Review: Bulletstorm

Below the belt
By MITCH KRPATA  |  March 10, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars

Bulletstorm represents games at their best: it gives players a complex system of rules to master, doles out rewards and punishments that encourage creative thinking and rigorous analysis, and demands precise execution to translate ideas into actions. Bulletstorm also represents games at their worst: brainless, juvenile humor that nobody over 13 could appreciate, delivered amid such over-the-top violence that no reputable retailer will sell it to anyone under 17. Never has the ESRB's "Mature" rating been applied more ironically.

We might as well get the obvious stuff out of the way. Bulletstorm is positively filthy, not in a thrilling or illicit way, but in a lazy way. There's nothing wrong with a good dick joke; the problem with Bulletstorm is that it thinks the joke begins and ends once you've said the word. This leads to a lot of strange, Mad Libs-esque dialogue. You get formulations like "Hold your dicks," "son of a dick," and "I'll kill your dicks." To the game's credit, the protagonist at least has the self-possession to wonder what that last one means, just as the player does. Even so, if you've been hankering to spend six to eight hours in the company of idiots bantering about their junk, here is the campaign for you.

HOT TIP Sliding isn’t just good for attacks — it’s a great way to escape when you’re taking fire.
The crux of Bulletstorm's gameplay, hardly novel, is that it's not enough to kill your enemies. You must kill them with style. To that end, the game offers oodles of "skill shots," creative ways to deal death to your opponents that are assigned point values. Simply shooting someone to death nets a paltry 10 points. By combining environmental kills (e.g., "Enviro-Mental," 50 points), precision shooting ("Headshot," 25 points), and physical attacks ("Bullet Kick," 25 points), it's possible to rack up thousands of points in one grand shower of gore. Skill shots aren't just for show: the points you earn can be redeemed for upgrades, which in turn allow you to kill even more spectacularly.

The creativity lacking from Bulletstorm's writing can be found in its combat. Save for the standard combat rifle — which feels in your hands like a pea shooter — the game's weapons are varied and unfailingly clever. I especially liked the flail, a chain with two grenades at either end, and a sniper rifle whose bullets could be steered mid flight. Even better is the leash, an electrified whip that can snatch opponents and drag them toward you, or be supercharged to blast your foes into the air in slow motion (or splatter them on the ceiling — "Flyswatter," 50 points). Another duck-and-cover shooter this ain't.

For as stultifying as the campaign can be - you actually feel yourself getting dumber with each new quip - the relatively bare-bones "Echoes" mode is much more satisfying. It takes you through discrete stretches of the story map, but without the narrative bits. (No one even mentions his penis!) Echoes asks you only to rack up as many points as possible, as quickly as you can. Better still, you actually have to think if you want to top your previous high score. You need to evaluate your performance, scrutinize the environment, and experiment with different attacks. I know, I know - I hope that doesn't scare off anyone still chuckling at "son of a dick."

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