2019 sees me trying to be more conscientious about my video gaming. For one I’m trying to throw less money as the hobby; money that is ultimately wasted on games I didn’t really want. Tied to this, I’m also trying to make the most of my subscriptions to Xbox Gold and PlayStation Plus and play the monthly games each service gives me. Finally, I’m making a concerted effort to play through each game I start. Unless I’m really finding one boring.
Bulletstorm is a fun game that came to PS+ a couple of months ago. A first person shooter combining Gears of War’s meathead puppets, Enslaved’s lush green, broken world and Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system, it works hard to carve out its own niche in a crowded genre. Very much a product of its time (releasing originally on Windows, Xbox 360 and PS3), its age is starting to show. Eight years is, after all, a long time in video games.
That said, the graphics are really quite nice, eschewing the popular grey/brown palettes of the time for a more colourful game world that sets itself apart. Shades of Gears of War and Unreal are apparent in character design – no surprise given that this game was developed by People Can Fly and Epic, who are responsible for those titles.
It’s a shame that you can’t explore further this into world, but you are funnelled along an almost completely linear path. Very seldom will you have a chance to stray from the path, perhaps ducking under an obstacle into a “hidden” room containing a collectible item, then back to the straight and narrow to continue your quest.
Enemies are a lot of fun to kill, and in several different ways. The primary method of dispatch is, naturally, shooting. The usual variety of weapons (or fun revisions of them) can be gathered and used to separate limbs and heads from their owners. Each weapon has an unlockable Charge Mode that has limited ammo and causes serious damage, in a way replacing the grenades that other similar games may give you.
The real fun, however, doesn’t come from the guns, but rather from your leash – a powerful item that throws out an energy whip to yank your foes towards you, or into a multitude of environmental items. Exposed rebar, spiked cacti, fan blades… there are a great many disasters awaiting your enemies as you leash them to their doom. Failing that, a good kick will send them, in slow motion, over the edge of a building, to plummet to the ground. Performing such stylish murders earns you points that can be spent at certain droppoints to upgrade the Charge Shot capabilities of each weapon, or to top up your ammo.
Two favourite weapons of mine are the Headhunter – a sniper rifle that grants you control over its bullets, chasing down enemies as they scramble away from the shot, and the Penetrator – a rail gun of sorts that fires drills that send enemies spinning through the air and can pin a line of them to a wall like a kebab. Charge Shots for both allow a certain amount of post-contact control to send the projectile onto the next enemy; in the case of the Headhunter it is especially satisfying to use the bullet to carry your target over to his friends before detonating the bullet like a remote bomb.
Each weapon has its own series of associated skill shots – rewarding the player with bonus skill points to spend later. These range from landing headshots, to taking down multiple enemies with one shot, onto one of my favourite gruesome deaths – Gag Reflex, which you score by taking out an assailant’s throat.
All in all what we have here is a stylish game with well-polished gunplay and some interesting bosses. These bosses are, typically, huge monsters with clear weak points, and take an awful lot of bullets to take down. The change of pace can be somewhat jarring, but the fights are great fun. Weak points can be exposed using the leash to rip away armour protecting them, or battered away with enough ammo. One particularly enjoyable fight sees you take control of a robot dinosaur that was previously stalking you, and taking down wave after wave of enemies, like your very own episode of Godzilla.
It’s not a particularly difficult game (at least on normal difficulty); as was becoming standard by then, you have no health bar or armour pickups – instead when you are close to death your HUD warns you to seek cover, where your health will automatically regenerate over a couple of seconds. Your basic weapon, an assault rifle, refills a portion of its ammo when emptied either at the end of a wave of enemies, or immediately during a boss fight, so you cannot run out of ammo at a critical moment.
Droppoints are plentiful, and ammo for most weapons cheap enough you’ll never be low in any case, but it’s fun to conserve ammo by using your leash and the sole of your boot to bring about the bad guys’ ends. You’ll also use droppoints to choose which three weapons you want to carry, assigned to Left, Up and Rught on the D-pad. You’d think this would add a layer of strategy, choosing the right weapon for an upcoming fight, but I have found myself playing almost exclusively with pistol, assault rifle and sniper rifle, and having no trouble progressing.
If you missed out on this game 8 years ago, or a few weeks ago on PS+, it’s still priced as a budget title, at around €40 on PlayStation and Xbox stores, cheaper in physical stores, and €10 on Steam. Even at €40 it’s a good price for a great game, but wait for a sale if you like, I’ve already got it. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it, despite having played it through previously, several years ago.