As you trek through an abandoned building, you notice the light shining through the cracked ceiling, and except for the creaking floor below you, all is quiet…too quiet. Suddenly, a faint voice yells “KILL’EM,” and swarms of mutated bandits wielding bloodied axes start sprinting at you from their hiding places. You fire a grenade into the chest of the pack leader and boot him into a group of his friends before pressing the detonator. Since they’re only a couple left after that, you decide to have some fun. The leash (kind of a laser/whip) still has some charge in it so you rope a bandit around the neck and send him head first into a piece of rebar. The last guy is scared, but he’s not running, which is good because you saved the best for last. The rifle you’re carrying has a secondary fire that unloads the whole clip in a single burst, and it’s just itching to be used. The shot reduces him to powder; you laugh at the sight and uncork a bottle of newly found whiskey in celebration…of yourself, but just as the drink takes hold, a fully armored boss toting a mini-gun comes around the corner. From the front, he is impervious to bullets, so you’ll have to shoot him in the ass-plate.
Bulletstorm is not a videogame, it’s every over-the-top 80’s action movie condensed into a single theme-rollercoaster that was then turned into a videogame.
You play as Grayson Hunt (voiced by Steve Blum), pirate outcast and discharged officer of a black-ops company known as Dead Echo. Gray’s story is that of betrayal, revenge, and redemption, and for a game that puts a lot of effort into being light and funny, the over-arching story is pretty serious.
Gray and his men worked as assassins for a Confederate general named Sarrano (the game’s main villain). That is, until they discovered they were being lied to about who the targets were; they were killing innocent people. Years later, after being hunted by countless bounty hunters, Gray wants revenge at any cost. He sets his sights on Saranno’s battle cruiser and goes in for a suicidal attack, and though he succeeded in taking the ship down (along with his own) it cost him the lives of most of his crew.
The two ships crash-land on planet Stygia (a crumbling resort-like planet now occupied by rival gangs, bandits, and mutants), and it is up to Gray to kill Sarrano and get his cyborg-friend Ishi help before he loses him to the AI implant’s control.
Bulletstorm does a good job keeping the story pace up while not skimping on details that bring depth to the character or the world. In short, I never felt lost in the story. All the characters are likable (even Sarrano), which is mostly due the wildly colorful dialogue People Can Fly managed to get away with. The only real letdown is the ending; which leaves gamers on a down-note that rivals the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
Bulletstorm introduces the Skillshot system, which rewards players points for achieving unique and cool kills, these points can be spent on ammo and various weapon upgrades. While this system is cool in that it forces the player to think more creatively in how they dispatch enemies, it can get repetitive at times (kick an enemy in some spikes for a hundred points – wash rinse repeat). The leash is also a big part of the game; you can either use it to grab enemies (it doesn’t matter if they’re in cover) and fling them towards you or use its “thumper” attack to send an area of enemies straight into the air. It’s a fun mechanic that I found myself using almost constantly, and combined with Gray’s ridiculously powerful kick, the whole system makes it very easy to set up environmental skillshots.
In addition to the campaign (which only lasts about 10 hours), Bulletstorm also features “Echo” mode and the “Anarchy” multiplayer. Echo mode is just areas from the campaign that have been stripped of story; players play the sections and can compare their level scores with global and friend leaderboards. Why this wasn’t just included as a feature in the campaign, I don’t know, but it does provide some additional replay value. The Anarchy multiplayer is a much better addition. Basically, it’s a simplified Horde mode where teams of four have to work together to fight off waves of enemies. The twist on this is that a certain team skillshot score must be achieved before the team can move on to the next round. During my few hours of online play I experienced the ups and down of this gameplay. When you get on a team that communicates and works together to squeeze every skillshot point out of a round it can be a lot of fun. On the other end of the spectrum though, things can get downright annoying; using the leash to kill steal is far too common, and I felt like giving up after repeating the same round continuously, because teammates just shot enemies and ignored skillshot opportunities.
People Can Fly studios put a lot of work into making the world of Stygia a vastly beautiful and dangerous place. Some might think the game relies too much on lowbrow humor, but in a market flooded with gritty military shooters, I found Bulletstorm’s tone refreshing. The core gameplay could use some work though. It’s a good foundation, but booting enemies into environmental hazards gets old after a while, and weapons like the leash could be used for many more applications beyond just yanking enemies towards you. Bulletstorm earns a 4.5/5 for being a solid, high-quality game with an ending that will make your nose curl.