Bulletstorm Demo Impressions

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on January 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Bulletstorm is a doting love letter to the days of first-person shooter yore, to when games like Unreal Tournament ’99 dominated the scene with its ridiculous weapons, ludicrous alt-fires and quirky, idiosyncratic kill messages.  For a time, every new FPS would possess the elements for which UT’99 was praised: slick weapon design, innovatively increasing the number of “weapons” with alternative fire modes, and an in-your-face demeanor that married perfectly with its fast-paced over-the-top deathmatch.

Over time, beginning with the enormous popularity of Halo, the adoration for these features waned, and today most games release with your holy triumvirate of pistol-shotgun-machine gun, with iron sights replacing alt fires and ragdollized corpses sounding the death knell for unique kill animations and commentary.  It is in thusly that Bulletstorm enters the scene like Bobby walking out of the shower in Dallas, acting as though all that preceded was somehow illusory.

Which is how you start the demo with a weapon that is not a grenade launcher per se, but a grenade bola launcher that binds enemies and detonates shortly forthwith; this same weapon may be “overcharged” — local parlance for alt-fire — instead sending the bola flying at such speeds as to slice all in its path.  And in doing so, a number of descriptors will pop up on your screen describing the act in all its profanity while simultaneously granting bonus points for the effort.

The example above is perhaps the least example that may be given.  And yet, with its focus on scoring your creativity in deploying the tools at your disposal, the game is strangely compelling.

In Gears of War, Halo or Call of Duty (et all), you’ll gun down any number of foes in a largely unremarkable fashion, save for that series of events every once in a while — when an enemy blunders into a grenade trap or when you headshot your foe and his mate behind him — that you exult in your skill, tactics and the rare circumstance that allowed such a moment.  Immediately and afterwards, you’ll regale your friends with this special moment where the game allowed you to do something truly spectacular.

This happens in Bulletstorm all the time.  It is, in fact, the very premise behind the game’s tagline, “Kill with Skill.”  Because for every kill you make, you are scored, and you get a much higher score for doing something ludicrous.  Your score is then converted into an overall rating on the level (out of three stars) and placed upon the game’s leaderboards, which take a page from Need for Speed and default to comparing you to your friends list first.  So there’s clearly a heavy emphasis on replaying levels to get the most out of your score, which is also used to purchase and upgrade weapons in-game.

So far, I’ve:

  • Shot a man in the head with a rocket flare (Englightenment)
  • This set his friends on fire (Fireball)
  • Who I then launched into the air (Afterburn)
  • Who then splattered on the ceiling (Fly Swatter)

All of which were accompanied by commentary by the protagonist and his team that expertly blended juvenile and profane word choice, with the effect being somewhat profound.  And this is a small sampling of the one-hundred plus skill shots that will be in the final product, and an even smaller sampling of the full length of the main game, being that the demo tops out at about six minutes or so per playthrough.

Seeing that this  model wouldn’t marry well with your standard multiplayer deathmatch, Bulletstorm eschews that pretense and sticks to a Players-v.-Endless Waves of Monsters model seen in Gears and Halo.  As you might expect, this mode is complete with unique team skill shots for depravity you can share with your friends.

I’m told it also has a story in its single-player mode.  Every ad, dev diary and video featurette tends to gloss over this in favor of the above.

Bulletstorm isn’t being inobvious about what it’s offering.  It’s got a crude, sophomoric attitude cranked to eleven and revels in its gore, profanity and in that its scoring system calls additional attention to its gore and profanity.  For me, it works, and I do approach every encounter with a mind to making the most of out the skill shot system, just like I wanted to see every alt-fire for every weapon back in the days of UT’99.  If the above doesn’t sound interesting to you, either as a single-player challenge game or a fun multiplayer competitive shootout, then the rest of us can only hope it has enough maps, content and challenges to keep us replaying it long after we’ve expended the unique content on offer.

  1. I take issue with the bit about “expertly blended juvenile and profane word choice, with the effect being somewhat profound”
    I found that every word uttered by the game to be annoying and trying so very hard to be edgy that I only felt pity for the poor actors who had to portray such pesonalities.

    I also take issue with a random poster who described this as ‘painkiller ala sci-fi’ and should I find this man I will insert a weedwacker up his anus and let it run until I become bored. Which I will surely become after a small ammount of time given my experiance with this pile of dreck that has been publeshed under the pretense of being a ‘game.’

    I was forced to watch a video that constantlt told me to ‘try’ things and yet I had to wait until the tutorial ended before I gained any form of control. And then I am treated to a first person shooter whose gimmick is that I am apparently skorpian from Mortal Kombat, which is cool cause that is so hip way back when that game came out. It would be better if the leash offered more range of motion instead of “get over here” or “float,” and perhaps some sort of up close combat system that is more elaborate than simply kicking the person. Basically as I stood beside a death trap I had no practical means of getting an enemy into simply because all options were limited to a 2D operating scale.

    Bulletstorm did not impress. It sells itself on nutshots, and I am not twelve. I will give credit that the background environments do appear very pretty and I feel that going out and exploring them might be interesting but the demo has me locked in a generic collapsing decayed environment and I very much didn’t care for the smell.

  2. Bulletstorm is going for the Borderlands wacky/pseudo-viral approach and attitude in its marketing, being that they now have at least two videos making fun of Halo Reach and Call of Duty. Of course, Borderlands used less profanity, or at least relegated it to the adorable claptraps.

    That said, I really don’t mind crude. But even a few things they said didn’t make much sense, or would have been better if they just stuck with plain vulgarities (press B to bury my foot in his poop passage!).

    The demo’s level tops out at about 4-6 minutes, and this is after a (skippable) video that really tries to sell the concept of “killing with skill,” which is a fancy way of saying, “kill with variety,” and that you should be replaying the level over and over to best your friends and your own high score.

    So it’s very unusual and not like your normal demo. Though I was compelled to replay it several times and felt encouraged to use all of my weapons in each of their firing modes; quite a different attitude than what I’d seen cultivated in other games.

    From an aesthetic standpoint, I like any game that presents something other than normal guns in a normal sci-fi environment; these characters aren’t space marines talking about tangos, and whatever planet it’s on looks really interesting, though the game will obviously not be about exploration.

    So yeah, I basically totally agree with your points, but I think the positive outweighs the negative on this one.

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