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Bulletstorm (Xbox 360) artwork

Bulletstorm (Xbox 360) review


"The game’s a riot, and if supposed top-tier titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Killzone 3 are any indication of the degree of stagnation the genre is suffering from, then Bulletstorm is exactly the kick in the nuts that mainstream gaming needs right now. Do what you wouldn’t do for MadWorld: Buy it, and tell the industry that you want more games like it."



I’ve tasked myself with selling you on Bulletstorm and I can barely contain my giddy delight. But before I can illustrate why it’s fun to snap an opponent’s head off with an explosive flail, or why guiding a bullet in slow motion straight up an enemy’s ass gave me no end of joy, I need to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Indulge me for a moment while I lay down the plot.

It is The Future – the spacefaring kind, to be precise – and a burly man with a gruff voice named Grayson Hunt is leading a ragtag group of pirates through the galaxy on a quest for revenge against professional warmonger General Sarrano. Grayson’s team members used to do black ops work for Sarrano, but called it quits when they realized they were being tricked into killing civilians, and their latest venture through space lands them right at the feet of Sarrano’s prized battlecruiser. Grayson, who is perhaps a bit intoxicated, makes the reckless decision to attack head-on and both ships crash land onto the nearest planet. Two of Grayson’s mates wind up dead, and the third, Ishi, sustains injuries which leave him at the mercy of robotic implants that are slowly muffling his emotions.

To make matters worse, the planet they’ve landed on, Stygia, is a former resort world that’s now completely overrun with cannibals, mutants, and other very scary things. The displays of mangled corpses and piles of human skulls serve as frequent reminders that everything on Stygia needs to die, agonizingly and without mercy. Bulletstorm is a game in which you inflict pain upon others in creatively gruesome ways, so it’s comforting to know that the victims of your vehemence are entitled to little else.

During the prologue, Grayson stumbles upon a Leash, an energy-based tether device used to interact with objects and (more importantly) grab hold of enemies from a distance. Yanking your attackers around with the Leash is great fun, but it’s hardly your only tool of destruction. You also use your guns, your feet, the environment, and any improvised weaponry you can throw together from what’s lying around you. Bulletstorm isn’t about killing people in the most efficient ways; it’s about killing them in the most enjoyable ways, and your opportunities are endless.

At the center of this mayhem is the skillshot system, which awards points for pulling feats that are showy, gory, complex, or just downright proficient. Some of them are simple. Headshots are honored, and there are the MadWorld-inspired moments of shoving enemies into industrial fans, impaling them on spiky objects, or just smearing them across the walls with a few particularly ferocious kicks. Keep scrolling down the list and the moveset gets a bit more unorthodox. Shoot a guy in the crotch and then knock his head off. Rip a miniboss’s pants open and kick him in the butt. Ram an enemy to death with a hot dog cart. The list goes on, and it’s almost as entertaining to read about them as it is to perform them.

With a few exceptions, your inventory runs the usual gamut here – the pistol, the shotgun, the sniper rifle, and so on – but the kicker is that each weapon has its own set of skillshots. You’re awarded with “Surgeon,” for example, for whipping out your handgun and killing an enemy by repeatedly firing at the same limb. Or you score “Topless” by pulling out the shotgun and blasting off an enemy’s entire upper half. The points you earn can be used to purchase more weaponry and ammunition, and I love that the game tells you point-blank that there’s no reason to save up. Just spend your points at every opportunity, arm yourself to the teeth, and go wild. Bulletstorm is all about going wild, you see.

The purpose of this is that developers Epic and People Can Fly give players an objective parallel to simply completing the campaign. It’ll take you the entirety of the game to work your way through most of the skillshots, and while you’ll score some of them without trying – sticking a guy to a cactus will happen all the time, for example, because cacti are everywhere – some are the result of hard labor… and they’re fun to look at, too. Slinging two enemies into the air and then sticking them together with a single, impaling drill has the dual effect of being difficult to pull off and viscerally entertaining just to watch.

What ultimately makes Bulletstorm click, though, is the fact that you could take away the skillshot system and still enjoy the game as a slick, exciting FPS. The game mimics the unrelenting, shakycam-inducing pace that made the Gears of War games such a thrill ride, and not a chapter seems to go by without EA campaigning for Set Piece of the Year. It’s a badass, rough-and-tumble, no-girls-allowed actioner with the mindset of a cartoonish brawler, and the description “Gear of War meets MadWorld” is hardly something to be ashamed of.

The punchline for entertainment like this is that there are plenty of games out there that are just as gory but take themselves too seriously to have any fun. Bulletstorm saves itself by being in on the joke. Despite looking an awful lot like Marcus Fenix, Grayson is precisely the sort of protagonist a game like this needs: cracking juvenile jokes, giggling with glee when gruesome acts of murder are dispensed, and generally just mirroring the player’s own reaction to what’s happening. Don’t ask why, but at one point, Grayson gets his hands on a remote-controlled robot dinosaur armed with machine guns, and his giddiness is akin to that of a child unwrapping an expensive toy on Christmas morning. Grayson gets serious when the story demands it, but for the most part, he’s here for the same reason we are: to have a good time.

I’m not nearly as fond of the story itself, mainly because – in stark contrast to Grayson – the villain is a one-dimensional caricature, one of those hyper-conservative, Southern-fried military types that we’re likely to hate more by default than because we’re given compelling reason to. And while I was at least drawn in by the three central protagonists enough to sympathize with their motives, it’s a bit of a shame that Epic was so intent on turning this into a franchise, or else Bulletstorm may have had an actual ending.

If there is a sequel, they could certainly take the opportunity to expand on the game’s multiplayer options, which feel like a missed opportunity. Competing for high scores in campaign missions just feels like a half-baked holdover for true co-op, and the game’s obligatory endurance-style mode doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from, say, Horde or Firefight. You’d think a game like this would make for a wild, raucous shindig with other people, so if there are future installments – and I most certainly hope that there are – I’d like to see the game’s multiplayer side display as much creativity as its solo act.

Oh, and I guess Bulletstorm is pretty short, but as with last year’s wonderful Vanquish, its brevity comes as a result not of laziness but of the developers’ appreciation for conciseness. The one thing you don’t want a game like this to do is drag, and I can hardly mark a game down for hastiness when the first thing I want to do upon completion is start it up again on a higher difficulty. The game’s a riot, and if supposed top-tier titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Killzone 3 are any indication of the degree of stagnation the genre is suffering from, then Bulletstorm is exactly the kick in the nuts that mainstream gaming needs right now. Do what you wouldn’t do for MadWorld: Buy it, and tell the industry that you want more games like it.

Rating: 9/10

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (March 08, 2011)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Masters posted March 08, 2011:

Nicely done, Mike.

Liked this line in particular:

Bulletstorm is a game in which you inflict pain upon others in creatively gruesome ways, so it’s comforting to know that the victims of your vehemence are entitled to little else.
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Suskie posted March 08, 2011:

Thanks. Glad you liked it.

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