I am going to take a page out of Amit’s Killzone 3 review and go with the ‘lady in the room’ analogy. Epic’s latest shooter is the debutante whom a lot has been said about. Her pedigree is unimpeachable and we’ve all been impressed by the few glimpses of her when she came home during her school vacation. Then she steps to the dance floor and…
… sticks to the simplest waltz, while everyone was expecting the tango. Bulletstorm, developed by People Can Fly, the team behind Painkiller and the PC port of Gears of War, is a one-trick pony. Its USP is ‘kill with skill’, which uses skill shots to dispose enemies in various ways to rack up points that can be used to purchase upgrades and ammunition. In theory, there are 131 skill shots to be unlocked, spread across eight weapons and the leash mechanic. In practice, however, you will be regularly racking up the skill points across five or six variants, and there will be the occasional moment in each chapter where with some luck you will unleash havoc with one bullet.
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Bulletstorm tells the story of Grayson Hunt and his band of mercenaries, who have been stranded on an alien planet filled with the crazies, whom they must kill, destroy and maim on their way to the traitorous ex-commander. As stories in shooters go, this actually is well articulated and the characters are hilarious. They’re cheesy, abusive, and completely over the top. A special word of caution – play this with the volume turned down; you don’t want your neighbours complaining about the innovative abuses they will learn. And there are many of them. I guarantee a few genuine LOLs courtesy Trishka.
The meat of the game is solid though. Strip aside the references to the fishy penile appendages and one time explosions, and there is a good shooter underneath. This is where the pedigree shows. Guns are very satisfactory, and the charge shots of each weapon are really innovative, and most importantly, useful. They take practice to pull off, and the rewards are worth the extra effort. The gameplay is a combination of slide/kick/leash/shoot (pick any two), but it gets boring quickly. The extra skill points will not get you anything other than ammo and some charge upgrades. It’s really not worth it to put in the extra effort for skill shots. It’s much more fun to just play it as a regular shooter. The gimmick of skill shots is not necessary to enjoy the game, but it’s an interesting sideshow. Going back to the debutante analogy, the girl doesn’t need the Versace, but you certainly won’t complain about it.
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The environments are varied enough to show off the planet and level design. There are moments that are unmistakably Gears of War, including some memorable set pieces. There are a couple of timed sequences, which give you extra skill points if you get them right. There are boss fights, but they come across as a disappointment. They are surprisingly easy once you figure out the pattern. It’s a shame because you always expect nice boss fights in shooters.
The game is based on the Unreal 3 engine, and it runs rock solid. Given the history of the Unreal 3 engine with the PS3, this is a pleasant surprise. In a first-person shooter, I would take framerates over the prettiness, so no complaints there. The game looks brilliant on the PC though; no surprise here. The complaint I have is with the cutscenes; they are horrible. Lip sync is off, the video is choppy, and they just look downright ugly. The single-player campaign takes about eight hours to finish on normal difficulty, including time to shoot some electric flies and kick newsbots, or steer sniper bullets into a crotch. The only multi-player is a cooperative mode – Anarchy. This is a take on the horde mode from Gears of War, where you finish off enemies and rack up the skill points. There is also Echoes – going through set pieces in the campaign for maximum skill points, and earning stars, which you can brag about to your friends, if they are really interested.
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Toilet humour and the ‘kill with skill’ gimmick aside, this Bulletstorm a highly enjoyable shooter, and the over-the-top setting adds a lot of flavour to an enjoyable shooting experience. Some of the set pieces are truly Epic, and each of the seven acts has at least one of these to keep the tempo going. So strap on your guns, yeah, guns, and get ready to kick some alien posterior.