20th September. This is the release date for Gears of War 3. If you can’t wait for that (and why would you) then Bulletstorm may be exactly what you need to occupy some time. I bring up Gears of War because the same studio that is responsible for Marcus, Dominic, Cole and the Carmine brothers are also the creators of Bulletstorm. Although these games are very different, they do share some of the same manly, grunting, beefcake character archetypes.
The game kicks off by introducing you to Grayson Hunt and his band of merry pirates. We see a flashback to their days as a secret hit squad for the army, under a maniacal general. When they uncovered the truth about the atrocities that they had been committing on the General’s word, Grayson mutinied, dragging his team along with him and turning them all into outlaws. We pick up the story years after when, upon a chance encounter with the General’s ship, Grayson lashes out in a drunken rage and once again puts his team in the line of fire. Both sides crash land on a treacherous, crumbling planet inhabited by insane mutants, the remnants of a dead civilization.
The main character is not a typical hero, but neither is he a true antihero. His motives are vengeance and justice, but his team are not as interested in morality as they are in their own mortality. Ishi is Grayson’s best friend, his sidekick, his Dominic, if you will. He is your partner through most of the game and he is justifiably pissed off: Grayson’s careless attack caused Ishi to suffer fatal wounds. The only way to save him was to replace half his body and brain with robotic parts. Evil robot parts.
The overarching objectives of the game are threefold; ‘get to the chopper’, ‘get off this rock’ and fix Ishi. It’s coherent and though it may not be the deepest story it’s still worthy of the action-movie vibe that Bulletstorm is riddled with.
There is a lot of tongue in cheek machismo banter and crudeness to the dialogue throughout, especially from the only female in the game. At first it’s entertaining and funny but as the game goes on, it can become quite tiresome. There are only so many times you can threaten to kill someone horrifically before it becomes pointless and throwaway. Every character becomes obnoxious but I still don’t dislike them, and there are a lot of laughs throughout.
The main thing that sets Bulletstorm aside, for me, is the focus on making gameplay fun. Through the campaign, you pick up various tools to make you the ultimate enemy of bad guy’s crotches. This injection of creative and fun action to the gameplay makes a game that could have been just another shooter in the ocean of shooters, into something much more significant. It’s a breath of fresh air in a headshot-saturated genre.
Indeed, headshots will barely score you any points in the skillshot system, which rewards you with points for killing in elaborate and methodical ways. For example, wrap someone in an exploding flail bomb then kick them into a pack of enemies before triggering the explosion, killing multiple mutants simultaneously. This kill is called ‘homing missile’ and will also get you extra points for ‘gang bang’ (killing multiple enemies at once), the points increasing with the more enemies you kill. If any are left alive but on fire, kill them using your leash to ‘thump’ them straight into the air, impaling them on ceiling spikes. This will get you the ‘fly swatter’ skill shot and also ‘afterburner’ for killing them while on fire. Combining skillshots are where the real points are made in Bulletstorm. Racking up points allows you to upgrade your weapons and buy ammo and special ammo.
The action of Bulletstorm is broken up similarly to Gears of War, with triggered waves of enemies and breather sections where you can rearm, reload and destroy collectibles. Progression is made at a nice pace through the beautiful and varied world.
The visuals in Bulletstorm are another real win. I remember playing Gears of War 2 and thinking how dull the colour palette was for a game with such stunning design and animation. Bulletstorm takes the opposite approach, with vibrant blue skies, green flora, sandy architecture and war-painted enemies. Post-apocalyptic worlds with mutants and ex-marines don’t have to be brown or grey! Who knew?
The world is also crammed full of architectural detail, just don’t look at the landscape shots with your sniper rifle or you will see that those distant buildings are low resolution cardboard cut-outs. Look from a normal distance however, and you will see only a picturesque backdrop of skyscrapers. There are many of what Americans might call “make-out points” to stop and have a moment of peace and quiet, maybe a picnic. Since the action is triggered by your progress, you don’t need to worry that crazies carrying machetes will trample your sandwiches and cream scones. I suggest you take these momentary gaps in the action to drink in the visuals.
As well as an impressive singleplayer campaign, Bulletstorm boasts two online modes, with more online content certain to follow if the layout of the multiplayer menu is anything to go by, seeming to suggest that players can change modes, though Anarchy Mode is currently the only one selectable.
The first of the two online modes comes in the form of Echoes Mode, that should be extremely familiar to anyone who has played the Bulletstorm demo, because said demo featured one level of Echoes Mode to play over and over again.
And I do mean over and over again: Echoes is extremely compulsive.
As shown by the likes of Peggle, Angry Birds and Tetris, the simplest of games can be the most addictive, and the concept behind Echoes Mode is just as simple. Echoes boils down to a score attack mode: players pick their weapons and power-ups, and then play a section of the singleplayer campaign with the sole intent of causing as much havoc and point-scoring skillshots as possible, oh and drinking the occasional beer.
Everything you’d expect to be included in such a score attack is present here. Time bonuses, global and friends only leaderboards, even a performance rating system that unlocks other sections. It’s a match made in score hunter heaven.
What makes Echoes so compelling is the sheer variety of skill shots, enviromental hazards and multipliers at your disposal. To reach the higher echelons of the leaderboards, and to get the most enjoyment out of Echoes Mode, players are encouraged to explore and experiment with different ways to deal death to the hordes of enemies. Such experimentation alone offers the player seemingly endless possibilities and hours upon hours of gameplay. Simply put, Echoes Mode is addictive, creative and a lot of fun.
Anarchy Mode is the seemingly requisite Horde mode, but succeeds where other imitators have failed, by taking the traditional Horde mode formula and improving upon it rather than simply rehashing it. For this reason, Anarchy Mode proves to be the unlikely highlight of the game because, as fun and as enjoyable as Bulletstorm’s campaign is, and as addictive as Echoes Mode is, Anarchy simply tops them both.
As with the rest of the game, there’s a big score element to Anarchy Mode, with players beating score targets for the four man group rather than having to simply survive in order to advance to the next stage. With that in mind, players are again, encouraged to be creative, experimental and explore their weapons and gadgets (which they can purchase and upgrade with the points they’ve personally accumulated at the start of each round), as well as the enviroment around them.
Another key element added to the mix is teamwork. Teamwork in Anarchy Mode is not only vital to success, it’s also rewarded. The range of different skillshots and kills is expanded even further, as players can combine their efforts and achieve kills together, adding multipliers to each team kill they pull off and boost their total points score in order to reach the target. As the team progresses through the waves, challenge-based enemies spawn, giving the team a nice, fat score bonus, if they can pull-off the specific team kill required, something which is crucial to reaching waves further along.
Needless to say, coordination is key, which sadly can make playing with random players somewhat frustrating. When teamed up with a bunch of your mates however, Anarchy Mode and the rest of the Bulletstorm package delivers one of the most enjoyable, creative and entertaining experiences that has been released for quite some time.
Review Round Up
Graphics 5/5 - Simply put it’s some of the best graphics featured in any game, and even looks amazing on 360.
Sound 4/5 - Dialogue is, for the most part, superbly written, and harks back to days of old with it’s low brow sense of humour, however after a while it does start to grate. Thankfully some brilliant voice acting makes up for that and helps make the game’s funny moments, even more hillarious.
Gameplay 5/5 – It’s FUN, addictive and refreshing, the key to what makes this game sooooo good!
Longevity 4.5/5 – Whilst the game’s campaign won’t seem long to those who just plow through it, Echoes and Anarchy Mode will keep you entertained for hours and hours. Add in downloadable content which is bound to be released at some point and you’ve got yourself a hell of a lot of game time.
Overall 5 Bullet Kicks out of 5
Bulletstorm is a total revelation for the FPS genre. At a time when the majority of first person shooters offer a very similar experience, Bulletstorm gives the genre a “boot in the butt”. A must play for anyone and an early contender for game of the year.
– Joe Finn & Kieran Roycroft