One of the first things you'll notice about Bulletstorm is the writing. I'm not talking about the plot, that's a simple revenge affair. I'm talking about the "adult" language. I can't figure out if it was written by a fourteen year old trying to sound like an adult, or if this is what people on a committee think eighteen year olds want to hear. I mean, I like a good "murder boner" as well as the next guy, but it just gets so stupid. Then it gets really funny. After a few hours in the campaign you may convince yourself the writing is smart and clever. I can't really tell if it got better or if the writing simply damaged my brain enough to adapt my mind to its whims. The end result is hilarious and entertaining, even if it makes you feel a little dumber.
The game starts out simply enough. The main character, Grayson Hunt (who sounds suspiciously like Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop), is a disgraced soldier turned space pirate. He was once part of an elite military task force dubbed "Dead Echo." Now he and his comrades are hunted by bounty hunters, while they themselves seek revenge against the government they used to work for. Bulletstorm starts out with the obligatory tutorial, and other than a pretty sweet fireman's kick, seems as vanilla as a discount sundae. After a stupefying turn of events, we find Grayson and what's left of his crew on a once luxurious resort planet. While the planet is still beautiful (remarkably so), it is now populated by gangs of savage men and mutants. None of this really matters, though. Minutes after crashing onto the planet, you acquire an Energy Leash, an "instinct moderated weapon." This is what separates Bulletstorm from your standard space marine FPS, and it is glorious.
The title screen screams campaign co-op, but alas, it was not to be.
By now you have most likely played the demo or at least seen one of the many "Skillisodes." This is a game made exclusively for adults, or children whose parents don't read ESRB labels. Ridiculously foul language is accompanied by incredibly violent "Skill Shots." The game's mantra is "Kill with Skill," and the gameplay exemplifies it perfectly. You can stomp through Bulletstorm easily enough. Even with the lack of a cover system you have to really work to be killed in the campaign on Normal difficulty.
We played both the PC and 360 version of the game and found the PC version controlled a bit smoother, making it even easier than its console counter-part. If you're going to play on the PC, we definitely recommend bumping up the difficutly. The PC version of the game is also extremely gorgeous, gamers with high end rigs are going to be treated to some seriously impressive visuals. Both versions of the game offer something much more than your traditional grays and browns. Color is everywhere and its a welcome addition.
Picture this, but everywhere.
Bulletstorm actually makes playing for points fun again. And with a unique resupply system, the skill shots become a necessity instead of a novelty. There are Drop Kits spread through out the entire campaign. These re-supply points enable you to upgrade your leash and other weapons. The currency for these upgrades comes from your Skill Shots. So if you just blasted through ten enemies with simple body shots, you may find yourself low on ammo. At 10 points a kill you just got yourself 100 points for the drop kit, which won't even buy you an ammo clip. But if you head shot one guy, then kick another into some exposed rebar, leash another into an electrified sign, kick a hot dog stand into a cluster of enemies and then fire on it, causing it to explode, and then cap it all off with a shot to the groin followed by a head crushing stomp, you will be flush with thousands of points. You will also have performed the Skill Shots "Headshot," "Voodoo Doll," "Shocker," "Sausage Fest," and "Mercy."
This can all be done with the standard PMC rifle and leash. There are more weapons to unlock, each with a delicious charge shot that will obliterate your enemies and rack up the skill points. For example, there's a flail gun that fires two grenades attached together by a chain. Charge it up, and it becomes red hot, slicing through foes like, well, a red hot chain. The title actually does a very good job of explaining why there's a heads up display and why you are being graded on your methods of murder, but that's for you to find out. Or you can just skip that cut scene and get back to the killing.
You'll need more than bullets and harsh language for this guy.
The main campaign, while not incredibly long, is designed to blast through multiple times. There are a few different collectibles, and by collectibles, I mean things to destroy, such as beer bottles and newsbots. Achievement and Trophy hunters will find plenty to go back for. The Echoes Mode offers considerable replay value if you like to chase high scores. This mode allows you to play through some of the more intense moments of the campaign. They are timed challenges where you seek to rack up the highest Skill Shot total. The few I've played lasted about five minutes, so they make a nice, quick, violent diversion.
Quick side note: If you are a family man, (or woman) and want to get your Bulletstorm on, you still can. You can disable the blood, gore, and language. You can even turn off the skill shots, so you don't have"Gang Bang," "Double Penetration," or "Meatspin" spewed all over the screen. I played this way for about five minutes (until it made me sad). The enemy models don't bleed or explode, they simply ragdoll (or disappear when explosions are involved. The enemies still stick to things that impale them, there's just no blood. It's a little unsettling, and the dialog is subdued. All in all, it just felt weird with everything turned off. Oh yeah, and it even nerfs Anarchy Mode, if you want it too.
This is..... Anaaaaaaaaaaaaarchy (Mode)
As you play Bulletstorm it becomes painfully obvious they had co-op in mind for the main campaign. There is always at least one NPC with you. They battle (somewhat ineffectively) by your side. There are no real moments where the single player experience is enhanced by not having co-op. There are some gorgeous, sometimes cataclysmic set pieces, and I would have been happy to witness these in split screen co-op. Even though Epic front man Cliff Bleszinski said co-op broke the game, you can see there was so much potential to have a quality co-op campaign experience. This only becomes more apparent in the game's online-only co-operative gore-fest, Anarchy Mode.
Anarchy Mode is the only co-opportuntiy available in Bulletstorm, and it is awesome. Four players can meet up online in one of six arenas. The arenas in Anarchy Mode have a personality unto themselves. Since environmental kills are so important in Bulletstorm, each map has a plethora of horrible environmental hazards to vanquish your foes. Some of the hazards include turbines, bucket wheels, a car compactor, and an electrified tornado. An electrified tornado? This has got to be the scariest work enviromnent imaginable.
Anarchy Mode is BRUTAL.
Players are tasked with fighting through 20 waves of enemies. Unlike other survival modes, such as Halo's Firefight or Gears of War's Horde Mode, you only advance to the next stage in Anarchy Mode if you reach the skill point threshold. This scales according to how many players are on the map. You can play the mode solo, but then your missing out on 75% of the fun. A single player may only have to get 250 points in the opening round, but a group of four players will be required to get 1250 points. Team kills are the key. If I kick an enemy and then shoot him while he is in the air, that's only a 75 point "Bullet Kick" for the team. If I kick him and you shoot him, we both get 75 points for the "Team Bullet Kick."
Communication is essential, especially when team challenges arise. At different points in the match a blue spotlight will appear on an enemy. If you dispatch him with the suggested Skill Shot you'll be rewarded with big points for everybody. The online matches I played were fast, violent, and satisfying. Between rounds you can buy new guns, upgrade your leash, and resupply ammo. Every skill point you earn acts as XP. As you level up you unlock new looks for your character.
Bulletstorm is not for everyone, but it is a great game. There is a ton of content here for big score hunters. If you like gory arena combat, this is some of the best co-op action around. It's a shame there is no campaign co-op. Still the Anarchy mode itself has plenty of replay value. New DLC was announced the day Bulletstorm was released, promising new Anarchy Mode Arenas and new Echos. The DLC should be out this spring. How the public reacts to DLC being announced for a game on its release day remains to be determined, but one thing is certain, Bulletstorm is a bloody, fresh IP in a land of stale shooters.