It should only take one look at Bulletstorm’s literally insulting advertisements to know the sort of game it is: a blood soaked, over-the-top story of a space pirate’s revenge, it’s crass, gratuitously violent, filled with more dick jokes than you can shake a stick at, and most of all absurdly enjoyable!
If you can get past the constant poop jokes and references to male genitalia, there’s actually a fairly entertaining story hidden under the brohaha. As ex-military turned pirate, Grayson Hunt, the game opens with a swig of the bottle and a suicide crash into your previous general’s ship. Through some miracle you both survive, and thus it becomes a race to see who will kill the other first as you endeavor to get off the overrun planet you’ve been stranded on. It’s undeniably shallow in many places, but for what its worth the characters are surprisingly enjoyable despite their rough exteriors; often melodramatic, but always full of the tongue in cheek, self-deprecating humor that pervades every area of the game.
Bulletstorm seems to operate on a philosophy that each moment needs to be more outrageous and spectacular than the last. The set pieces come at a whirlwind pace, and a scope that truly left me scrambling to pick my jaw up off the floor, as it takes on the challenge of besting itself throughout the admittedly brief 5-6 hour campaign. The idea of inserting downtime or filler into a game is one developer People May Fly have entirely no idea about, as for as short a game Bulletstorm is, the density of the action is so great that it’s almost exhausting to try to take it all in. Aside from the terrible cliffhanger of an ending (likely setting up a sequel we’ll never see), I wasn’t the least bit unsatisfied with what I got out of the experience, and in fact would compare it favorably to a shooter that spends twice as long showing me half as much.
The idea that drives all of Bulletstorm is killing with skill. Sure, you can take an enemy down with a simple headshot, but if you want to rack up the points you need to get a little more creative than that. The amount of carnage you can cause after you discard the ideas of every shooter you’ve played before is truly ridiculous, from kicking enemies into man-eating plants, creating massive explosive chains, and stringing enemies together with a single bullet, to any number of possibilities I couldn’t even begin to list. The combat rewards originality and style above all else, and the encounters are designed in such a way that you can unleash your homicidal imagination like few games ever allow. All of this is tracked and rewards you points depending on the originality and impressiveness of your kill, creating a constant strive to never repeat the same thing and try for new and more insane combos throughout.
Gears of War might have been Epic’s showcase for Unreal Engine 3, but Bulletstorm really puts it to use with a barrage of color and incredible explosions. The level of violence is in a league of its own, but it’s so outrageous that it almost seems comical watching heads explode and enemies flying into fan blades (or maybe I’ve just turned that much more psychotic). It’s an impressive visual accomplishment that sets a new bar for what can be done with the engine, with a fantastic array of effects and vistas that still hold up years later.
Bulletstorm is easily one of the most original and satisfying shooters I’ve played in a long time. The level of personality and creativity in every area of its design is absolutely brilliant, and its self-aware nature hilarious and even charming at times (or as charming as characters whose favorite pastime is inserting “dick” before every word can be). The shooting is both rewarding and inventive, rejecting the tried and true “aim for the head” mentality of so many others for its own unique brand of bloodshed. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling the strain of repetition with first-person shooters, you owe it to yourself to give Bulletstorm a shot. It’s one of the most inventive and rewarding to come out in a long time, and demands an audience far bigger than the one it received.