Are you freaks ready for a pain party? With its less-than-subtle title and in-depth exploration of drunken space pirates, Bulletstorm is the kind of game that rewards you for kicking people in the balls. Protagonist Grayson Hunt--who takes the credit for the witty opener above--is skilled in the art of killing; pulling off his creative beatdowns throughout the campaign will earn you experience points while presenting you with a good chance to think laterally. We had a chance to test out some of Hunt's moves during the latest hands-on demo of Bulletstorm during this year's Tokyo Game Show.
Creatively titled "Collapsed Building," the new demo presented a better insight into Bulletstorm's skill shot system. We also had the chance to try out the bouncer--a big, orange hand cannon revealed for the first time at TGS 2010. Our mission took place halfway through the game, inside the aforementioned collapsed building. Hunt and his sassy lady partner Trischka began the level by pointing out that hordes of mutants and flesh-eating rival gangs could attack at any time; our task was to aid them in beating said mutants to the site of a crashed escape pod. After a few minutes we learned that in order to unlock The Bouncer, we had get enough skill points by perfecting what the game calls "skill shots." Before we entered any real combat, Hunt took the chance to practice his slick one-liners on Trischka. "You freaks ready for a pain party?" was only the start of it; before long, Hunt was stringing together a series of taunts so hilariously and unashamedly sexist that they made Kanye West look civilised.
It's important to pause for a minute now and reflect on Bulletstorm's ethos. This is a game that encourages and rewards players for stopping to think. While this is not exactly a normal attitude for a shooter to take, the effect here is well worth the wait. Finding a new way to do something, especially in this genre, is a welcome experience; in Bulletstorm's case, the experience says a lot about personal playing style and the willingness to experiment. This idea is explored through the game's central mechanic--a skill system that allows players to use the weapons and environment at their disposal to kill with as much flair and destructive spirit as possible. When we played, there were close to 100 skill shots in the entire game, each and every one named in the same tongue-in-cheek fashion on display throughout the entire game (personal favourite: "Rear Entry"--shooting someone in the butt).
We had the chance to try out our first skill shots when we encountered the first wave of rival gang members. Aside from the PMC gun, Hunt also uses an energy leash (think Kratos' Blades of Chaos). The point of the leash is to draw enemies and then dispose of them how you will; you must use RB for a basic leash attack, which will send the game into a mini bullet-time mode allowing you a few extra seconds to think about your final attack. Basic headshot? That will work. Kick the head in with your giant man-boot and then shoot it off? That will work too. Leash a dude into a nearby brick wall and watch his head splatter as you shoot his stomach and cause his gastrointestinal tract to splutter on the cold, hard floor in a fountain of blood? Yes, yes, yes. After completing a kill, the game will display the name of the skill shot you used above your enemy and let you know how many skill points it earned you. You can also use your leash on certain parts of the environment in order to aid in your enemy-hooking; the game will prompt you every time this can be done.
At about the halfway point we finally found a drop shop--a place where players can use their skill points to buy ammo and upgrade or unlock new weapons. Not unsurprisingly, we had enough points to unlock the bouncer. Unfortunately, we got only three bullets, which meant we had to really think about the best time to use them in order to inflict the maximum amount of damage. Our first opportunity came in the next room, during what appeared to be an ambush by the rival gang. The thing about the bouncer is that it doesn't work like a normal cannon--the game allows you to bounce the cannon balls around and decide where you want them to go off with a charge-and-release mechanic. We shot our first cannon ball at a dude's face, but missed. We then tried leashing another dude, and once the game entered mini bullet-time mode, we made sure we found his face with our giant ball. Once we perfected this bouncer headshot, we were rewarded with a skill shot called "The Facial." We finished this part of the level by using our leash on a piece of ceiling in order to bring it down on the remaining enemies.
One thing we noticed was that the second time you perform a certain skill shot, the number of skill points you receive decreases significantly from the first; this is to encourage players to constantly try new things and not rely on old favourites. Somebody close by told us about a particularly hard skill shot called "Mercy," which entails shooting a dude in the groin and then shooting him in the head when he doubles over with pain. We tried to do this a few times but sadly failed--it's really hard to shoot someone in the groin when he refuses to stand still and take it.
At the end of the demo we reached a miniboss: a big mutant wrapped up in shiny armour wielding a bouncer of his own. We began by leashing off his armour bit by bit and then tried kicking back the cannon balls he shot at us so that they exploded on him. This worked for a while, but we really needed to get his helmet off and kick in his unsightly head. We succeeded in finally doing this, but we decided to change course and aim for a skill shot called "Fire in the Hole" (a cannon ball up the butt). We got behind him and shot; once he started looking as if a cannon ball had just been fired up his butt, we used out leash to tear off his head.
Hunt may be a misogynistic pig, but he knows his stuff. Our demo was short, but it left us wanting more of this over-the-top sci-fi shooter. Check back for more coverage of Bulletstorm ahead of its release later this year.