Alright, ladies and gents, time for a video game review.
And quite the video game to review.
The European box art perfectly captures much of what the game is about. Free shooting, kicking guys around and crazy combos. A very impressive combination that I have not seen satisfactorily reviewed.
So. Bulletstorm was created by People Can Fly. Their games are very similar to Epic Games, and the former is now Epic Games Poland. Bulletstorm is similar in many ways to Gears of War 2, so I will be drawing parallels as I review the title.
Starting out the game, players are introduced to a government assassin as bulked up as any Gears of War hero (read:Rescue Hero with armor). The concept of a Neutral Assassin/Mercenary is genius. So many violent, action packed shooters are set in war to explain the use of guns. You do things because you’re commander says so. But to get objectives from a client, told only to kill an individual and screw the collateral is fantastic. This is literally how one plays these video games. Go in, kill stuff, get paid. Instant connection to how they think. One step up, the guy is a drunk. Never has there been a better excuse for stupidity and violence in a parody game. Finally, the crudeness of the language that comes out later. Nothing out of place from Tumblr or Homestuck for the creative use of profanity. To be furious but unable to come up with the “correct” swear to make sense makes the dialog more amusing to listen to. I won’t give examples for that one. Overall, I really like the design of the protagonist in the game.
Onward. The graphics of a game are not usually a deal breaker for me, because my previous game stations were a Wii and a 2gig ram PC. Graphics aren’t what make a game good, but they’re always a delight to have. Bulletstorm has a beautiful setting. Both in color and level design. You play the game in a ruined space resort. There are downed wires and rebar sticking out everywhere. Even better, there are mind control pods and maneating plants. The importance of this will be explained later.
I have to rave about the controls. This is one more area where PCF lives up to Epic Games’ standard of Epic Games. Every move feels tactile. You feel the running. However, this game is faster paced than Gears. This is where they introduce faster running, the ability to slide, etc. Those controls are perfect for the moves. You feel the slides. The running works well. The melee kick is an anchor to the feel of the game. No wimpy punching or pistol whipping. Put some power into it. Beautiful. Regarding slides, so much of the terrain is perfect for it. You stand on smooth ground, so you can slide almost anywhere.
The main gameplay elements are all about skillshots, etc. This is explained through an invasive AI empowered “Leash.” (+1, everything is explained well) You put this on, and it rewards credits for good kills. This allows the developers to reward you when you play like the want you to. Slides, kicks and the leash all allow slo-mo to set up skill shots.
This is where the good things end. (Beautiful world, controls, main characters)
Skill shots. They did get me to stop using bullets for most of my kills. There’s that. But I wouldn’t call them skill shots. I’d call them achievement kills. Kill someone in a really roundabout way. As a reward for doing that, you get a credit bonus. The first time. Every time after that, no matter how fancy the kill really is, you get a pathetic amount of credits. Here’s how that plays out.
- Bullet kill – 10 credits
- Headshot – 50 credits
- Leash + headshot – 50 credits
- Leash + kick + shoot leg to spin enemy + enemy 360 spin + headshot – 250 credits
- Leash + kick + shoot leg to spin enemy + enemy 360 spin + headshot the second time – 50 credits
What does this cost you? You pay for the clips. Also, every weapon has a secondary fire. This costs five times as much for (presumably) similar reward. However, even on normal, there are tons of enemies, you’re (apparently) really weak to multiple bullets, the enemies are a mix of ninja melee users, perfect accuracy snipers, secondary firing cheaters, and immune except for their privates monsters. So, there are no good candidates for your skill shot. You may die when trying to pull it off. Better yet, you flinch and miss the small area you were aiming for. That means your skill shot has dropped to a mediocre bullet kill. Yay.
There is one enemy type who is “too fast” for some of your moves. Can’t kick them, can’t leash them. Ok, they want to add a puzzle element to how you deal with enemies. This is good. However, that beautiful sniper rifle you have allows you to steer your bullet. This creates a wonderful example for us.
- Body shot – 10 credits
- Headshot – 60 credits
- Inevitable miss – 0 credits.
What? Inevitable miss? Yup. Enemies so fast, they can run away from bullets. To make sure the steering isn’t overpowered, you have to select which enemy you are attempting to kill. If the bullet strays too far from the target, it self-destructs. That’s why killing an untargeted enemy is a skill shot. So, they dodge. This means your bullet must turn to adjust for a full body length away from where you originally aimed. More fun, the enemy’s limbs flounder as they run, so it becomes difficult to see where to aim. And, if you try to get a headshot, they might just turn around. So sorry you’re out in the open missing your snipes. Oh, are you dead now? What a shame.
And that’s not even the best part. Regularly, you encounter one of three mini-bosses. One with a chaingun, one with a grenade launcher, and one with a drill launcher. Fantastic, this should be like Gears. Hide behind cover, wait for them to reload, kill them quick. Oh wait, this is a People Can Fly game. There is no cover system. Okay, that’s fine. Plenty of games don’t and are fine. Oh, but this game doesn’t have any cover. So when inevitably you lose health, you try to hide behind anything. Psh, anything you hide behind is easily flankable by hordes of enemies, or better yet, not wide enough to protect from the explosions of enemy secondary fire. I died many times. Which is ok, but I found myself asking the TV “I’m trying to play this game like you want me to, developer, but I can’t figure out what you expect me to do!” Massive design flaw if your users have this question.
Minibosses like I was saying. So no cover. Think of Gears without cover when fighting Boomers. They shoot, you roll away, they miss and reload, you shoot them, repeat. So if People Can Fly designed Boomers, they would have heat seeking, semi-automatic grenade launchers. This without cover to protect you. These boomers have tanks on their back that you can explode. Well and good… wait, nope. They always are looking at you, even if you try to slide past them. They kick you if you get to close. Their shoulders are so big the block bullets from the front. Guess what that means? YAY STEERABLE SNIPER BULLETS! Yes, this is how I deal with these guys. Stand out in the open, select the kill boomer option, try to steer over the shoulder and into the tank. If you are accurate and don’t miss, he takes damage. Is he dead? Nope. You shoot him more. He becomes stunned. You can now remove his helmet. This allows him to get up, and resume rapid firing grenades.
And this guy is surrounded by a group of smaller enemies, too. If you go after him, they kill you. If you go after them, he kills you. Great fun. The guy who shoots drills is slightly more fun. He’s weaker, but if you get shot once, you’re in trouble. The protagonist must drop his weapon, pull the drill out of his chest, remove it and look up in time to get shot again. This repeats almost indefinitely.
It’s really sad when the guy with the chaingun is the most enjoyable and easiest to kill.
So, I think what they wanted me to do is use the flailgun or the secondary for the leash. The flail gun shoots two grenades tied together by a chain that wraps around an enemy and binds him. Shoot again to explode it. The secondary for the leash creates a big shockwave that flattens all enemies in the area. I can explain why I never tried those.
The flail gun stick to anything. This is the equivalent to aiming through a doorway as a TF2 Demo and having your sticky bomb catch the door frame. Really freakin annoying.
The leash secondary requires ammo. Half the point of the leash is to not use ammo (in my mind, anyways). No ammo, no cost requirement. In fact, I found a way to get good money for no “cost”. This works the best on the weak point focused enemies that charge at you.
- Locate the electric wires/exposed rebar
- Locate source of enemies.
- Position self so enemies charge between you and environmental damage.
- Wait for enemy to charge
- Kick enemy into trap
- Collect 100 credits
- Repeat steps 4 to 6 until no more charging enemies are alive.
The fact that its 100 credits every time that cost me nothing solidifies the skill shots as unimportant. The process protects you from damage, deals with enemies consistently, and never ever costs a dime.
On the dramatic other hand, this is a People Can Fly game. Kicking people into spike walls is hilarious fun. I could continue for multiple levels of doing this.
The weapons are actually quite balanced. The secondary fire is a very cool addition to most games. The fact you make using such weapons generally so frowned upon is unfortunate. Especially with low health, so I only ever use the same three weapons.
This is why I would rate the game 8/10. It’s solid up to an eight, but after that, the sum is less than its parts. The ways you engage enemies is not suitable for what the game wants to do. The enemies are only dangerous for cheap and unfair reasons.
The reason I haven’t reviewed this sooner was because of how difficult it was to find where the problem lay. I have decided it is in a couple places.
- Decide whether I am a one man army or an everyday soldier
- If I am a one man army, don’t let me die so easily. Reward me with HEALTH for skill shots, or while I do them. That prompts me to explore
- If I am just a soldier, the level design needs to include some form of cover where I can heal up between kills
- Skill shots need to be redone. Rewarding complicated kills is good. Reward me again when I do it the second time. If it’s less, then don’t make the difference so dramatic. Better, have two lists of kills. One is an achievement list, One is a regular kill list. Complicated kills aren’t much easier the second time, so why does the game treat it like it is? And more so, create more kills that are worth repeating that don’t cost so much health
- Create or tweak enemy types to make them easier to combo with. If the aim of the game is skill shots, why am I fighting mediocre enemies? Create strong enemies that need follow up shots to stun kill them. Give me more time in between enemy shots so I don’t get shredded in the middle of a combo.
(I haven’t finished the story yet and I won't review the multiplayer) On IGN, they say the story cuts short to allow a sequel. Epic Games Poland, if you want Bulletstorm 2 to be really good, adjust the focus of the game to a combo based system you mind find in fighting games. It’s great to have a reward to get enemies to kill each other. Increase the ability to do that. Allow us to set up more complicated kills without dying. Give us enemies that allow for this.
The mark of whether the result is a good game is whether you can add 50% more enemies to a situation and being able to deal with them in the same flow of the fight. (E.g. Red Steel 2, Batman Arkham Asylum. Deal with enemies one at a time in any order in one smooth combo.) If you can nail that, you’re golden in my books.