Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: People Can Fly
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo or better CPU, 256 MB graphics card, 1.5 GB RAM, 9 GB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Sometimes you want deep stories, memorable characters and impressive visuals from your games. Other times, all you want is a game that looks pretty and lets you slay copious numbers of mutants. EA and Polish developer People Can Fly have given you the latter with Bulletstorm, a sci-fi shooter that combines old-school FPS goodness and modern graphics excellence to tell the story of one man’s quest for vengeance and absolution.
You play mercenary Grayson Hunt, a former member of Dead Echo, a government hit squad formed by Gen. Victor Sarrano to seek out and eliminate enemies of the state. When Hunt discovers that he and his squad have been taking the lives of innocent civilians, he goes rogue and vows to find Sarrano and make him pay. After a brief space battle in which Hunt and his crew are woefully outgunned, his ship crashes on the vacation resort world of Stygia. Hunt and Ishi Sato, his only surviving shipmate, have to traverse a world decimated by an unknown cataclysm and fight mobs of bloodthirsty mutants to reach Sarrano’s ship.
Bulletstorm is a straightforward, no-nonsense shooter. Once you reach Stygia, you start your journey with a single automatic rifle. Through the course of the game you unlock eight weapons, but you can only equip two at a time, which you switch on the fly using the mouse wheel. You also find an energy rope called a Leash, which attaches to your wrist and can grab enemies and discarded weapons and draw them to you. The Leash is also useful for clearing obstructions in your path. Weapon upgrades and ammo can be bought at pods called Dropkits that are littered throughout the landscape using skillpoints, which you earn by killing enemies. But how you kill them is more important than how many you kill. Extra skillpoints are earned by executing skillshots, which are creative combinations of weapons fire, leashing and/or swift kicks to the face. New skillshots are unlocked as you acquire new weapons, and can be very lucrative if you can pull them off.
Bulletstorm is one of the best looking shooters you’ll ever play. The art direction is top-notch, as is the level design, which features a nice variety of indoor and outdoor environments. The action is virtually non-stop, dropkits are placed in just the right places to make sure that you’ll never run out of ammunition, and your arsenal ranges from the standard carbine and shotgun to a sniper rifle that fires radio-controlled bullets that you can guide around obstacles to your chosen target with the mouse. And at one point you use a remote control to guide a robot dinosaur with a laser cannon in its mouth against your enemies, which is worth the price of admission. The game also features one of the funniest scripts I’ve heard in a long time, although the salty language would be enough to warrant the Mature rating all by itself. If you have a good set of surround speakers, you’ll be very pleased with the sound and music, and the game delivers a rock-solid 40 to 50 FPS, even at 1920 x 1200 with all of the graphics options maxed out. Also, Echoes mode allows you to replay 20 scenarios from the single-player campaign and compare your scores with your friends and other players on Games for Windows Live.
But as gorgeous as the graphics are, they also caused a couple of major headaches. Characters sometimes fall through solid objects or walk in mid-air (an especially nasty incident prevented my NPC partner from completing a scripted event, forcing me to go all the way back to the beginning of the chapter to fix it). The dreaded checkpoint save system is used, autosaving only at checkpoints and at the beginning of each of the game’s seven chapters. Checkpoints are frequent, so you don’t end up retreating too far after dying, but a quick-save function would’ve been preferable. Skillshots are fun to execute, but most of the time the pace is so fast that you don’t have time to think about them. Level progress is so linear you might as well be on rails, and you’re not even given the freedom to try alternate methods of clearing an obstacle; if the screen says to kick an item out of the way, then that’s the only way you can move it (you can’t leash it or vault it or blow it up). The sniper rifle in scoped mode won’t lock onto inanimate targets, so you can’t zoom in on an explosive barrel to take out a group of enemies. Multiplayer is limited to four-player co-op on six maps. You and your comrades have to gain a preset level of skillpoints to progress to the next wave, which requires you to play as a team for maximum scores. But the maps don’t change at the end of each wave, which is unfortunate since there are 20 waves to clear; you have to repeat a wave if you don’t reach the skillpoint target.
I had a blast with Bulletstorm, despite its linearity and its graphics glitches. The game looks great, the pace is fast and the voice actors make the most of the very entertaining dialogue. I even had fun with the co-op multiplayer, which is unusual for me, considering that multiplayer gaming has never been my strong suit. I would’ve liked a bit more freedom to wander and to problem-solve, and the ability to switch the MP maps would’ve been a plus. And after a 10-hour campaign, the final battle with Gen. Sarrano should’ve been more than a few quick-time events. But Bulletstorm is a game that all shooter fans should take out for a spin, especially if you’re looking for new and creative entries in your profanity lexicon.