Bulletstorm Review: Kicking the genre in the dick

Bulletstorm stands out as one of the few Unreal Engine 3 games that strays from the browns and grays that the Gears of War series is known for and instead (with Epic’s support) favors a colorful orange tinted world that often left me gazing into the distance pondering how much work they put into views the typical gamer would just run by. It’s really a testament to how incredible the Unreal Engine can look provided that it’s creators are involved and gives me some hope that with the style this and Gears 3 are going with that more Unreal 3 games will start featuring some color. One thing that Epic has yet to make with the engine is the faces and hair, the near plastic face movement and super gelled hair could take a few pointers from Valve’s Source Engine but at this point you have probably gotten to the point where you can ignore such flaws.

Views like this are fairly commonplace in Bulletstorm

Bulletstorm really shines from a gameplay perspective by nailing three big mechanics and bringing them together to form an aptly named storm of murder that sets itself apart from the modern twitch based military shooter. Skillshots tie together everything that you do in the game and manage to reward you for doing creative kills, including my favorite the Drilldo which needless to say involves sliding into two guys with a spinning drill gun. You’ll find yourself often having to spend said points on the extremely scarce ammo instead of the various upgrades that you find for your weapons early on, sadly your Campaign endeavors are also not tracked on any sort of online leaderboard a seemingly natural fit. Bulletstorm’s most distinct piece of gear is the leash, a high-tech electric whip which allows you to either rip an enemy off their feet into a short state of slow motion allowing to skillshot them with ease or use one of the limited Thumper charges to launch the leashed enemy and any surrounding foes into the sky opening up more murder possibilities. The boot, along with the slide move act as more of a compliment to the Leash acting as a simple close range slow-mo device that ends up being useful just to pull off slightly more rewarding environmental kills. The various guns you use throughout appear like the gears powering them are falling apart and in combination with some copious controller vibration during each gun’s charge mode the weapons feel much heavier than most shooters yet still stray from something like Killzone 2. In the end I relied mainly on the Drill+Flailgun loadout along with the default Assault Rifle because of the ease of kills and high point yield.

The story itself is serviceable and follows the theme of various movie and TV space westerns most notably Firefly, but unfortunately rarely resonates on the same level as the beloved Joss Whedon series. The characters manage to stay interesting especially Grayson and Ishi with Gray’s constant homoerotic joking and Ishi’s struggle with his robotic half and frustration with Gray’s alcoholism, yet the plot itself really ends up leading nowhere. Many of the story explanations for why the planet is abandoned and shirtless screaming dudes are running at you are grazed over very quickly while most notably the Social Darwinism behind Skillpoints stuck with me for quite a while. But in the end the antagonist General Serrano steals the show with  a flurry of nonsense curses and racial slurs that explains why terms such as murderboner and cockhole are thrown around so damn much. He also does something rare for a villain in modern shooters, constantly questioning your morality and if the thousands of people that you kill throughout the course of the game was worth it. It’s pretty disappointing that the game decides to end in a cliffhanger instead of providing a satisfying conclusion to Grayson’s quest for revenge.

After the campaign is over you are left with two modes to play around with Echoes and Anarchy the former being the stronger of the two. Echoes acts as a sort of hot lap for various combat scenarios throughout the campaign and allows you to compare your score to your friends not entirely unlike The Club but with a quality game to back it up. I found myself replaying the various levels several times to best the scores of my friends but eventually ended up passing them with flying colors in a few hours. The other Anarchy is essentially Gears of War 2’s Horde mode with a few changes such as a Counter-Strike style store inbetween rounds and teamwork based skillshots such as ripping a savage apart with two leashes. On paper it sounds like it could easily be fun with a couple of friends but in reality it suffers from some awful lag and more often than not a complete lack of teamwork that results in a lot of repeated wave attempts and an overall lackluster experience. My suspicion is that Anarchy was added near the end of development by Epic/EA as an excuse to include a pack in online pass (which admittedly isn’t as offensive as most) and the various Carmine rejects featured in it look like Epic’s handiwork.

As much as I love the Campaign and Echo offerings of Bulletstorm the Anarchy mode is still part of the package and disappoints in comparison to the rest. Had People Can Fly not added the mode and perhaps delivered a more satisfying ending I would have been able to recommend Bulletstorm wholeheartedly to everyone, however the Campaign is still a bright spot of greatness in the overwhelming mediocrity of today’s single player shooters.

Rating: ★★★★½

Editor’s Note: (This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game and was not provided by EA. It is also available on PC and PS3.)

About Dalton Prather

Dalton Prather is the Reviews Editor and PR Manager for R&R. His love for nonsense, especially SWERY and Deadly Premonition knows no bounds.