Polish developer People Can Fly abandons their Painkiller formula & allows Epic Games to sully their reputation

User Rating: 6.5 | Bulletstorm PC
Though time hasn't been very kind to gaming in terms of depth and complexity, no genre has seen the ill effects of "mainstreaming" more than the modern day first person shooter. Unlike RPGs and strategy games which still have old-fashioned "hardcore" alternatives made by dedicated indie developers, the FPS is one genre where you need lots of money and a fair amount of manpower to create a marketable game. Due in part to this you see a lot of very poorly made shooters with short campaigns, uninspired multiplayer and a ton of missing features...all because that is, unfortunately, what seems to pass for acceptable within the genre.

Bulletstorm was a game I had hoped would represent a change within the industry. After all, it was created by "People Can Fly", the same Polish developers that made me and "Yahtzee" of Zero Punctuation's favorite shooter Painkiller. With these guys being known for creating incredibly long and challenging shooters I was fairly convinced that Bulletstorm would be the savior this hobby needed.

Unfortunately, their partnership with Epic games seems to have prevented that.

Recently a friend and I had a discussion about critiquing games and we both came to the agreement that a game had to be more than simply "fun" for it to be considered good. For games to be considered an art-form they must be reviewed like art and are therefore subject to more than just a surface analysis. If a game is fun that's all well and good, but a game must meet certain standards set by its genre standard bearers if it is to be critiqued properly. Using this rule on Bulletstorm may seem unfair to those who see it just as a simple popcorn shooter, but it is one that has to be applied nonetheless. So while many people give this game an 8 or 9 and claim it is "fun" and therefore deserving of praise, after two trips through the game and getting 2-3 stars on each multiplayer "echo" level I've come to believe a game should be a lot more than just "Fun".

To put it bluntly, Bulletstorm, as fun as it may be on the surface, is a game severely lacking many key features that a modern PC FPS requires.

The core of any good FPS is its single player campaign, and with many shooters being released nowadays with crippling short offline modes it didn't shock me that Bulletstorm followed suit. Even though People Can Fly became known for the long campaign in their previous hit Painkiller, it seems that the "60 dollars equals 6 hours" mantra has now even penetrated them as well. It could be due to Epic's meddling or it could just be that they no longer subscribe to the same beliefs they once did, though either way I found it a very hard pill to swallow.

The single player campaign, which is roughly 6 hours long at even its hardest and most leisurely played, is still quite enjoyable. While there are many set pieces within each level that stand out as some of the best and most clever scenarios ever devised for an FPS they are unfortunately hobbled by the fact that they are over far too soon. Whether you're being chased in a mine cart by a gigantic metal wheel, controlling a remote control godzilla or battling a mile-high monster from the cockpit of a helicopter you'll find plenty of amazingly well-done scenarios where your mouse will slip out from under your hand due to all the sweat the game squeezes out of you.

Yet as good as it is, it just simply fails to follow through. Like an overly eager first time lover too excited at the prospect of a relationship, Bulletstorm puts everything it has into immediately pleasing you and then falls limp from exhaustion directly afterward. It's sad to see a game that had so many clever ideas and insane scenarios run out of gas so soon and so abruptly as Bulletstorm does, but considering that the most successful FPS of the past decade (Modern Warfare 2) is just as short it isn't surprising.

I just wish People Can Fly hadn't changed so much since their Painkiller days.

To their credit, People Can Fly did try to craft an interesting story, even if it was a bit on the short side. The game has you playing as Grayson Hunt, a deliberate and intended parody of modern action game lead characters who uses enough male anatomy jokes to make even the least sensitive person blush. His men, who mostly all die during the opening cinemas, are on the hunt for their former commander who tricked them into murdering innocent people and sullying their troop's name. This anger controls Grayson and he falls victim to his rage in a climactic space battle above the planet's surface which results in the loss of his crew and a new mission: Get off the planet in one piece.

As per usual there are a couple plot twists and some witty banter between the four main characters (Grayson, Ishi, Sarrano and Trishka) but with such a short campaign I never really had enough time to feel connected to them and didn't care for them as much as I felt I should have. Still, I give credit to Steve Blum (Wolverine) and Jennifer Hale (KOTOR's Bastila Shan, Totally Spies) for lending a lot of emotion to their respective roles in the game.

Though the story isn't what you play these types of shooters for, it's the gameplay you want.

Bulletstorm doesn't disappoint in that department, thankfully. With the clever Bionic-Command style leash you can use to grab or slam enemies as well as your gravity-absorbing boots you have nearly a hundred or so different ways to kill an enemy and no shortage of opportunities to do so. With the game constantly grading you on kill style and doling out weapon upgrades and ammo according to your skill it's easy to get wrapped up in Bulletstorm's expertly crafted gunplay. If anything positive should be taken from this game and used in other shooters its the nearly perfect FPS combat and the speed at which it all takes place. It's also refreshing to see a game that doesn't require you to take cover every 3 seconds.

Unfortunately, Bulletstorm commits one very big sin that makes the short campaign and lackluster multi-player almost seem forgivable by comparison.

It is one of the most obvious console-to-PC ports ever created.

European developers such as People Can Fly always favor the PC due to Europe having a longstanding hatred of the consoles and their overall lack of PAL-compatible games. Due to this it's rare to find a European developed PC game that is even remotely playable on the console (Two Worlds 1, Divinity 2, Sacred, etc.). Yet due to Epic's insistence on making the Xbox the lead platform and their well-documented distaste for the PC they helped this once proudly PC-centric Polish developer create the absolute most crippled and obvious console port in the history of PC gaming.

While it sounds overly dramatic one look at the game will prove otherwise. Not only does it share the same FOV lock and muddled low resolution texturing that all Unreal Engine 3 games are saddled with on the PC, but the game even does mandatory letter boxing of widescreen resolutions.

Yes, letter-boxing. In 2011. In a modern FPS engine. On the PC.

Completely unforgivable.

Adding insult to injury is the insistence on the game's developers to use Games for Windows Live. While I understand you can shut it off, it's required to be on if you want to play multi-player. Granted, developers use GFWL due to the money they get from Microsoft for supporting the service (It's been documented, it's not hearsay), but if you're like 90% of the PC gaming community you use Steam to manage your games and probably sighed a little when you hit the "home" key and saw both the GFWL and Steam overlays appear right on top of each other. While you can change the GUI key bindings to prevent this it's still disheartening to watch that first time.

The last slap in the face would be the total lack of campaign co-op. Even though at least one AI controlled partner is with you the entire time through the game there is still no option to do the campaign story in co-op mode. Instead, the multi-player is just a series of fixed areas where you and a partner fight bots and try to get the high score. After an hour of me and a friend playing this online we both decided that there were better co-op shooters we could play.

Like Left 4 Dead, Half-Life with Sven co-op or even Borderlands.

As if it couldn't get any more obvious that the game was a poorly constructed console port, me and everyone else I know who has the game seems to have the old "Oblivion crash bug" where after completely exiting the game they get an error dialog box 5 seconds later that says the game crashed. Like Oblivion's version of this bug it never seemed to have any ill effects and instead seemed like a comical reminder that you were playing a poorly coded console port that incorrectly dumped its memory cache.

Bulletstorm, as "fun" as the game may be is not the type of FPS PC gamers are looking for. It's short, has a very lackluster multiplayer mode and is an incomplete console port that doesn't even remotely support the PC platform. I cannot in any way shape or form recommend the game to PC gamers unless they wait to buy it off a Steam sale later this year when it drops in price. If you can buy it for around 29.99 I'd say go for it if you're bored and don't mind the lack of Deathmatch or true co-op and aren't bothered by a 5-6 hour campaign. Going through the game once on normal and then on hard is a nice way to soak up a weekend but isn't worth the $60 price tag they're asking for it.

While I'm disappointed in Bulletstorm, I'm more disappointed for People Can Fly. Once a studio that did everything right they seem to have become Epic's tool in their mission to get back at the PC platform for whatever imagined insult they feel was leveled against them. It's sad too, since beneath the ugly port is a great game that could have been a big hit.