hidden rooms offer the typical range of collectable (or in the case of Bulletstorm, alternative targets). But by-and-large players will rarely deviate from the path laid out for them. Once the campaign has been completed, it’s merely an Achievement and Skillshot clean-up operation that will entice players to return. Instead, the longevity required in a modern videogame release is offered in the Anarchy mode.
Essentially Bulletstorm’s Horde Mode, Anarchy is available for up to four players online. This brings a whole new set of Team Skillshots to the table. Players must earn a preset amount of points to continue through each round. You may use the earned points to upgrade your arsenal, and finding the correct combination of weapon types is key to achieving high scores.
Beauty in the Bullets
Bulletstorm is a well drawn game, but does suffer from far too many science-fiction clichés. Perhaps intentional, designed as a marriage for the ham-fisted plot delivery and brick-like charms of our protagonist. Yet the desert planet, rough-build contraptions, outposts and iron-grid gangways are all-too familiar. The most original aspect of Bulletstorm’s design is that of the weaponry, but even then there’s little to differentiate the weapon set from many other futuristic FPS games. Automatic rifles and explosive pistols may look unique, but perform largely as would be expected. The aural quality of Bulletstorm is top-class in its delivery, but severely lacking in terms of scripting. Often feeling like each new line is a new excuse to use unnecessary profanity, Bulletstorm seems to think that hard-boiled character is delivered through the use of crass language.
Bulletstorm isn’t exactly a progressive videogame, neither now nor at launch. But then, it’s a fallacy to believe that every project with a reasonable budget should be. It was an opportunistic take on a genre that had become very stale. People Can Fly should be commended for looking beyond what was trending on the marketplace and deliver something different. That the studio was able to use its budget to deliver something a little off-the-beaten-path is commendable. Whether or not they can do the same again in VR remains to be seen.