Bullet Witch (Xbox 360) review
"Six stages isnít much, not when theyíre so short. Once you know what youíre doing, you should be able to complete them in less than a half-hour apiece. Only your first attempt will find you taking longer, since you donít know what youíre supposed to do and where youíre supposed to go."
The year is 2013 and the place is the eastern coast of the United States. The last few years have been rough on mankind, starting with an earthquake in 2007, then a war in the Middle East in 2008. Sickness ravaged the planet. Disease lingers, but thatís not the worst of it. That distinction falls to the demons. They walk the streets, skeletons with flesh hanging from their bodies in globs. Faces have been ripped from their victimís corpses and now drape their torsos like jewelry, the detritus of faded humanity. The monsters don army fatigues and carry the most simplistic of weapons--machine guns, bazookas and shotguns. Tools created by mankind for warfare now are turned against us by those who seek our extermination. Demon victory seems assured.
Thatís where you come in. Your name is Alicia and youíre a witch. Your tresses are blue like midnight. You donít feel the heat of hellfire or the chill of arctic winds. Your clothing is leather and it covers you where you wish but leaves your silky skin bare where you donít. Your stodgy father wouldnít approve but thatís okay because you look sexy. Damn sexy. The gun slung over your shoulder completes the ensemble; itís almost as large as you are.
Bullet Witch is full of absurd extremes cobbled together with little regard for anything beyond visceral appeal, but that works out just fine. One moment youíll walk past the haunting view of an empty baby carriage teetering on the edge of an abandoned staircase in a wind-swept plaza. In another stage, you patrol streets full of SUVs and pickups and Cadillacs. They look real, from the dust that cakes the wheel wells to the glint in twilightís crimson sun. Then you pass beyond them and into a stream of bullets fired by a demon that rose wraith-like from the brush beyond. Real. Fake. The two melt together until itís hard to tell one from the next and all youíre worried about is the nightmare at the end of that next alley, about where the next sniper might lurk.
Itís the sort of hellish scenario only possible in a video game, and youíll learn to love the adrenaline rushes it provides. As you wander throughout the streets of the ravaged future, youíre seldom far from a slaughter. When you wish it, you can pull your gun over your shoulder and let loose an unholy hail of bullets. Youíll charge a handful of unearthly monsters, cartwheel between their blasts, then come to a graceful halt long enough to unload a quarter of your clip into the helmeted head of a nearby demon. Before the distant laser sight can fix itself on your lithe frame, youíll retreat to safety under a dilapidated awning and plan your next assault.
Strategy comes into play at several points throughout the game. If youíre approaching a barricade and a bunch of demons are firing from protective barriers, you have a choice: you can rush them or let nearby debris do the job for you. Thereís usually a car or some other handy object that you can then hurl toward your objective. Itíll crash through, possibly kill a few monsters in the process, and give you just the break you need, all while your life meter regenerates. At least, thatís how it works most of the time. Sometimes the physics system isnít your friend and a clever attack you planned falls apart because a telekinetic object snagged itself on a fallen soldierís corpse or some other object. While you cope, soldiers rush you from all sides, bullets flying. Unexpected hang-ups like that can send you back to that last checkpoint in a flash.
The physics system isnít your only irritant. Often youíll grapple with confusing environments. One plaza can look much like the next, an alleyway too similar to the one you just passed. After clearing an area of enemies, you might still find yourself passing through it a few times with nothing the sound of your heels clicking rhythmically on the asphalt and occasional pop-up for company. Yes, pop-up. Sometimes a civilian youíre meant to help materializes out of nowhere. Other times itís a demon. It could even be a static object, like a park bench or a rickety old fence. Occasionally, itís distracting enough to pull you out of an otherwise immersive experience. Thatís disappointing.
The gameís length provides further disappointment. Six stages isnít much, not when theyíre so short. Once you know what youíre doing, you should be able to complete them in less than a half-hour apiece. Only your first attempt will find you taking longer, since you donít know what youíre supposed to do and where youíre supposed to go. Repeat visits are a walk in the park because the most challenging part--learning the location of key battles (or in some cases, monsters you must kill to dissolve the ethereal barriers that block your pathway through a few stages)--is behind you.
Even so, youíll likely work your way through the game more than once just to relive the highlights. The foreboding atmosphere is ever-present and nearly always awesome, but the game goes beyond atmospheric dread and gives you other reasons to return. Youíll look forward to again experiencing tense moments like the one when a giant stomps his way through a mist-shrouded forest. Youíre running around near his feet, avoiding the spectral forms wending their way through the air, dodging the suicidal assault of beings with spikes wedged in their chests and heads perched unnaturally on broken, twisted necks. Every step your opponent takes sends tremors through the earth. Itís memorable.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of all comes at the end of the third stage, though. After leading a group of resistance soldiers through a not-quite-abandoned airport, you settle into your seat for what promises to be a comfortable ride overseas. Then you look out the window and see one of the jets in your convoy plunging toward the ocean, wing blazing. A demon the size and approximate shape of a winged gray whale is floating through the sky. You leave through the emergency door, step out onto the wing and then climb onto the top of the jet as it cruises at 10,000 feet. Misty clouds swirl around you and your nemesis floats to the side. Spores detach from its body and find their way like magnets to the plane youíre riding. You battle them, but all the while your attention never leaves the behemoth off to the side. If you let him, heíll crush the plain in his maw. Only your magic can defeat him, but can you summon the power of lightning in time?
Though it has its share of flaws, Bullet Witch remains memorable because moments like the battle in the sky canít be ruined by pop-up, occasional issues with physics or even the gameís diminutive size. Bullet Witch isnít for everyone, since all it really amounts to is wandering a post-apocalyptic future and blasting the hell out of demons. Thatís the kind of experience that some people quickly find tiresome. If you donít mind a little repetition and just want a chance to battle your way through a grim future we can all hope none of us live to see, though, this is one adventure you wonít want to miss.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 16, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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