Leave your sensibilities at the door, Bulletstorm is here
Say what you like, Microsoft were genius' for making the achievement system, or at least, making it mainstream. If there's one thing gamers like, it's competition. If there's one thing they like more than that, it's rubbing it in, and nothing says "Haha I'm better than you" more than a number that can be compared to other numbers on a leaderboard. The gamer score system was a great expression of the 'Internet Penis' culture, but even Epic Games Cliff Bleszinksi would say that they no longer go far enough, which is where their new game Bulletstorm comes in.
Developed by People Can Fly (and published by Epic), this game is one of the most perfect personifications of the internet penis we've ever seen. The sheer depth of the Skill Shot system, the way you need to plan who you kill, how you kill them, in what order you kill them... this game could quite possibly take over your life, to the point where you're just about to drift off to sleep before crying out to the night "That's it! I need to shoot him in the balls THEN pull him into the spikes"... and it's debatable whether this is the main point to the game.
I would like your face now...
Indeed, it's hard to know really what to recommend you play first, the single-player campaign or the Echoes mode. Playing through the campaign first is probably a better idea, as not only does it give you an easy 'gentle' introduction to the Skill Shot system, once you try Echoes modes and really get to grips with things, you'll forget about everything else. Despite having a robust story to it, it's hard enough as it is focusing on the plot when you're throwing people in to spikes and man-eating plants.
You play as Grayson Hunt, the leader of an elite band of mercenaries that go rogue when they realise their bloodthirsty, potty mouthed madman of a general has been using them to kill innocent civilians and cover up his own dirty secrets. The game starts with you confronting the general in orbit above a random planet, and you both getting shot down. In a plot very reminiscent of Joss Whedon's Serenity, with perhaps a bit of Lost Planet 2 thrown in, Hunt's romp through the wilderness sees him pitted against crazed gang members, mutated monstrosities, a robotic dinosaur like creature, and just about everything in between.
As we said earlier, it's actually pretty solid given the general impression the game gives off. The characters are believable, the plot is nicely paced and not too convoluted, and there's a decent share of twists and revelations. Even all the copious amounts of swearing is handled pretty well, with it never feeling forced, over the top or out of place, apart from one instance. The vistas are stunning, the environments very varied - which is an achievement in itself considering most of the game takes place within the same city. Whilst the ending is horribly clichéd, and rather at odds with the rest of the game, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised with how things pan out.
As you'll no doubt have seen by now with all the previews and marketing that's been done for the game, the main selling point of Bulletstorm is its crazy, over-the-top Skill Shot system. This mechanic is a lot deeper than is sometimes given credit for. We're not sure exactly how many skill shots there are, but there's a load of different varieties. Each weapon has its own list of skillshots, including ones specific to the overcharge mode. Certain levels also have specific skillshots you can do. Bosses and mini-bosses are skillshots in themselves, and there's a load of general ones that can be done too. As you'll have seen from our recent interview though, this isn't the imagination gone wild - even though there are many weird and wonderful ways to kill people, they're all natural, and mainly utilise your weapons, the environment, or something else that'll you come across through the course of the game.
Godzilla, eat your heart out
Even the really challenging ones aren't too crazy, and this creative restraint actually makes the system a hell of a lot better. It would have just gotten silly to create lengthy skillshots like kicking someone in the air, shooting their leg off, setting them on fire and then pulling them in to spikes. Skillshots rarely require more than two or three steps, and most of the time it's just a matter of making sure the right conditions are there.
As we've hinted at, there are other modes to this game aside from the single-player campaign. The main online multiplayer component is Anarchy, were you team up with up to three friends and participate in a pseudo-horde mode against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The catch is that you actually need to hit a certain score target in order to proceed to the next level. Even though you can compete against each other to get the highest score in the team, this mode also promotes cooperation because you get more points for completing team challenges, and by simply doing skill shots as a team. For example, a basic skill shot is to simply kick someone into the air and shoot them. In Anarchy mode you would get more points if your friend did the kicking, and you did the shooting. This mode is fun, but easily spoilt if you're in a team who doesn't communicate properly, or with people who only want to piss about. In our eyes this actually makes it the weakest of three different game modes, but provided you can get some friends together it's still fun to play.
Echoes mode is where the real action is however. Echoes mode is still 'single-player' in the sense that you only play it by yourself, and so it can be done offline, however Epic like to bill this as an "Asynchronous verses" model. Basically, each level has a leader board, and it's your job to try and get the highest score, or at least, higher than your friends. Unlike multiplayer which it has its own custom built levels, Echoes mode levels are especially action orientated 'snippets' from the single-player campaign, just with all the story dialogue, cutscenes, etc... cut out. Some are fairly long, some are a bit short, but your job is to basically blast from A to B as quickly as possible, getting as high a score as possible.
The way skill shots work in general is that you get a big payoff for doing a new skill shot, but the score you get every time you do it afterwards is less. In echoes mode, this means that you have to cram as many unique skill shots in as possible, never repeating unless you have to. You also get a bonus for being quick. This is the mode that will change everything - you will start thinking about skill shots, how they are set up, what ones fit which situation best. You will plan, you will rinse and repeat. Over and over until you ARE the best. It will consume you in glorious dick swinging, and it really does bring out the potential in the system.
Yeah, he's drunk. And about to try and shoot that apple off that guys head
That's not to say this game is perfect. With everything that's going on in Bulletstorm at the technical level, the Unreal 3 engine is starting to show its age. Nothing major, but it's noticeable. Also, this game does things you've rarely, if ever, seen in a game before with its creative use of the environment. In multiplayer especially, unless PCF and Epic have been really on the ball with the QA, you're going to see bugs, you're going to see oddities. In our review these were few and far between, but the #1 rule of teh interwebs is that everyone will have a different experience. We've already highlighted the downside of Anarchy, and Echoes mode sadly also has downsides. Whilst they strip out story elements, any AI partners you have with you at the time are also present. Whilst they can't kill anything, they do sometimes get in the way. You have to wonder why they're still there sometimes.
If we’re being honest for a second, we were surprised. We thought this was going to be an ok game, gimmicky, but ok. Nothing special… boy were we wrong. Considering the sleuth of military shooters we’ve had recently (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with them), this is an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air. Never underestimate the simple need to let loose and cause some mayhem, and the skill shot system is exceptionally done. Questions like what form the DLC will take, where the general idea can go, etc… is something only time will tell us. In the mean time, I hope this game gets the recognition it deserves, if only for being so damn fun.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Echoes modes, hands down. Never has a score mattered to me so much before now.