First person shooters are like action movies: they’re flashy, lacking in substance, and you can’t walk down a hallway without tripping on one these days. Occasionally, you’ll find a Matrix or a 300 in titles like BioShock or Deus Ex, but the majority of them are your typical Van Damme or Stallone flicks. Bulletstorm, at first glance, would appear to be the latter. It’s flashy to the point of comedy, but carries a distinct humor and a unique gimmick that you will not find in most shooters. With the release of the demo this week on the PSN and XBLA, I sat down with the game and tried to determine if the insane people over at People Can Fly have a winner on their hands, or just another short-lived firecracker.
The demo begins with a presentation, which at first had me worried that it was hands-off. It runs through some action much like any trailer, but shows players what theyll be doing before actually allowing them any control. The game stars Grayson Hunt, a stranded member of an intergalactic peacekeeping force who finds his ship wrecked on a strange planet, and the only way to get home safe is to kill his way out. Hunt himself narrates the demo, and the invisible fourth wall flat-out does not exist as he talks directly to the player. He even calls the demo a demo. I feel like this was a smart way to present the game to players, both those who know what it’s all about and those who don’t. They let you know right away that this is a game not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a Duke Nukem for the next generation, despite the fact that Duke Nukem will actually see the next generation. And thankfully, the humor does not fall flat, and I found a few unexpected laugh out loud moments.
The pre-demo presentation explains the Skillshot system, which rewards players for creative kills. In the demo, Hunt has access to three guns, his electric whip, and his boot. These items all used in conjunction, along with the environment, can make for some nasty kills. The presentation shows off the majority of these, many of which involve launching enemies into the air for slow-motion headshot kills. Hunt, apparently, has some type of time-altering field that allows him to send enemies soaring slowly through the air for easy precision kills. Each gun, as well as the whip, also has a power shot activated by pressing the back shoulder buttons. These are nasty and humorous, as in the case of one gun that launches a rocket. When the rocket hits an enemy, it attaches to them and takes them into the sky for an explosive ride.
The world around Hunt also acts as its own weapon. There are spikes and protrusions littered throughout on which he can impale enemies. There is even a train that he can activate, gibbing the foolish cronies who remain in its way. Basically, if you can think of a way to use your tools to kill something, you’ll probably be rewarded for it, and the grislier it gets, the more points you rake in.
As far as mechanics go, there isn’t anything too much different from your standard FPS here. Hunt can slide, and while sliding can kick out, but the standard gunplay is quite familiar. The world itself is definitely colorful and vibrant, looking more like Enslaved or Uncharted than Gears of War or any Call of Duty. It’s also war-torn and beat-up, which makes for an interesting playground to romp around in. Lacking in the demo is the ability to upgrade anything, which is the point of the Skillshot system, and the fabled epic boss fights. The demo itself isn’t very long, and everything is so action-packed and furious, that you can blow through it in no time. However, the ability to change up the kinds of kills you can perform as well as a ranking system that puts you in competition with other networked players makes the replayability factor on the demo quite high.
My only real concern with playing through this brief taste of Bulletstorm is that my options felt limited. This could have been my own unfamiliarity with the numerous ways to kill things, but I felt like all I was ever doing was whip pulling and kicking my way through the enemies. It’s unclear how the upgrade system will work in creating more avenues for awesome-awesome death, but hopefully it allows for more options. Or perhaps I just need to play through it a half-dozen or so times. It’s fast and fun enough that I can conceivably see doing just that. Even that concern is minimal though, as Bulletstorm already offers more than 99% of the FPS games on any system. I cant tell you how tired I am of the shoot-shoot-turret-driving sequence blueprint of almost every game I play in this genre. To be able to do anything even slightly different will almost be a revolution. Hopefully the full retail version offers up a whole world of brain-busting, ball-clenching action. Well know for sure in about a month when we can finally start killing with skill.