Game Reviews


March is a lovely time. It's the end of the first quarter of the year (often called Q1 by those with business on their brains), and as such is home to those "firestarter" games designed to bring the game buying public out of its post holiday shopping lull and back into stores. And while fellow first person shooter (FPS) Killzone 3's conservative approach gives it the trusted "same as last year's model" feel, EA's Bulletstorm turns out to be anything but. The first collaboration between the veteran FPS developers at Maryland's Epic Games and their new People Can Fly studio in Poland brings back a sense of fun not seen since the heyday of Duke 3D, and with it turns a stale genre on its ear.

The bulk of this comes from a People Can Fly studio specialty: guns that are fun to use. Although your starting machine gun is a little standard, you'll eventually collect a pistol that shoots firecrackers, a sniper rifle that inexplicably has fly-by-wire bullets, and toward the end a launcher of spinning, steel nails that turns precision shooting into one of the most pleasurable activities in the game. And you'll need that shooting skill if you want to win this game, because there's almost no ammo dropped from corpses, and dangerously few ammo crates. With not enough ammo to run around spraying and praying as you would in a Halo game, and enemies not at all willing to let you hang back and peck them off from the distance, one must employ copious amounts of trick shooting in getting the enemies to expire in as many flashy ways as possible.

These flashy kills, called skillshots , are the heart and soul of the game. There are over 120 of these skillshots categorized by the weapon used and the difficulty in achieving them, with the harder ones rewarding you with more points. These points are then used at drop-pods spread throughout each level, which let you replenish your ammo and upgrade some of your weapons. By attaching the skillshot system to your ammo, the game in effect makes it extremely reliant on you pulling off as many skillshots as possible in order to keep on going, and often changing your weapon when you've run out of ammo for it. In addition, your primary weapons are augmented by a leash that lets you throw enemies around the area, as well as a fine pair of space boots that let you slide around the world and kick anyone or anything out of your way.

The world that you see while sliding around out there turns out to be very well done. Your space crates and explosive barrels make their appearance, as you would expect, but they're joined by a most unusual flora that give the land it's hellish paradise look. Whether it's the oversized cactus plants or the man-eaters of the later levels, there's a certain deadly look to the wildlife on the planet that makes it's barbarian mutants and ravaging bandits feel like they just belong here, even when you're in some swank looking (and partially blown up) hotel or on the planet's dinosaur-themed amusement park. With the right rig and a little settings tweaks, this game looks so good it'll blow your #@$% off.

Yeah about that last sentence…that's pretty tame compared to the dialogue you'll hear in this game. By the time you read this you'll probably have seen some of the more insane ones, but the game just kicks it into high gear the moment you encounter the game's arch villain, who it seems not only trained every other character in the art of war, but in the art of inserting curse words where they were "truly" missing. The game uses this whole penchant for extreme vulgarity as sort of a backdrop for the colorful interactions between the game's characters and, where it doesn't fall flat, it does its job very well.

While the moment to moment writing is pretty good if you can handle the cursing, the actual story is pretty standard Mockal Bay* in a sci-fi format. Ex Confederate Space cowboy decides to go get some revenge on that old Confederate General that screwed his life over, and in the process gets everyone shipwrecked on this abandoned resort planet that's crawling with mutants and bandits and plenty of explosives. From there it's a moment to moment quest for survival as the crew attempts to get off the planet before a bomb goes off that will kill everyone…or something. It all bleeds together after a while and its few story points are pretty much what you'd expect. Even the characters are in on the joke, with the main character screaming "Deus Ex Machina" as he's suddenly saved from certain death by another character who herself is already supposed to be dead.

While the campaign might be a long running joke, Bulletstorm's lone multiplayer mode, called Anarchy, is where the real laughs are found. Here, the player and up to three others cooperate against a horde of enemies one might find in the singleplayer using those same great guns and leash. What separates Anarchy from other Survival modes is that success isn't based on you surviving the wave, because the game assumes you will survive no matter what. Instead, success is based on earning as high a score as possible off of team skillshots. If you beat the minimum score, you advance to the next round - fail and you'll have to repeat the round till you succeed. This creates an atmosphere where the entire team has to be in constant communication - the wrong shot or errant explosion could destroy the setup someone was making for a big score bonus. With the right set of friends, this could be a great mode to come back to as EA and Epic release new maps for you to work your creative magic on.

And with the exception of the game's Echoes mode, that's all there is to come back to after the credits roll. This greatest hits of some of the campaign's finer combat scenarios is a kind of nice bonus, especially for letting you compete against your friend's position on the leaderboards, but it feels kind of like an afterthought, hastily bolted on to extend the life of a game that, ultimately, doesn't need extending. Though the campaign tells a story you've certainly heard before, it has a great time doing so, and there's always Anarchy mode waiting. If you can stomach a little expletive madness for roughly 8 to 12 hours, then you should be a very satisfied owner of what will likely be one of 2011's best first person shooting achievements.

* Mockal-Bay - a satirical take on the cheesy, explosion filled, intelligence draining story made popular by film director Michael Bay. Other Mockal-Bay games include the Saints Row Franchise.

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