I owe People Can Fly, the developers of “Bulletstorm”, an apology. I took the marketing for their game at face value. I genuinely thought it was a mindless, idiotic, practically on rails first person shooter pumped full of testosterone and sucked completely dry of brains. Then it kept popping up on year-end “best of” lists on the Web, and since it was $30, I figured I’d give it a shot.
I discovered it’s a hilarious parody of mindless, idiotic, practically on rails first person shooters pumped full of testosterone. How in God’s name did they manage to get this incredibly smart-assed game past Cliffy B? Or the rest of the guys over at Epic, who seem to have completely disappeared up their own butts in recent years?
“Bulletstorm” is everything games like “Gears of War” should be: lacking in any sort of self-seriousness, and having at least a few mechanics to make them worth playing. Don’t let the Liefeldesque character design or the bloated marketing fool you: this game is actually genuinely fun.
At first, this game seems like your typical chest-thumping garbage, but then you get the leash (basically a lasso that pulls enemies towards you) and are introduced to the Skillshots, and what People Can Fly are actually up to starts to come into focus.
This game is not about shooting your opponent in the face: it’s about using your environment against your opponent. Running in and shooting will get you through the area, but you’ll start running out of ammo sooner rather than later. It makes a lot more sense to kick them into sparking power lines, or boot them off a ledge, or blow them up with an explosive barrel; you save ammo, get more points to buy ammo, and get through the area more safely.
In short, it’s an action puzzle game: how do I use the environment as set up to give me the most points? If you stop for a second and look around at what you’ve got to work with, you quickly discover the level design isn’t a coincidence, and that the game gives you quite a lot of options to hand out some ass-kicking with. This is a game where you’re as likely to use your melee options as you are your gun selection. Adding to the strategy are the charged shots: each gun has a second mode that can be used for more points, or to clear out a particularly pesky area.
Helping substantially is the leash, which is probably the most fun mechanic in a recent shooter because it completely changes the dynamic of using cover for both you and your opponent. Instead of hiding behind chest-high walls and sniping, you can simply yank that annoying mob out from his cover and headshot him, and you don’t need as much cover because, well, you can take your enemy out of his. And then kick him right back into it, usually cracking his skull.
Unless he’s really gotten under your skin, in which case, you can be nasty.
There are also lots of little touches that help substantially to make this a different and more engaging game. The graphics are extremely colorful, and enemies have little touches to them that make them pop out of the background, even at a distance. The pacing is insanely fast: as there’s no need to explore and find hidden areas, the game responds by stomping the gas.
And it’s funny. There’s a lot of fairly unfriendly jabs at bad game design here; quicktime events are mocked, bad level design is used for sight gags, and the dialogue is engineered to blatantly parody the pretentiousness of more serious shooters.
In short, this is everything “Duke Nukem Forever” wanted to be and everything most Epic releases should be. Do gaming and yourself a favor: stop by your game store and pick up a new copy of this game. Something like this doesn’t deserve to molder because of a bad advertising campaign. Give “Bulletstorm” a shot: you’ll probably like it.