Bullet Witch Hands-On First Look
Save the world with gun-broom in hand next year with a new third-person shooter from Cavia and Atari. We grab the controls for the first time.
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Atari recently announced that it would publish Bullet Witch--a new third-person shooter for the Xbox 360 created by Drakengard developer Cavia--in the West in 2007, and we just got our first look at the game at the publisher's recent press event. Then, conveniently, the Japanese import version of Bullet Witch landed in our offices the very next day, so we've had ample chance to see what this new shooter is all about. The game is set in 2013 and supposes that mankind has been decimated by plagues and other unpleasant disasters, all of which is followed by the added insult of a massive demonic invasion. It's probably not much fun for anyone involved.
Into the fray comes Alicia, one of the arcane combatants referred to in the title, to take on the demon hordes and set things right (or at least as right as they can be, given the circumstances). From what we've played so far, this will involve gunning down and blowing up lots and lots of demonic enemies, most of which strangely seem to be wearing helmets and toting machine guns, to say nothing of the human faces they've grafted onto themselves. The tools of the bullet-witching trade include the gun-rod--which looks to us like it ought to be called the gun-broom, considering that's, uh, basically what it is--and a bunch of magic spells that you'll pick up as you progress through the game.
So far, Bullet Witch seems like a straightforward third-person shooter, with controls very reminiscent of Halo and its ilk. You can aim, zoom in, duck, and so on just like you would in that game, though your flashy jumping moves are more akin to The Matrix or any game inspired by that movie. Your gun-rod is primarily used for long-range combat, though it's a bit unwieldy because Alicia holds it behind her back while she's running around, which looks cool enough but requires at least a second of lead time while she brings the weapon up to firing level. You can also use the broom--sorry, rod--for melee attacks, though these have felt awfully underpowered from what we've played so far. The default gun-rod is a standard machine gun, but in between levels, you'll be rated on your performance and you'll receive upgrade points based on your ranking, which you can use to buy shotgun, gatling gun, and cannon rods. These guns can all be enhanced through further upgrade points, too.
The magic spells we've gotten access to so far have proven to be pretty useful. The one you start off with, "ancient wall," literally allows you to erect a rune-covered stone barrier in front of yourself for a few seconds, providing you cover from enemy fire. That's especially useful since Bullet Witch's health system is a little strange. You lose health extremely fast while taking fire, but you regenerate health almost as fast--so you can't withstand more than a few seconds of direct fire, but as long as you don't get hit too fast, you can basically get shot up all day without dying. So the ancient wall understandably comes in handy when you need to get something between you and a lot of incoming fire while you recover some life.
At any rate, you'll also be able to spend your upgrade points on new spells that are more offensive in nature. The thunder spell lets you target a point on the ground in front of you and then blitz it with a gigantic lightning strike from above. This is useful for taking out armored foes like tanks, although why demons need tanks in the first place, we can't say. Another spell lets you send a murder of ravens flying toward your enemies, which will keep them all occupied so you can shoot at them at your leisure. Other spells will allow you to add a flame property to your gunshots, or even pick up large objects like cars with telekinesis to fling at your enemies.
The game has felt like a pretty standard third-person shooter so far, with a dodgy frame rate and somewhat awkward controls detracting from the experience a bit. But then again, at least everything blows up real good. A good number of the objects in the environment are physically modeled, and there are lots of destructible background elements--cars and such blow up when you shoot them a little, for instance. A tanker truck and a gas station in the first level blew up even bigger when we shot them in the right places, producing some pleasing fireworks, so we're hoping for even more entertaining pyrotechnics later on to enliven the middling shooting action we've seen so far.
While the game begins in the suburbs outside of New York City, it isn't long before you enter the Big Apple itself (or at least a fictionalized version of the city) to take on the horde of demonic baddies looking to do you wrong. Energy barriers will stop you from progressing from one area to the next, and to take them down, you'll need to blast the number of giant floating brains that create these barriers. During one encounter, the brain monster began sucking up all the vehicles in the area toward him--including a big tanker truck. We took him down by blasting the tanker with our gun-rod, resulting in a massive fiery explosion that was well worth the effort.
Bullet Witch isn't extremely import friendly, since most of it (including the tutorials) is in Japanese. But at least the magic spell names and most of the menus are in English, so it's not impossible to figure out. The game's achievements seem fairly easy to get, except for the hardest ones; you're rewarded with gamer points for finishing each level, finishing the game on each difficulty level, and so on. Atari's currently promising only a "2007" release date for Bullet Witch over here, and hopefully before then the company will address some of the performance and gameplay issues we've encountered in the import version, in addition to localizing all the text and speech. If you can live without those points until the domestic release, we'd advise holding off on importing for now--and we'll bring you more coverage on the game before then.