In today's gaming landscape, there are meaningful story driven video games that have pushed ahead the genre and occasionally use deeper, symbolic meanings to delight the intellectuals among us. Bulletstorm isn't one of them. If anything, it reinforces all the childish stereotypes that the mainstream news / primetime television uses to characterize an average gamer. If you have been following outlet like Fox News lately, you will notice a great backlash against Bulletstorm specifically due to what they believe is excessive violence. While their fears are greatly exaggerated to increase their own readership and play into the fear of the public, Bulletstorm is one of the most juvenile games that I've played in years, mostly due to the idiotic writing and line delivery.
You see, the developer (People Can Fly) is obsessed with dick jokes screamed louder through our center channel speaker than if you were sitting front row at a Sam Kinison show many years ago. The jokes don't even make sense half the time, just inserting dick into random sentences. Looking past the moronic humor, the narrative is an entertaining one. The story is centered around Grayson Hunt, a former solider in a clandestine operation named Dead Echo. After being discharged from Dead Echo ten years prior by the dastardly General Sarrano, Hunt crash lands on a resort planet called Stygia, now rife with dirty criminals and enormous monsters. He also has to fend off attacks from General Sarrano to get off that rock safely. It's a fairly original story that has excellent pacing due and well timed set pieces.
It also introduces a couple fresh ideas into the typical shooter format, namely a scoring system for stylistic kills and a time-slowing device called The Leash. The devilish device grabs an enemy and pulls them toward Grayson Hunt while time slows to a crawl. Hunt can then unleash hell on the poor souls, thus racking up experience points. These points can be spend on helpful upgrades to Hunt's armory as well as the much needed ammo. Upgrades typically go further than your normal power increases, mostly offering even more brutal ways to kill the locals on Stygia. If anything, deciding how to kill someone rather than simply run-and gunning can be strategically advantageous.
Sadly, your AI companions love to get in the way of your progress, namely during battle. This is party due to the claustrophobic level design, but Ishi Sato loved to get in front of me when enemies were swarming. Friendlies are mostly stupid and have a frequent tendency to lumber in front of your running path or target reticule. Their poor programming also contributes to level glitches that force you to restart the game. I also had the game crash four times on me, for what reason, I do not know. They all happened at various points in the game and they also occurred on two different Xbox 360s.
Beyond the single player game, there are a cooperative multiplayer modes for you to digest, Anarchy. Anarchy is their version of Horde, but with a twist. You have to work with teammates to gain Group Skillshots in order to progress safely through the waves of enemies. You need a well balanced team that communicates efficiently in order to be successful. It was my favorite of the two, but only because I ran across an excellent team after several matches. I came across far too many teams that all wanted to do their own thing and we got destroyed because of that. I'm pretty surprised that the game lacks a standard deathmatch or other competitive multiplayer mode. You can also try your hand at the Echoes mode, a simple time trial mode for competing on leaderboards. Beyond the multiplayer, there are 50 achievements to earn in the game. The majority of the tasks are designed for the single player campaign and revolve around skillshots, level completion and difficulty. It's a pretty standard set with relatively entertaining names.
In short, the visuals are slick, but brimming with bugs. The Stygia landscape is absolutely gorgeous and covered with dangerous plant life. Some of the set pieces are astounding and the scope will dazzle the eye. The character models are just as detailed as a typical Gears game and animated very well. Unfortunately, the collision detection system is complete crap. As mentioned earlier, friendlies / enemies often get stuck and can't get around simple objects.
I can't really fault the voice actors here. They are doing their best with a terrible script. They are at their most effective when focusing on substance rather than leaning into the juvenile behavior. The music is pretty standard for a shooter with only a couple tunes that will get your blood pumping during battle. Sound effects are great though, particularly the weapon effects and the screeches of dying enemies.
You are looking at about 5 to 6 hours to complete the main campaign that comes with an cliffhanger ending that feels like a middle finger in your face from People Can Fly. Add in the level ending bugs, brain-dead AI as well as the barrage of terrible humor and you are left with a game that doesn't live up to the hype. However, the story can be entertaining and the level of strategy that can be applied to each enemy encounter is surprisingly fresh for a first person shooter. Plus if you enjoyed the co-op modes in Gears, you are likely to dig the Anarchy and Echo modes. I am shocked that a co-op campaign mode didn't make it into the game though.
The ideal market for this game would probably be shooter fanatics that have a low-brow sense of humor. Those easily offended or prefer more team based shooters need not apply. Also, Bulletstorm should definitely be rented before purchased, only because you can complete the single player campaign in a day or two and that's plenty of time to get an idea if you enjoy the co-op. Plus you probably want to save your hard earned gaming bucks for the onslaught of games coming in March / April. Crysis 2 anyone?