Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bulletstorm

The Title Screen

Introduction
Bulletstorm is a first-person shooter with single and multiplayer, released in 2011 by People Can Fly and Epic games and on Games for Windows Live. This review will be concerned with the Single Player campaign. Available on, but not exclusive to Steam.

Disclaimer : The game is most definitely an adult game with strong language and moderately graphic violence - all treated in a light hearted manner. This review will not be displaying inappropriate content but may make mild references to it.

The First Thing
What struck me immediately was the way Bulletstorm presents itself. The menu is layered over an in-engine rendition of the main characters and a level design. If left to idle the menu fades and the camera explores the background giving the player a close look at the art style and graphical fidelity.

And if that wasn't enough...the menu features an orchestral piece of music that invokes a quality that can only be described as grand or epic, while at the same time laced with the tiny bit of unease. This is clearly meant to impress and demonstrate the Intellectual Property is a serious effort; as well as to set the tone for the rest of the game.

An example can be found here : YouTube Link

Plot & Devices
In the future the universe is run by a Confederation. Grayson Hunt (you) is the leader of an elite fighting team 'Dead Echo' who are under orders of General Saranno. Dead Echo covertly assassinate criminals but on discovering that they have been sent to murder civilians of no military importance Gray turns against Saranno and goes into hiding. A few years later in space, a drunk and guilt ridden Gray leads his team in a dangerous attack on Saranno which results in them both crashing on a nearby planet. Gray and the only other survivor of the crash, Ishi, find themselves on a planet that has changed from the holiday resort it was intended to be. Packs of cannibals and mutated humans roam the surface and their only option is to find General Saranno's crash site and 'convince' him to help them escape.

Along the way they find Trishka, an elite female enemy soldier, who is also stranded and they grudgingly work together to fight their way to Saranno and escape.

Trishka and Ishi

Bulletstorm has a fairly thin plot. The tutorial and starting missions frame the setting and give the player insight into Gray and his character. After the crash the plot is simply about escaping the planet and is explored by the player. Any exposition is mostly done through conversations between characters or occasionally in a cutscene. You do find out the planet's history, and why the military have a presence but it is only explained in brief conversations, largely towards the end of the game.

I would argue that the plot of Bulletstorm is not about events but about character development. The knowledge that he has murdered innocents has changed Gray into a guilt ridden drunk, but residing inside is the brave soldier he once was. The situation and events force him to deal with his past and how his thirst for revenge has killed his team mates and mutilated Ishi. His obsession to do right by Ishi and Trishka for redemption is believable and explored in depth.

The leash and kick weapons

The Game
Bulletstorm is a modern-style, first person shooter; the player has regenerating health and is limited to carrying 3 weapons. There are a total of 7 weapons and each has a secondary fire known as a 'charge shot'. Bulletstorm also has two weapons distinctive to it: the laser leash and a kick. Quite early in the game the player obtains access to a leash that throws out electricity in a whip-like fashion and is used to pull enemies or objects towards. The kick is an attack used to propel many objects or enemies away. Both weapons, inexplicably, slow down the target in mid-air allowing for more time for the player to perform actions such as skill shooting or kicking.

Skillshot Database

One of the most distinctive features of Bulletstorm is the Skillshot system, which is designed to rate how skilled the player is in killing. Skill rewards in points which can be then spent on ammunition or upgrades for weapons (capacity, charge shot etc). Bulletstorm has a in-game database of what it considers skilful killing and players can consult it for information.

Bulletstorm is highly linear; the player is never confronted by any kind of choice. Players will frequently encounter items that require interaction, such as pulling a switch or jumping over some rubble. This will often subsequently start an event where the player is attacked. Invisible walls surround any area that is not relevant to game progression. There are often Quick Time Events of which good execution will allow the player to progress or simply obtain more skillshot points.

The game is definitely intended for adults. Most of the dialogue features profanity, but it is intended to be funny rather than emotive. The best way to describe it is "Guy humour". Featuring many innuendo references such as the "pricked" skillshot for killing an enemy with a cactus. Firing a slow moving sniper bullet and guiding it into the head of an enemy is also going to be too gory for some younger gamers.

A typical Bulletstorm view

The graphics and art style seem to be determined to impress the player. The fidelity is high, the art style is well thought out and consistent, and there are many grand events such as location or giant spinning wheels that inexplicably chase you but look great. The developers have achieved much from the Unreal 3 engine.

Aside from a slightly over sensitive mouse there was no detectable problem with the port to PC. The interface is clearly designed for consoles with the only notable lack being mouse support for the in-game Skillshot Database; which is annoying but not game breaking. Also, the controls are a little bizarre in places. To use a switch is the reload button and to do a scripted jump over terrain is the sprint button that also on double press performs a sliding kick - resulting in the player slide-kicking into knee high terrain more than average.

The music has clearly had great effort put in to it but makes the common implementation mistake of changing  before the action; notifying the player of when action is about to commence. The sound effects are good and the voice acting is clear and emotive (especially from Gray).


Wrap Up & Negatives
There are many features of Bulletstorm that can be taken as negatives and it depends on the type of gamer you are; there is nothing overly wrong with the game, but some design choices might not sit well. Ammo conservation is not a requirement due to the skillshot point system and there is no significant weapon variety. The constant mild profanity and often incoherently strung insults together will turn some people away. The game could definitely be described as an "on rails" shooter so gamers looking for free roaming will not find that.

It is a good console port and I experienced no bugs, just some strange control choices as mentioned earlier.


Personally
I enjoyed Bulletstorm and would recommend it as a good first person shooter. It aims to constantly impress and it does many times. However, I find strong 'guy humour' funny and if you do not, this game will annoy you; much like finding GLaDOS annoying if trying to play Portal.

The other reason I enjoyed it was the focus on character development and depth, as well as some interesting parts of the game where you are forced to think about how much death is on your hands. Gray is voiced by the actor who played Wolverine in "Wolverine and the X-Men" and I enjoyed the many lines of vocal dialogue - often occurring during action. The constant sassy companions take the weight off and allow the player to just to enjoy what Bulletstorm has to offer. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with being 'on rails' if the ride is extremely fun.

And finally... I don't want to live in a world where fleeing a giant wheel of death is not considered 'fun' :


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