In a genre where space marines are so popular, Bulletstorm gives you space pirates. In a genre where gray wastelands are so big, Bulletstorm is a vibrant swirl of colors. And in a genre where headshots are so critical, well, they're also a pretty big deal in Bulletstorm. Some things just don't change.
Nonetheless, Bulletstorm has all the makings of a rather unique first-person shooter. The game is being developed by People Can Fly (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Epic Games), the developer behind the charmingly ridiculous PC shooter Painkiller. Right off the bat, Bulletstorm gives off shades of Gears of War crossed with Borderlands. There's Gears for its gritty sci-fi setting and gruff cast of characters and Borderlands for the general eccentricity that encompasses everything going on--right on down to the fountains of text that erupt from downed enemies.
The character at the center of the plot is one Grayson Hunt, a former mercenary who's had a bit of a falling out with his former employer and, as a result, has been exiled to the farthest reaches of space. One crash landing later and Hunt finds himself on a deep space resort planet known as Stigya. At one point, this place was the Las Vegas of planets: a remote getaway designed solely for the pleasure of its visitors. But as things tend to go in sci-fi stories, a catastrophic event has occurred that's rendered Stigya the polar opposite of a paradise. Its denizens have either died or become feral monsters, and a mysterious overgrowth of mutated plant life has dotted the landscape with giant cacti and tangled vegetation.
This dangerous and twisted world surrounds Grayson, but fortunately, his fighting style is pretty dangerous and twisted in its own right. It's a good thing, too: Bulletstorm is a game that rewards creatively killing your enemies. Combat runs on a loop where you get more points for killing enemies as elaborately as you can--displayed as in-game text coming from dead foes--and then use those points to upgrade and unlock weaponry that allows for further insanity. In gameplay terms, this means that shooting an enemy in his "special place" and then kicking him into a giant cactus while he clutches himself in agony makes for a quicker route to that new grenade launcher than simply shooting him dead.
Grayson starts off with a fairly standard weapon--an assault rifle lovingly referred to as "the peacemaker." With time, you'll unlock guns from further along the spectrum of ridiculousness. One example we were shown was the "flail gun." This one shoots two grenades simultaneously, which in and of itself is obviously nothing special. However, these grenades are chained together, making the grenades capable of latching onto objects (or people) in some pretty interesting ways. You might shoot it at a lamppost near a group of enemies and trigger the explosion remotely when the poor guys come running around the corner. But if you want to be more twisted, you can shoot the chained grenades right at an enemy's head and watch as the two tethered explosives wrap around his neck. We'll let you use your imagination to picture what happens from there.
Regardless of which gun you're carrying, the real heart of your arsenal is a pair of always-there abilities that allow you to toy with enemies as a cat would torment a mouse. At any moment, you can latch onto far-off foes and pull them toward you with a tool called the leash, which behaves a lot like Just Cause 2's grapple hook minus the ability to transport yourself. For knocking enemies back, you can both kick and slide into them. Both these melee attacks put enemies into slow motion for a second or two--think of it as bullet time in a bubble--which leaves them defenseless for your next move. The demo Epic showed us was a whirlwind of stunned enemies, headshots, groin shots, cactus impalements, missing limbs, and more--all of which came before the boss fight against a 50-foot plant monster.
All of this amounts to a game that moves at a very frenetic pace. Adding to the general sense of chaos during these fights is the character dialogue. Quips and one-liners seem to come fast and often, with the game's central cast tossing barbs at one another seemingly as often as they toss grenades. Some of it was fairly cringeworthy, but we're told that Grayson starts the game as a rather unlikable drunken space pirate and gradually becomes more of a well-rounded character as the game continues. Fortunately, the game's visuals are likable right off the bat, with extensive use of colors and great lighting effects painting Bulletstorm's world in a very interesting way.
Right now, Bulletstorm is scheduled for release in 2011. We'll have more on this slightly insane first-person shooter at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, so stay tuned.