Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Bulletstorm [PS3]

The latest offering from "People Can Fly" studios may not quite live up to Painkiller, but it is bold, explosive and most of all: FUN.

Boom, Blast and Ruin
There's big explosions, gorgeous scenery which crumbles around you, glass shatters to tiny pieces - and that's before I've started on the enemies! There has been a lot of thought as to how to make this a visually-impressive experience, from the scale of the buildings you shoot your way through to the dust hanging in the air - this all screams massive destruction.

The environments are generally a bunch of buildings which start out ruined and end up as rubble. You and your chums make your way across half-destroyed cities, paying no care as to what you destroy in the process. It is this attitude which sets up the story in the second half of the game - your cavalier attitude means that you smash your way through a nest of giant eggs and - Surprise, Surprise - Mommy doesn't like that.

Bear in mind that the ruined city isn't just there for aesthetics - the broken fences, open chasms and damaged gas tanks all offer more choice for killing your enemies in new and exciting ways (see the "Skillz" section).

The planet you fight on was once an urban centre - until you and your mates showed up.

Kicking, Sliding and Whipping - Indiana Jones Would Be Proud
Each of the enemies has a unique weakness that can be exploited to quickly make them into passata, although just going wild with the trigger normally works too. Using the controls to your advantage means that you won't run out of ammo quite so often, and allows the game to flow a bit smoother.

Kicking means that enemies float in slow motion in front of you (something to do with an electro-sci-fi boot or something - do you really care about the logistics of this?). As your targets hang limply in the air, you are then free to target whichever body part will deal the most damage. 

Sliding is nicely implemented, and can either offer you a quick escape from a dangerous encounter or a quick approach to a vicious enemy. On sliding into certain enemies, you boot them into the air and they then hang in slow motion - allowing you to carefully aim at their gonads.

The whip is an electrified punishment device which allows you to grab far off baddies and pull them back towards you (again triggering the slow-mo). Another option with the whip is to lift your enemies into the air before crashing them back down into the ground, causing a shockwave which stuns nearby foes.

So, as you can see, each of the player controls gives you more options when it comes to blasting your attackers apart, and you will be rewarded for looking for more options in Bulletstorm thanks to the "Skillshot" system.

These are "Burnouts" - mutated creatures with glowing areas on their bodies. Guess where you aim for.

You Got Mad Whack Skillz, Boi
Each of the many, many ways you can kill enemies has its own Skillshot and points bonus associated with it: shooting an enemy in the throat gets you the "Gag Reflex" bonus (50pts), while impaling 2 or more airborne enemies with a drill gets you the "Wingman Bonus" (100pts). 

It is both entertaining and rewarding to go out trying new ways to blast the baddies to bits, and you get bonus points for finding a skillshot you haven't used before. These are tracked in a very handy little menu that can be brought up at any time, and also can be filtered to show only skillshots you haven't achieved yet - well thought through there.

These points are then used on upgrades to your weaponry, such as increasing ammunition capacity. You upgrade in game by visiting one of many handy "Drop Pods" scattered around the landscape. Later upgrades add in "Charge Shots", and these vary from weapon to weapon: the assault rifle gains a powerful blast shot whereas the sniper rifle gets an explosive bullet option. Once you have unlocked charge shots, you are then able to carry out the associated skillshots, e.g. set off your explosive sniper bullet before it hits its target to earn the "Premature" skillshot.

Above is a video of all possible sniper skillshots in Bulletstorm, kindly provided by Czis16

The Little Boy Inside Me Smirked...
Humour plays a large part in Bulletstorm - the characters crack one-liners more often than Lindsay Lohan puffs crack. I could mention a whole bunch of good examples, but that would ruin them before you have gotten a chance to hear them yourselves, so I'll just mention one:

During a section where you control a giant mechanised dinosaur, the dino gets tragically blown up. The main character then declares, with exaggerated sadness in his voice, "I named him Waggleton P. Tallylicker, but I never got the chance to tell him. He will be remembered".

It's this sort of cheesy, corny, terribly-infantile humour that makes me smile throughout the game - although no lines are ever quite as good as the memorial for Waggleton.

Multiplayer Madness
The multiplayer in Bulletstorm is novel, and quite enjoyable for a while - but fundamentally flawed. 

The idea is that you and 3 online buddies go into an arena and take on waves of bad guys - no competition, just killing. "Awesome", I thought to myself, "Put me in with some guys at my level and let us work together, rather than elite losers picking off noobs like grains of dust from their coats".

The problem is that to advance to the next wave, you need to earn a certain amount of points. These are earned in exactly the same way as in single player (with a few multiplayer special kills). In each of the games that I tried (4 before giving up disappointedly), I was put with a bunch of absolute idiots who kept shooting all the enemies to death in the most boring, low-point-earning ways. So we kept failing the wave. Try again, and yet again they kept being ridiculously stupid and not using any creative kills whatsoever.

This is one game where I would have appreciated headset functionality, just to scream "NO  DUMB-ASS! KICK HIM INTO THE AIR AND SNIPE HIM! DON'T JUST SHOOT HIM WHILE HE'S STANDING STILL! WE'VE LOST AGAIN THANKS TO YOU, Super1337Anus! GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME!"

Rat-A-Tat-Tat All The Way Back To The Shop
Although there is a great deal of scope for being creative, the game does try to force you down the "clever kills" path by giving you absolutely sod-all ammunition. You are never without ways to kill the swarms of baddies heading your way, but the good weapons (sniper, flailgun etc.) all have a capacity of around 10 shots - so you are constantly searching for more bullets.

When you use the Drop Pods to upgrade, you can also buy some more ammunition. The problem is that it costs so bloody much to buy bullets that you have no money left for upgrades. And yes, by the end of the game you'll probably have earned enough points to upgrade all your weapons to the max anyway, but it's still annoying that you have to spend so much of your time restocking at the shop rather than re-killing in the city. This is one game where an unlimited ammo cheat would have been welcomed.

Oooh Yay! Ten Minutes Of Boredom!
As exciting as a giant wheel smashing its way towards you may be - this is still a dull rail shooter section

And then, out of nowhere, come an enormous bringer of doom. There it is in the image above. Yes, boys and girls, there is a rail shooter section.

WHY!?!?!?!?!?!?! You were doing so well, Bulletstorm! 

I was running, sliding and whipping everything to destruction with a gleeful smile upon my face! Why did you have to force me to play a rail shooter section in the middle of it!?!

So in a game where I can't get enough of the freedom to kill enemies in my own special way, the game decides to throw in a section where I'm pinned to the spot and given one gun to use. For ten minutes. Urgh.

I would've rather had a video showing me the action from this section and not had to play through it. I can at least put a cup of tea on during cutscenes.

Bulletstorm gets a lot of things right: it has variety, humour, and explosions aplenty. It rewards creativity in your play, and keeps adding in new ways to be creative as you progress through the game.

The downsides are that while you are never really challenged, you can't just run and gun freely. Ammo limitations mean that you have to follow the play style that the developers intended. 

So Bulletstorm gets a hearty recommendation - just prepare yourself for a lot of ammo shopping, some rail shooting, and multiplayer that may make you scream at the television.

Images used in this review are copyright of Epic Games, and can be found at:

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