Bulletstorm: Bringing the fun back to single-player FPSes

If I’ve seemed a tad out of it lately, it’s because I’ve been spending much of my free time over the past few days viciously slaughtering hordes of mutants, bandits, and other assorted creatures in Bullestorm. And I’ve been loving it. After beating the single-player campaign over the weekend, I think I might go so far as to say that Bulletstorm is one of the most fun games I’ve played in a long, long while.

Now, let me take a step back and say I’m a sucker for first-person shooters in general—and ones with solid single-player campaigns in particular. I dig the experimental, indie vibe of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, the awesome, twisted puzzles of Portal, and the engrossing, story-driven action of the Modern Warfare series, Bad Company 2, and their imitators. However, I think one key ingredient to single-player shooter success has been missing from popular recipes for much too long now: genuinely fun combat.

Not to knock it, but Modern Warfare 2, for example, made me feel like I was slogging through wave after wave of generic bad guys only to progress to the next cut scene or set piece. The whole experience was still amazing, but the playable shooting that made up the bulk of the experience felt more like a chore than anything. At the other end of the spectrum, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Prypiat created amazing atmosphere and a sense of immersion, but encounters with enemies were unforgiving and often unpleasant. I suppose one could say their unpleasantness added to the immersion, but I remember a distinct element of frustration that really didn’t need to be there.

To put things in perspective, I’ve spent more hours re-playing Mirror’s Edge than playing either of those games, and that title is all about running away from the bad guys. That’s pretty telling. Mirror’s Edge wasn’t a huge commercial success, and there are many good reasons for that—the steep learning curve and dreadful storyline come to mind. However, once I got the hang of it, the game’s core gameplay felt truly enjoyable. It really struck a chord with me. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I’ll still load it up and just soak in the beautiful decor, listening to my character’s feet slamming against concrete as I jump from ledge to ledge, dodging bullets and outrunning enemies.

This brings me back to Bulletstorm. Epic Games and People Can Fly’s new shooter doesn’t draw me in quite the same way, but it really gets the core gameplay right, despite featuring a healthy number of cut scenes and a somewhat conventional, story-driven progression. The skillpoints system, the wild and wonderful weapons, the energy leash, the kick action, the sliding, the way bad guys begin to fall in slow motion when you kick or leash them, and the sheer number of ways you can kill those bad guys with or without guns… it all comes together to make combat fun, engaging, and thrilling.

Say a mutant runs up to me while two of his friends fire from cover a few yards behind. I can pull out the flail gun, fire an explosive chain that wraps around the first mutant, pinning his arms to his chest. As he tries to wrestle free, I kick him backward within splash damage distance of his friends, then activate the remote detonator. Boom. All three are turned into a mess of guts and gore as the game awards me with skillpoints aplenty for the creative kill. A similar result could be achieved with the screamer pistol’s alternative fire mode, which shoots out a flare that sends enemies flying back, exploding for substantial damage shortly thereafter.

I can also use the environment as a weapon by kicking or leashing enemies into certain death. Here I am amid a radiation storm, dangerous-looking purple lightning coming out of a gaping hole in the ceiling in front of me. Farther back, tucked behind a barrel, a mutant is taking shots at me. I press Q to bring up the energy leash and fling him in my direction. His body is disintegrated as he comes into contact with the radiation. Other, suitable targets for leashed or kicked enemies include ledges, cacti, barbed wire fences, and fans.

Or, I can just be an all-around badass. I can activate the leash’s thumper mode to fling everybody in the area into the air, slide forward and use the four-barreled shotgun to remove bad guys’ legs before they have a chance to respond, or hit the bouncer’s alt-fire to shoot a cannonball that keeps bouncing on the ground for massive damage to nearby enemies… then kick it around the room.

The possibilities are endlessly entertaining.

In a way, I’m tempted to draw parallels between Bulletstorm and the Max Payne series. In Max Payne, the bullet-time feature and combat dynamics made me want to choreograph every single firefight just so. Far from being a chore, gunning down mobsters almost became an art form. Similarly, Bulletstorm pushes the player to find the most creative, gory, and amusing way to deal with each fresh batch of enemies—not just because it’s fun, but because skillpoints are used to purchase vital ammo and weapon upgrades. It’s a great and very original system that totally works.

Mindless killing isn’t the whole story, of course. Bulletstorm‘s intoxicating gameplay is augmented by truly gorgeous level design and art—a constant stream of eye candy that almost looks like it should belong in a more high-brow title. The attention to detail, the colors, and the amazingly vast alien cityscapes really add another dimension to the game, I think.

Check out the gallery below for more screenshots.

On the flip side, Bulletstorm has its rough edges. While the storyline and characters do a great job of tying the gameplay together, they sit in the sort of awkward, uncanny valley between believability and intentional cheesiness. Your cyborg-ified sidekick sounds like Worf on a bad day, and the beginning of the game is weighed down by long cut scenes with somewhat trite, poorly acted dialogue. Much like in Mirror’s Edge, I learned to tune out the second-rate story and enjoy the gameplay.

The PC version of Bulletstorm also has a moderate case of consolitis. The “R” key fills in for both use and reload functions, which meant I often found myself accidentally reloading my weapon when I meant to, say, climb a ladder or throw a switch. The menu interface blends mouse input with odd keyboard controls, like making the player press “v” to apply settings. Worse still, the game refers to “left” and “right” weapon slots—and last time I checked, weapon selection on the PC is done with the number keys or the mouse wheel. That caused confusion and frustration when gearing up using the game’s many equipment dropkits. Both Epic and People Can Fly have released PC exclusives in the past; they really could’ve done a better job here.

Finally, and much to my surprise, Bulletstorm became somewhat infamous last month for its use of swear words and allusions to sexual acts. I’m not sure if this is a publicity stunt or a misguided attack by well-intentioned but shamefully ignorant anti-gaming advocates, but frankly, nothing in the game made me raise so much as an eyebrow. If you’re at least mildly familiar with Internet memes and message board culture (be it from 4chan, Something Awful, or elsewhere), you’ll probably feel the same way. This title entirely deserves its Mature rating; it’s for young adults in their late teens and 20s, and the writing is calibrated accordingly. Nothing unusual there. If you’re in that age group and somehow find it offensive when the game gives you a “gang bang” skillpoint bonus for blowing up several enemies with one shot, well, perhaps it’s time to get a sense of humor.

But I digress. My point is, Bulletstorm is a great game—and living proof that single-player shooters can still get their priorities straight by putting fun first and foremost. I heartily recommend it. Now if only other developers would take the hint, dial down the cut scenes and cinematics, and focus on making their games fun to play. I think if they did that, we’d live in a better world.

Comments closed
    • Mumrik
    • 9 years ago

    “Bringing the fun back to single-player FPSes”

    Well, kinda, and only 5 hours at a time.

    It was a rather good time, but only when I followed the fast pace the game pushed. At 60 bucks it’s an absolute rip-off unless you’re really hot for the limited online the game has. At 30 bucks it would be a good time. I have this nagging feeling that I’d end up under 4 hours if I really hurried through the campaign.

    • CaptTomato
    • 9 years ago

    “””Bulletstorm is a great game””””

    LOLOLOL

    • Ashbringer
    • 9 years ago

    This game sucks, and I’ll explain why.

    #1 No real story. It’s two stories. Guys that go after a crazed general, and a planet full of mutants.
    #2 Weapons suck. The ultimate weapon is a gun that fires a drill.
    #3 Their replacement for the gravity gun, is a energy whip, which sucks. Game shouldn’t be called bulletstorm, but asswhip.
    #4 Took me a weekend to beat.
    #5 Extraordinarily linear in game play.
    #6 All enemies are human, technically.

    Though, the game was easy on PC, but I’d imagine it’s hard for console. There are some good points though.

    #1 Would make a great $20 game, when it’s at that price tag.
    #2 Characters are interesting.
    #3 Rare moments when the energy whip becomes useful, and fun.
    #4 Game runs fast on older computers.

      • sweatshopking
      • 9 years ago

      that seems to match many of my concerns with it

    • Incubus
    • 9 years ago

    I would not spend a penny on this stupid piece of junk of a game,and they want $60 for this crap on steam wow.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    OK. well, yes, for a U3 game, it looks nice. Has some bright colors, and some variation. How come they stole the bad guys from borderlands? didn’t anyone tell them they were bad enough in that game? How come it’s EXACTLY the same game as gears of war, with bright colors, and “skill shots”? I mean, I enjoy it, but I enjoyed GOW. I’m not sure how, besides more cuss words, and points, they’ve actually developed gameplay in the last 5 years! GOW came out in 2006! it plays, EXACTLY the same. And as “amazing’ as the kill shots are, they’re really not that different. “shocker” is when you kick a guy into an electricity. “killowatt” is when you kick a guy into electricity. “Pricked” is when you kick a guy into a cactus. “Voodoo” is when you kick a guy into spikes. Yes, there are more, and some of them are interesting, but the bulk of them are mostly the same.

    My [i<]biggest[/i<] complaint has to be the level design though. Seriously. whilst the levels might be big, the playable area is [b<]not[/b<]! corridor after corridor, with stupid fallen crap everywhere. it's exactly this: [url<]http://tvandlust.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/fpsdesign.jpg[/url<] I think that's been posted before, but it's totally true. I'm going to be honest, while fun, this game let me down. If i wanted GOW, i could have played it, and saved some money. This game is a complete clone.

      • Vrock
      • 9 years ago

      I’ve never played GOW, but I’m pretty sure that cover was a big part of it. There’s no cover mechanic in Bulletstorm, in fact, the leash lets you pull baddies out of cover, and there’s no advantage to you sitting behind a crate 95% of the time. Yeah, some of the skillshots are a little repetitive, but there’s something like 132 of them, so if even half of them are duplicates…yeah, that’s still alot of skillshots.

        • sweatshopking
        • 9 years ago

        well, i’d say, more than half are duplicates. As for cover, YES, it totally is a big part of the game. that’s why when you’re hit, the game says “TAKE COVER”. it’s how you heal. Just like in GOW. I beat GOW, and am over 50% of bulletstorm, IMO, they’re extremely similar. including the annoying run/climb over mechanic. JUST GIVE ME A JUMP BUTTON!!!!

        And what’s with limiting our guns in all these new games?! He can only carry 3 MASSIVE weapons. That’s more realistic. or… not. He would barely carry one of these things, irl, never mind 8. let me have all my guns, like in the good ol days, so i can enjoy em!

          • Meadows
          • 9 years ago

          I know, right? After a quick stroll in the game, I was turned off by the fact that not only can’t you jump, but you can’t even go anywhere on the levels where the game doesn’t explicitly allow you to. Never before have I seen a “rail shooter” this tightly on a “rail”. Games used to afford us freedom. We’ll see how Duke Nukem Forever delivers in that area.

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            it’s the same. haven’t you seen the previews? I’m hoping rage brings back some freedom. I’m tired of all these stupid corridors, and “cinematic experiences”.

            • Meadows
            • 9 years ago

            I [u<]love[/u<] a good cinematic experience. But don't give me teaser hole-shortcuts I can't fall down through, and don't take away something as basic as jumping, because it starts to feel like Wolfenstein 3D.

      • Kharnellius
      • 9 years ago

      Haha, that link is epically awesome! <3

    • Vrock
    • 9 years ago

    I also enjoy this game immensely. It’s a cartoony stupid, over the top FPS in the vein of Duke Nukem, and killing bad guys is actually fun again.

    • CaptTomato
    • 9 years ago

    This is a mindless FPS for dummies and fans of Goodfella’s.
    I’m also hearing 5-6hr SP.

    • Silus
    • 9 years ago

    Although I had some fun playing the game, all the immersion in it goes away once you try to do something outside of the “rail” that we are forced to go on…
    While on a top floor of some building, there’s a hole in the ground. I want to jump down that hole to access the lower floor. But I can’t, because there’s an invisible wall around the hole, preventing me from walking to the hole. So I can only go down if I use the “glowing” ladder…
    That part of the game alone killed any immersion I had left in it. Quite a ridiculous concept, typical of console games, but quite far from a true PC gaming experience. Even console gamers should be upset by this. Developers are literally calling them dumb and stupid, because they can only do what the developers want, using the pre-defined path with no possibility to change in the slightest.

      • amadsilentthirst
      • 9 years ago

      Your so right there, having blocking volumes everywhere in this game is a real shame, as others have said, its like a train – stuck on rails 🙂

      It is quite fun, but the above issue coupled with the poor port to PC and the excessive price makes it one not to buy.

    • Meadows
    • 9 years ago

    You mean this game finally has colours? I may have to try it after all.

    • tanker27
    • 9 years ago

    Barring the issues on PC, I too had fun. I am also enjoying replaying it to get those elusive kills.

    • tejas84
    • 9 years ago

    Croteam have been doing the (FUN) formula for years. Bulletstorm sounds like a Serious Sam clone.

    That is not necessarily a bad thing though. This game has me seriously piqued now. I loved Gears of War on the PC so this definitely is of interest. I may have to buy it to see what the fuss is all about.

      • Cyril
      • 9 years ago

      I definitely wouldn’t call Bulletstorm a Serious Sam clone. Combat is on a much, much smaller scale with smarter AI, and there’s a distinct narrative, character interaction, cut scenes, etc. I would compare it more to Borderlands than anything.

        • Rectal Prolapse
        • 9 years ago

        Interesting that you compared to borderlands – the screenshots do remind me of Borderlands after all! Hmmm maybe I can catch Bulletstorm on a Steam sale. 🙂

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    I feel like the character designs and the world/environmental artist must not be the same people because the character models are… stupid looking but the worlds are astounding.

      • DancingWind
      • 9 years ago

      Most likely not but I would rather point that its been done exactly by the same person.
      If you dont hate anime check out Voices of a Distant Star. Its a short 25min piece of art.
      The 1-man-studio author Shinkai Makoto is Fantastic with sceanery .. and sux at character animation/design (comapring with sceanery that is).

      On the other hand I wouldn’t say that the character design is bad but more of a design thing 🙂
      Macho anyone???

      • DancingWind
      • 9 years ago

      Edit: Double post

    • paulWTAMU
    • 9 years ago

    Hell I’m perfectly willing to knock MW2 😀 That series had two peaks: COD2 and MW1.

    Did they fix the bugs on the PC: Ars’ review said it was nearly unplayable at release but that it’s been patched. I’m debating the 360 vs the PC for this.

    • khands
    • 9 years ago

    I’m also looking forward to Serious Sam 3, I hope it hits the right mixture of nostalgia and modernized gameplay.

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