Platform:Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3 Publisher:Electronic Arts Release Date: February 22nd 2011
Developer People Can Fly has made a terrible mistake with Bulletstorm, and it’s one that we feel is important enough to deal with straightaway. The mistake is that it's tried to create a storyline which is serious and compelling and interesting – and that, to some degree, it has succeeded.
This is a problem because, while the story desperately wants you to take it seriously, the game itself doesn’t. If Bulletstorm were suddenly anthropomorphised then the game would be a schizophrenic, flitting between a persona of an English student, always talking about gravitas and character motivations, and a ADHD-afflicted prankster, as likely to egg your car as talk to you.
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Nowhere is this better summed up than in a synopsis of each element. The story, in brief, concerns ex-mercenary Grayson Hunt (think Malcolm Reynolds, but with pointless buckles all over him), who goes on the run when he learns that his unit, Dead Echo, is run by Not Nice People. A few years later Grayson and his android pal, Ishi Sato, happen across the leaders of Dead Echo and a space battle breaks out as the duo try to settle their grudge and bring a little justice to the universe.
Contrast that to the actual game, however, and you’ll see that players spend the entire time shooting mutants and cannibals in the crotch for extra points.
The distance between the epic scope of the story and the blunt blood-and-guts appeal of the actual game is not necessarily a bad thing. It does mean, however, that it’s easy to get distracted when talking about Bulletstorm – and, from what we’ve seen so far, the game plot is a bit of a red herring. It’s the running and gunning that really matters – and there’s an awful lot of both thanks to the introduction of skill shots.
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Skill shots are Bulletstorm’s major innovation and are best described as special moves or combos that players can unleash for extra points. The more creative and difficult a skill shot is, the more points you’ll earn. Spray-and-pray kills won’t earn you a bonus at all, while a from-the-hip headshot will gain you only a miserly +50 points or so – big scorers call for big imagination.
Our favourite skill shot that we’ve seen, by way of example, is the Mercy Shot. That involves shooting a humanoid foe in the unmentionables, which leaves him clutching and hobbling in pain, then calmly finishing him off with a round to his head.
The environments you’ll fight through and the arsenal at your disposal have been created to facilitate the skill shot system and both are over-the-top enough to fully banish any remaining inklings that Bulletstorm is a serious game. From the moment you set eyes on Bulletstorm’s cannon, the alt-fire of which is a ball that bounces up and down while spewing fiery shockwaves, you know that this is more Serious Sam than Half-Life.