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To quickly summarize my thoughts regarding EPIC’s “Bulletstorm”, it would be fair to assess that said first person shooter is mindless and entertaining, but certainly not a triple-A release. That’s not to say it is a poor-quality video game, as it’s certainly well intentioned, but more to the effect that it simply isn’t worth the asking price - maybe 25 or 30 dollars would be reasonable. Now, I am going to judge this release solely from its single player campaign, as EPIC hasn’t “hyped” the multiplayer (based off of their hilarious advertisements showing the campaign mode). And, if you do additional reading in forums, it can already be inferred that multiplayer is dead-on-arrival and merely a “content annex”.
To begin, I would like to mention some of the technical issues that the rather rough console-to-PC port has. This port, for some reason, absolutely hates running at anything other than a 16:9 aspect ratio (1920x1080, et cetera). This is confusing, considering how well the Unreal 3 engine handles varying system configurations. You will have to endure massive “cinematic” letterboxing while using non 16:9 resolutions or deal with scaling your monitor to a non-native resolution, landing you in ugly, dot-pitch hell. Also fantastic, are some of the glitches that occur at various resolutions. 16:10 resolutions like 1920x1200 often result in Bulletstorm cutting the frame rate in half. This can be fixed by setting your resolution to any non 16:10 resolution that is divisible by eight (without a remainder), which is absolutely stupid. I noticed, while running the game at 1280x1024, that texture problems started developing, with parts of the game world turning black. You can, fortunately find a working configuration file on multiple game forums that helps fix the missing / incorrect textures. I am not sure, however, what the team that ported this game was doing – certainly not quality assurance. And, the one patch that has been released hasn’t really helped with any of the technical problems. Also, just to save any readers the trouble of continuing on with the long-winded gameplay portion, I must regretfully report that Bulletstorm has “Games for Windows Live” (GFWL) deeply embedded within. It really is the worst, most useless attempt at “social gaming” meets DRM ever. EPIC and Microsoft really are made for one another!
Moving into the game (through the menu), I’m glad that they included the ability to play through any of the game’s acts or chapters out of order, that’s definitely a great move for an Arcade-style shooting gallery; the echoes mode also looks interesting, as does the arena, ladder multiplayer. I just wish the menu didn’t keep telling me that the game has “checkpoints” for its auto save (I believe you, honest). Are console gamers really that untrusting that they need that warning, every single time the game launches? The first point should be great for anyone looking to kick “news bots”, shoot at things while drunk, or try to discover all of the hidden skillshots.
The introduction does a solid job of getting the user accustomed to the gameplay functionality while not seeming like a tutorial. They don’t ask you to slid here or leash there merely to “test” things, and even though it’s a bit cliché how the beginning plays out, this is a purely distilled shoot ‘em up, so there’s no real reason to complain. I just wish that the flash back sequence was slightly better executed (though it is neat) and that the cut scenes were slightly higher quality. It would also be nice if Ishi’s face ended up being better attached – because, you just have to feel bad for him. And with that, they did a good job of making the story character driven, even if it is somewhat silly and, at times, pointless. Meaning, as long as the ending of the game is rewarding, some of the poor “acts” will be redeemed, considering how easy it is to enjoy the interaction between the two main characters (more on the ending and the other characters later).
If you’re all about puzzle-based, open-ended or sandbox first person shooters, Bulletstorm will infuriate you. Seriously though, this is honestly one of the most linear games I have played in a long time; even more linear than a shoot ‘em up like Duke Nukem 3D. At least Duke Nukem 3D had genuinely hidden things to discover and multiple ways to approach a level. Bulletstorm, on the other hand, absolutely locks you in and forces you to follow its script, line by line. There are invisible walls almost everywhere; it’s as if EPIC deems exploration almost illegal. Not only that, but you can’t deviate from the pace of the game. You can’t run ahead and finish a fight sequence the way you want to, you have to sit through and deal with everything until it will unlock areas for you. For example, the game has no jumping (probably because they realized it broke the game), so in-order for you to get to the next part of a level, you might have to “climb” over debris. If you don’t clear out the area or go along with your companions, you might find that the game won’t let you continue. And, definitely don’t expect any minor puzzles that FPS games on the PC are known for, there are literally no moments that require thinking. If it wasn’t for the restrictions, I bet someone could slide through the entire game. Especially considering you can continuously power slide up slopes (minus the sequences of course)!
Even though the game is completely on rails, it’s never frustrating. You’ll never find yourself wandering around trying to figure out where you need to be going. Bulletstorm at least helps you deliver the lines for its script. Simultaneously, it’s rare that a sequence will have a heads-up display marker (the HUD is very slick and polished, I might add) – the dialogue and map layouts make your objective incredibly clear. Which brings up another point; even though the maps are painfully linear, they’re at least designed in an interesting way. Almost every act of the game (bar the last hour) I’ve been impressed with how well the console quality assurance testers made sure that everything played through smoothly. All of the special kill setups and mob ambushes are well done and the designers definitely thought about how each sequence would have to play out for everything to progress smoothly (the robot section was slightly arduous).
Really, this game would play fantastically with cooperative maps in-front of a large television screen with friends. But, it’s just far too simple for the PC crowd. For example, during one of the few “real” boss fights (against a gigantic plant), every time I ran out of ammunition, the game gave me more. And, they didn’t block access to the “arena”, so a player could literally just stand in the previous hallway, avoid the “tentacles”, and just shoot the plant until it tries to regenerate health through its hilarious looking tumors, then rinse and repeat. There is honestly no threat in this game, nor any sense of urgency. They try to force parts through with timers, but they give you such a large amount of time, that it’s almost comical. Not only that, but, thanks to the quick player regeneration, it’s literally impossible to die. The only time that I died during the campaign was during the mine cart sequence, when I forgot to shoot at one of the explosive towers. You can seriously just crouch behind any of the many object, or freeze all of your enemies by kicking or leashing them, and regenerate really quickly without ever worrying. Honestly, I feel that they should have added health packs to the PC version, just to add some sort of strategy / difficulty to the game. I definitely feel that it wouldn’t devalue the usage of the confederate dropkits, nor make anything confusing.
I’m exceptionally happy about two aspects of the gameplay. Your companions, whether you’re with Ishi, Trishka, or the foul mouthed general (only babies fear gamma-rays), never get in the way. One of my biggest gaming-peeves is companions constantly blocking areas or getting stuck. The studio did an amazing job with ensuring the companion AI helps make the experience immersive. Never once did I find myself cursing at Ishi’s robot face for getting trapped in an elevator, or standing in-front of me during combat. Yet, in that same vein, to counter the “easiness” of the gameplay, it seems like the companions are nearly useless. They’re shooting and sometimes they’ll kick, but I don’t know if I believe that those bullets or kicks are actually doing anything. Sometimes they’ll even wait behind during a big firefight and then make exclamations about how intense the battle was. I don’t know what Trishka is going on about, however, because she was behind the barricade the entire time I was kicking the two armored, drill wielding bosses.
I also really, really enjoy the weapon selection and feel. While the skillshots can get boring, remote controlling a shotgun wielding skull (that’s one of the “gangs”) with a sniper round that you bullet curved around an entire building and then detonating him and his buddies is almost too satisfying. I thought that the sniper rifle would feel gimmicky after a while, but it definitely does not. Even the starting assault rifle, with its tissue melting charge feature handles well. The shotgun, while it eats up an exorbitant amount of ammo, cuts enemies in half (literally). The only weapon that merits any complaint is maybe the drill. They give the weapon to you far too late to be useful and for how slow it is, isn’t worth carrying. I’m also happy with their decision to make the user limited to three weapons and the leash / thump. Considering the availability of dropkits, carrying around every weapon might slow the fast combat down and burden the gameplay.
The skillshot system, while not the innovative family vacation fun time feature it is touted to be, certainly isn’t a bad addition. It's fun flattening mobs, shocking them, or “accidentally” kicking them off of a gigantic cliff, but it isn’t “genre” changing. It is also nice, that EPIC utilized the skillshot system and implemented cooperative multiplayer in which you and your friend must survive waves (gauntlet / ladder style), as seeing the various kill titles and points flash is rewarding. In the actual game, it becomes sort of, “meh”. I like that they connected the story to the point system and that you have to fight to earn points to resupply, but due to all of the ammo drops, hidden (hah) ammo boxes, and bountiful kills, you never feel that you are at odds with the system. You’ll never have to scrounge for ammunition or plan a fight tactically, according to what you have on your person. This might be a positive for some gamers, but for me, it’s decidedly boring. Getting every kill as a head-shot is easy as one-two-three, so being maxed out on ammunition is a regular occurrence. But, if you’re just in it for the “echoes” mode, a challenge version of every level, then skill-kill away!
While the graphics aren’t ultra-super-duper impressive, the visuals are very nice to look at, with a special emphasis on the artwork that went into developing the unique environments. You truly feel like you are stranded in a hellish vacationer ex-paradise. Even the urban areas are well designed and don’t suffer from the empty building syndrome (see Fallout 3; ignore apples to oranges, blah, blah, blah). Seeing the gamma-rays freaked me out as did discovering how the city was constructed. I was even sad when I saw the desolate, failed evacuation zone. And, the fact that you aren’t fighting through endlessly re-spawning mobs, helps create a sense of belonging (try harder Ubisoft). Everything feels very “organic” and “natural” – or as much as it can within a video game environment; it’s almost more like a movie than a video game (a silly action flick, though).
Wrapping up the review, I’d have to say that the biggest disappointment with Bulletstorm, besides the somewhat short gameplay, low re-playability, and its console syndrome, is the terrible ending. I’m not sure if the studio was, but the last hour of the game feels ridiculously rushed. It’s as if they decided to storyboard the ending with two months until having to acquire gold status. It was fun dealing with the general, but besides that component, I left the game feeling that I wasted my time finishing it; it’s as if it would almost be better off to just play the first three or so hours. Not only that, but they set up the entire ending for a terrible, horrible sequel. I still feel unsatisfied with the ending, days later. When my brother played through the game, he was bored with the last hour and kept telling me that he, “just wanted it to be over”. Yet, they couldn’t even perform the courtesy of resolving the story – frustrating!
What would I like to say to “People Can Fly” and “EPIC”? I would like to tell them that they came so close to having a fantastic shoot ‘em up, but instead failed at the final hour. So many of the fun moments I had in the game were overshadowed by a few poor mechanics and an even poorer ending (oh great, more burnouts / super-alpha-delta-beta last echo squad dummies to shoot at). I almost wish I could spoil the ending for you, honestly; maybe that would save you some heartache! What’s my final verdict on Bulletstorm? Get it for $25, preferably on console (I think it is discounted right now over at IGN’s online store for the PC), and play on a high difficulty with friends around (controller swapping to prevent boredom). And, while you’re on the surface, enjoy the visuals, ignore the stupid animation sequences worth points (herp derp, hold right-click), and kill a couple of creeps for me. Maybe you’ll be able to get past the story and just enjoy a slick, polished shooting gallery. If you can successfully do that, it’s definitely a fun game that’s worth a look
Gameplay (minus technical problems on the pc) is very polished and fun
Weaponry is fantastic
Environment / visuals are well done
AI companions, while not a hindrance, don’t do much to help
Does not need a sequel
Multiplayer is okay; co-op is nice, but it needs more content or competitive play
Needs more depth / challenge to increase re-playability
More PC polish is required
Almost painfully linear
Note: if you want to take screenshots using the non-steam version of Bulletstorm (print screen does not work), you must download the “bulletstorm ini editor” (google) and then add “Bindings=(Name="F12",Command="shot")” under [StormGame.BSPlayerInput] to “StormInput.ini” in “\Documents\My Games\BulletStorm\StormGame”. The screenshots goto “\Documents\My Games\BulletStorm\StormGame\ScreenShots”.