With a name like Bulletstorm, you kind of build up certain expectations even if you have no idea what the game is about. There will be bullets, so guns. There will be a storm of bullets, so a lot of guns and a lot other guys shooting you with guns. So, a shooter, but way crazy. If that's your conclusion, you aren't that far off. You can see People Can Fly's DNA all over Bulletstorm. People Can Fly are best known for Painkiller, the kind of nonsense I-have-guns-and-I-will-kill-all-things kind of shooter that went out of style ever since cover systems and gritty became popular. Bulletstorm carries that same Painkiller mantra to an extent, but never really takes it to heart.
"…a script that's 2/3 reckless and grating cursing and 1/3 genuinely funny."
The first signs of this come within the very second you start up the game. Bulletstorm is bogged down by an unnecessary amount of exposition and initial hand-holding. For a game that's all about dragging people towards you with a gravity leash and then kicking them into hotdog stands, the game gets too caught up in explaining character motivations and establishing a universe that is full of crazy. Instead of “It just is,” Bulletstorm's bouts of self-seriousness doesn't come off as self-parody or interesting – just boring. To put it simply, it's a story of redemption with a script that's 2/3 reckless and grating cursing and 1/3 genuinely funny. It's better if you don't care.
The game takes awhile to get going as a consequence. You slowly attain abilities over the first hour when the story finds a logical reason for you to gain them. And even then, weapons and alternate fire modes are doled out slowly throughout the entire game – even up to the very last third. It's kind of ridiculous for a game that's, well, ridiculous to begin with, but give it some time and, finally, Bulletstorm starts to form into the kind of madness that it should've been from the start.
A few acts later, you'll be well-equipped to really play with what the game has to offer. Bulletstorm revolves around killing creatively with a wide variety of guns and a handful of melee abilities. The game dishes out points based on the kind of kills you make. A point-blank headshot will you get significantly less points than say, tethering a guy with grenades, kicking him into a pile of other guys and then detonating the grenades. It's a fun concept, and with the ability to leash and kick enemies and close the distance gap with a handy slide kick, Bulletstorm gets close to being a game that's completely insane and inane for all the right reasons. Points act as the game's economy, giving you access to upgrades that open up alternate fires and extra clips for your guns.
Bulletstorm just doesn't do enough with what it has. The game throws a handful of seriously cool set-piece moments but rarely ever takes advantage of the available gameplay mechanics. They're either on-rails or exist mostly so you can gawk at them, and if that was the point, then cool, but more could've been done. Bulletstorm does this with alarming regularity, relegating some of the game's coolest moments to simple button-prompts or cut-scenes, where one has zero control over the action.
When you do have full control, it's a fun game. With Epic's and Peope Can Fly's body of work consisting of primarily shooters, just the basic shooting is satisfying in its own right. There's cathartic feedback whenever you click down on the mouse and enemies react with explosive gore. There's a bit of an old-school sensibility when the game is at its simplest and most pure – waves upon waves come down on you, and you do everything you can to tear them up in every which way. The game deliberately deprives you of ammo to encourage you to kick and leash as often as you can, resulting in the kind of close-quarters chaos that Bulletstorm should be all the time, but just it doesn't come through as a whole.
There's a good amount of stuff to do after you're done with the campaign. Echoes mode takes chunks of the campaign levels and gives simply asks you to rack up the most points with the weapons you've selected. This easily stands as the most addictive thing the game has to offer. Finding the right weapon and melee combinations to achieve the maximum amount of potential points requires experimentation and some curiosity (“So, just what if I launch another one of these self-propelled firecracker things into his face while he's in mid-air?”), and the results are usually more than satisfactory.
The game's multi-player mode, Anarchy, is essentially a survival mode ala Left 4 Dead but comes with point requirements to progress to the next round. It's the kind of mode where if you have people willing to not just blow things up, it can be a lot of fun, but generally, people have the tendency to, well, simply blow things up. It's certainly a new angle on an established formula, but the responsibility to work together to progress is just seemingly too much for most online strangers.
Bulletstorm is a real looker through and through. Large vistas are shown off with quite a bit of regularity throughout the game, and its vibrant use of color does a lot to give Bulletstorm a distinct visual identity that persists throughout the entire game. The game will, on occasion, delve down into dank, visually boring corridors and, hardware-wise, the game asks a lot, especially once you crank up the anti-aliasing, but it's a great-looking game sure to impress even the most jaded players.
The audio just about does its job and little else. A soundtrack with typical action gravitas comprises most of the music, and voice actors do what they can with the script they're given. Guns sound powerful, but it's tough to really single out a sonic quality in Bulletstorm that really deserves major kudos. and the same can be said about finding something to really condemn. The game sounds fine. That's all that can really be said.
Bulletstorm's ending kicks the door open wide for a sequel and if People Can Fly's given the opportunity to dish out a sequel, then that'd be something to look forward to. There's a lot of potential, and with a good foundation laid out for how the game plays, an expansion on the ideas present in the game could truly be something special. Give Bulletstorm some time, until its price point has been kicked down a couple notches.