Gamers aren't lazy; we're just a little on the practical side. With the exception of a handful of titles, first-person shooter games in the last decade have encouraged and rewarded precision, stealth, and ammo conservation. That’s not to say that shooters criticize or chastise creativity, but frankly, given the linear design and progression of most shooters, there’s not much wiggle room for free thinking or experimentation. This week we rewired our brain, getting our first hands-on time with Bulletstorm, a game that continues the tradition of catering to the path of least resistance but goes a step further to offer more nuanced gameplay when it comes to blowing the bad guys into little bits.
Developed by People Can Fly, the Polish studio behind 2004’s reasonably well-received first-person shooter Painkiller, the team has partnered with Epic Games to create a title that encourages item and environmental exploration. We’re not talking about secret passages and hidden objects, but rather a legitimate attempt to provide players with reasons to seek out new and interesting ways to do the business of killing.
The two key ingredients at your disposal are your energy leash and your imagination. Killing a foe with a bullet rewards the minimum 10 skill points. By contrast, closing the gap between you and your target with your whip and then kicking him into a ripe, spiky cactus rewards fives times the experience at 50 points. Bouncing a group of enemies headfirst into a set of running helicopter blades or wrapping them in chain-gang grenades and detonating them midair to produce a fine blood mist is even more lucrative. These represent skill shots and subsequently reward skill points, the game’s currency, which can be spent at upgrade stations to improve the lethality of your abilities, weapons, and ammunition.
Though our demo granted us access to only the basic PMC rifle and the more exotic Flail gun with its double-grenades-on-a-rope ammo, we managed to get plenty of variety out of the pair. Upgrading the PMC rifle with the overcharge ability adds a more powerful shot to your repertoire, unleashing a hundred rounds simultaneously as a giant glowing ball of death. Buying leash overcharge adds a secondary fire to your whip, which, when activated by holding the left bumper, knocks your selected target and any nearby buddies into the air, slowing time and giving you the chance to either take precision shots or go for multiple kills by throwing grenades or environmental explosive items into the mix. Controls felt tight and responsive, while the generous aiming allowance on the leash means you don't need to hit the middle of the mark to drag your victim over for its brutal dispatch.
Our all-too-short hands-on session gave us a taste for the variety of mayhem possible in Bulletstorm, and we’re eager to spend more time exploring the possibilities that lie below the surface. Fans will get their chance to check it out when it hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in late February next year.
Stay tuned for our ongoing coverage from E3 2010.