It's been just under a year since Epic Games and People Can Fly announced Bulletstorm. The developers of Painkiller, using the latest in Unreal Engine and the benefiting from the talent, knowledge and leadership of the Gears of War makers. There is potential here and lots of it.
When People Can Fly began work on Bulletstorm they originally wanted to create a third person shooter, but once Epic got involved it was decided that the first person perspective would suit it better. It would also help differentiate the game from Epic's Gears of War series, and you may recall that Gears of War 3 was originally planned to launch within two months of the release of Bulletstorm. Given the space setting, the hulking heroes and the technology powering the game the titles have enough in common as it is. The first person perspective also makes more sense in a game that focuses less on cover mechanics and more on offensive moves.
Another thing Bulletstorm has in common with the Gears of War series is the fact that no one seems to care about the story and setting. This writer likes to think that there is some sort of message to be found in the conflict between the humans of Sera and their misunderstood friends from below the Locust. But I'm sure it's just me. As far as the story in Bulletstorm goes it's your typical space age anti-hero whose past catches up with him and he has to go back to his good old ass-kicking days. Epic signed up comic book writer Rick Remender (Punisher, Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force) to give the story a bit of extra zing and perhaps we're in for a surprise when we experience the story.
The story revolves around Grayson Hunt, your typical action hero badass, who is part of a mercenary unit called Dead Echo. As he discovers he's working for the bad guys he and his loyal sidekick Ishi Sato decides to ditch their duties and betray their commander. Grayson is exiled to the outskirts of the galaxy as a result and take up life as space pirates. A drunken space pirate.
A few years later Grayson spots his arch nemesis ship and initiates a course of action that sees both ships crashing onto the surface on an unknown planet. Grayson hooks up with his old friend Sato, and faces hordes of mutants on the surface on the planet. Mutants primed for a bit of ass kicking.
And that takes us to the meat and potatoes of Bulletstorm. Kicking ass. And pumping it full of lead. You've probably already heard the catchphrases - "kill with skill", "circle of awesome", and so on. The basic principle is as simple as it is brilliant, you have to use your tools, gun, laser whip and boots (for kicking), and the environment to kill mutants and other enemies in creative ways. Combine different methods, throw enemies up into the air or off cliffs with your whip, kick them then shoot them in the head, everything is worth a score and your score is used to unlock new weapons and equipment to enable even more spectacular kills. Circle of awesome, indeed.
Cliff Bleszinski, the creative force behind the Gears of War series, who has been assisting the development team with ideas and suggestions, said something along the lines of "usually when you're faced with a whole bunch of enemies coming at you in a game you go fuck no, in Bulletstorm we want you to go fuck yeah". It's not an exact quote, but the idea is for players to feel empowered. You're not leaning out from behind cover and picking headshots. Instead you're kicking enemies in the nuts and chaining them to giant cacti with your "grenades on a chain"-launcher.
And this extreme, addictive and rewarding gameplay ties in nicely with the comic book style presentation and plot. Despite the many chefs stirring the pot, Bulletstorm comes across as very consistent. One slight worry about the game is that there would be too many set pieces, enemies standing right in front of flesheating plants waiting to be whip into their gaping mouths, a whole squad waiting for you to press an elevator button to squash them all with the press of a button and so forth. But having watch a few playthroughs of the same demo level I came away with the feeling that Bulletstorm is more of a sandbox experience than a series of set pieces. There will of course be set pieces as well, no high pace action romp would be complete without them, but for Bulletstorm to live up to its full potential there needs to be a sense of artistic freedom to the killing.
I'm sure you've noticed that I've mentioned Gears of War a number of times in this text and there is a reason for it. If you pick up the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm for Xbox 360 you will receive an invite to the Gears of War 3 beta.
Bulletstorm is a melting pot of Epic's heritage with the skill shots of Unreal Tournament, the hulking heroes of Gears of War, People Can Fly's Painkiller past, and the aesthetics of American comic books. Let's hope it delivers on all the promise it holds this February.