A dumb arcade shooter that tries too hard yet falls wide of mark

User Rating: 6 | Bulletstorm PC
Bulletstorm is a dumb game. Not saying this is a bad thing, Bulletstorm isn't abominable or anything to that degree. On the contrary, Bulletstorm is one of the few surviving arcade focused shooters: a score-line built, full tilt shooter its developers People Can Fly could only deliver. Even so, it falls slightly wide of the mark. The reason for this is that it tries too hard being something else. The game is healthy in story and cut-scenes, which really shouldn't be present in the gameplay at all. Because of the main premise and game-type Bulletstorm rests itself in, I find it difficult to give even a rat's ass about the main character, Grayson, his journey for vengeance, redemption or anything slotted in on the side. And the game's half-arsed attempts at humour and plain bad-assery, well, come off a little short and weak.

Maybe it's due in part to Epic's insistence on Bulletstorm having a shoe-horned story that it all backfires. The narrative focussing on bad potty mouthed, toilet jokes are one thing but making it unskippable entirely in parts is another, and simply unnecessary given how the game pans out. The most frustrating thing about this is that Bulletstorm's credentials are fantastic, with high quality voice talent from the likes of Steve Blum and writing courtesy of Marvel Comics Rick Remender. Many of the better, more dynamic moments in the frantic combat of the game are interrupted by specific set-pieces and, more annoyingly, cut-scene interaction such as quick time events. This is all incredibly ironic given a large part of the hype surrounding Bulletstorm was credited to it being separate from the majority of the saturated FPS market (as parodied, infamously, with "Duty Calls").

But Bulletstorm does have some solid gameplay pieces that keep it from mediocrity, one being the "skillshots" system, which is obtained within the first half an hour of gametime. This system rewards the player points based on specific kills and chaining of attacks. It's a dynamic system. Chaining specific kills up and racking up points is surprisingly addictive, with the method in which you unlock these skillpoints stretching out into dozens, even hundreds of interpretations by Bulletstorm's climax. The weapons in Bulletstorm are also comparably decent to Epic and People Can Fly's previous games with outlandish looking designs and absolutely visceral feedback, the most unique of these being apparent with the aptly named drilldo: a powerful harpoon-like rifle, which has many appropriate skillshot specific awards it must be said. Besides this there are combo boosting moves you can perform. Grayson can slide, kick and whip out his energy leash which makes allocating difficult killshots in theory, such as ones including traps and environment focused kills, all the more easier to obtain.

Yet like most first person shooters today, Bulletstorm is also a strictly linear, surprisingly tame and ultimately prompt. The campaign can be completed in less than five hours, and without a truly memorable multiplayer to back it up, the game simply lacks replayability value. By Bulletstorm's end, which is left at a teasingly predictable cliffhanger, there isn't much motivation in starting the game up from scratch, especially if you finished it on the highest difficulty. The biggest failure aside from this comes from the developers decision to not include competitive online play, a curious choice given Epic's prior success in the genre, it is a completely wasted area in general. The potential for a high-stakes, action packed multiplayer was there, even if it meant just in the basic team deathmatch and capture the flag playsets, yet somehow they blew it. Instead, Bulletstorm has a co-op horde type game mode called Anarchy, in which waves are won based on reaching a high score in a set amount of time. This mode, while fun, is no decent substitute to Black Ops' Zombies or even Halo Reach's Firefight. Like horde, it grows old fast. The lifespan of Anarchy is reliant on how much you trust your buddies. Skillpoint chaining isn't as easy online either, not with your friends also attempting to get similar combos, and on peer to peer server hosting, lag is inevitable.

Bulletstorm operates on Epic's in-house Unreal 3 engine. If you've ever played Gears of War or Unreal Tournament 3, the washed out colour scheme and dull, Warhammer inspired weapons and armour may leave more to be desired in the game's art department. Bulletstorm runs at a rock solid 30 frames per second on Xbox 360 which is more than playable but realistically not best suited to the flat-out combat of such a game. Regardless, the screen effects, particularly lens flare, look impressive on occasion. The PC port of Bulletstorm, while certainly above average in terms of optimisation and performance, has a number of oddities that keep it from being as seamless as it should be. The biggest fault is most apparent in the function placement of the controls, where most actions are reverted to one key – which might make sense on a Playstation 3, but having kick, use and slide all on one key for a WASD setup is more than uncomfortable. It gets better though: auto-aim is automatic no matter what, which when using a keyboard and mouse, is completely bewildering.

To put it blunt, Bulletstorm isn't the game it should have been. Undoubtedly it plays a blast, with some fascinating ideas put to the test, but it's not even close to the quality we've come to expect from either People Can Fly or Epic Games. Bulletstorm's look and style is uninspired and forgettable, allocable to the worse trends of this generation of gaming. That doesn't mean it is bad because of this, after all, it is a relatively glitch free release and fun, but the lack of an engaging multiplayer or an enduring campaign makes Bulletstorm's forgettable character and plot the focus of unnecessary narrative driven first person shooter. Consider this release for purchase only at a budget price.