Game Review: Bulletstorm

The fifth and final review tackles a game about shooting people in the dick.

Developer: People Can Fly, Epic Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed)
Available on: Steam

Alright, so I played Painkiller a very long time ago and I never really finished it, but this game reminded me how I need to go back and actually do that.

But before I do, let’s talk about Bulletstorm first. Now I seem to remember that there was quite a bit of buzz around this title back when it came out, and looking at reviews it seemed to be received quite well too, so why hasn’t there been a sequel to this in our current franchise happy times? Well, if my sources (read VGChartz) are correct, this game only sold 1.6 million units and therefore I kind of understand now why it didn’t get a sequel, despite the fact that it’s one of the very few shooters on the market that isn’t afraid of being unabashedly cheesy and fun. You know, not consisting of just two colors and your standard military weaponry.

The gunplay, for the most part, is extremely satisfying and there’s a huge variety of guns to go around, all of which feel great when you use them. However I found myself relying on basically just the assault rifle, the sniper rifle and the shotgun because everything else, while massively entertaining to use has no practical application, because any situation they might become useful are cleared faster with the alternatives. What hinders the shooty fun and especially the more exotic weaponry, is the fact that the game isn’t designed around fast-paced running around a massive arena, but more around chest high walls, which breaks the flow of the combat. It’s really exhilarating during the set-piece moments such as the massive grinding wheel segment, the breaking of the dam or the boss fights, but it doesn’t contrast well with the mundane nature of the regular combat scenarios. Another thing that breaks flow is the fact that the player can’t absorb enough damage to make this type of frantic, fast-paced gameplay feasible, so they made it that you basically can get hit only a couple of times before you have to go back into cover to regenerate your health. And my ever so trusty criticism towards iron sights obviously has to make an obligatory appearance because I just hate this shit. It obscures my vision and more importantly it makes it so that your alternate fire has to be bound to the keyboard to arm the alternate firing option on any specific gun and then you have to fire again which in tense moments takes away precious seconds. Why not just omit the iron sights and fire the secondary option using the right mouse button, you know like all the good shooters do it?

Still, I liked the implementation of the lasso, the mighty boot and sliding around the battlefield kicking enemies into hazards. And speaking of those hazards, the skill shot system is a neat little idea to incentivize creativity when playing the game, but I personally never really paid attention to all the possible skill shots you can technically execute in this game because they’re mostly just combinations of a small variety of things you can actually do and over time the elements somewhat bleed together. I mean sure, you can throw enemies into spikes, exposed wires, off ledges, set them on fire, but over time I realized that that’s basically all you do and as such it gets old. And since you pick up plenty of points to restock everything once the next checkpoint rolls around, there’s little incentive to actually do all of the available skill shots.

One thing that I don’t really understand is the inclusion of your squad mates, because they don’t really serve any purpose whatsoever. There’s no tactics in this game and since all the enemies target you and only you there’s no way of flanking enemies. In the end I basically had to take out every single enemy anyway so the squad mates don’t factor into combat at all, since they don’t seem to take any damage and they’re of no use to the player gameplay wise, so they’re just there for the story, which is a missed opportunity. And I get that old-school shooters kind of seemed like a lonely experience when you’re going through all of this stuff with little to no dialogue and no sidekicks and gamers nowadays can’t have that for some reason, but not including them into gameplay seems like a cop-out to me.

Somewhere in this title there are the ingredients of making a perfect shooter with massively satisfying weapons and enough creativity so the endless shooting doesn’t get dull, but it’s bogged down by the way it has to adhere to modern shooter tropes that both suit neither its gameplay nor its story.

Speaking of the story, it’s delightfully bad in a way that makes it endearing, right down to the fact that every single act and even a couple of chapters inside these acts simply start and end with a crash somewhere. It’s the most slapdash level progression I’ve ever seen with the possible exception of Spec Ops: The Line and that game did it to make a point, this doesn’t. The story is obviously played for laughs, because every single character acts like a complete asshole all the time with the crudest, most curse word filled dialogue possible. And I have absolutely no problem with this. Not every game has to aspire to tell a serious dramatic story and aiming for the most puerile aspect many FPS players from the early days found so much fun isn’t really the wrong way to go about things. However when they try to introduce some more serious aspects such as the guilt of the protagonist towards everything he does, it starts ringing a bit insincere. And the ending is just a slap in the balls. No closure at all, heck not even a final boss battle, just a big fat “to be continued” that never materialized because the sequel got canned because of poor sales.

One thing that irked me form a technical side is that the mouse sensitivity seemed to jump around quite a bit. I had to crank it up to maximum in the first mission, both on my actual mouse as well as in-game and after that I had to constantly adjust it between levels for some reason. And there doesn’t seem to be a way to change the language within the game. I like to play games in English and not German and for once it’s not a Steam version I played, and since there’s no switching languages from its settings menu, I actually had to go into the registry and change the language there. Weird how they included the language files both for text and speech on the disc and then didn’t make them available in-game.

So in the end, it’s a really fun shooter with great gunplay and colorful and very well designed levels – not to mention that it’s graphically quite impressive and holds up very well – that’s bogged down by the usual modern shooter tropes such as chest high walls, iron sight aiming and plenty of hand-holding with all the interactive objects being highlighted immediately and a story deliberately tries to be as silly as possible and as such doesn’t stay all that memorable outside of the terrible ending.

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