An FPS has to do a lot to impress these days. Gone are the days where strapping a gun to your camera and circle strafing was the norm, now we have to have tactical cover based shooting and realistic ballistics and other gubbins that detract from the actual 'fun' side of being a game (glances at Call of Duty). Bulletstorm, from Polish developers People Can Fly, is an attempt to take back a slice of classic arcade shooter with a few cool new features. This is the same studio who made Painkiller, a fast paced action shooter from 2004, and the phenomenally successful Gears of War series, and quite often you'll see parallels running throughout the short campaign that Bulletstorm offers.
One of the first things you'll notice about Bulletstorm is the graphics. People Can Fly have pulled out the stops on this game, using the Unreal Engine 3 to create vast looking, beautiful areas, from a massive underground cave illuminated by tiny shafts of light coming from the ceiling to a stunning abandoned city by the sea that looks majestic until you get to street level and see the desolation first hand. From start to finish Bulletstorm is a visual treat, albeit a very linear one, and some of the set pieces will blow you away (literally).
Awesomely enough, these picturesque environments aren't just eye candy either, a lot of the background can be used to kill your enemies in more inventive ways. Fighting near some machinery? Kick someone into it to mince them up in the gears. Those dangling cables? Kick or shoot an enemy into them to fry them and anyone near them. Bulletstorm rewards you for experimenting with the tools you have and how to use them with the environments, and you'll have a blast just trying new combos and tricks.
Bulletstorm is a very combat centric game and thankfully simple things like moving around the battlefield are easy to pull off. You can only carry three weapons at a time, the rest being stored in dropkits or picked up off of defeated enemies, and you'll soon pick out your three favourites for battle, be it a taped together magnum that can blow off an enemy's head at 50 paces or the ridiculously over the top flail gun which launches two grenades connected by a chain. This wraps itself around anything it touches, the environment, enemies, even your allies (turning them into an AI bomb) and can then be remote detonated by you once you've, say, kicked them into another group of enemies for maximum carnage. As well as your weapons you also have a leash, an electric whip that you can use to pull enemies, objects and ammunition towards you. As you do this the object goes through a slow motion arc, giving you plenty of time to position yourself and launch the next attack. The leash is extremely fun to use and you'll lose count of the amount of times you pull an enemy sniper off a gantry before either kicking them against some barbed wire or filling their slow moving body with lead. With these skills and weapons in hand you'll find yourself taking silly risks, slide kicking right the way across the battlefield and taking out four or five enemies at once in a way that would have you killed in any other FPS. This gung-ho mentality will pay off though, as the more elaborate and complex your kill combos are the more skillshot points you earn. These can be cashed in at dropkits for ammo and upgrades for your weapons, including charge shots which launch a single bolt of ammo through several enemies at once, if you line them up correctly. The enemy AI isn't too hot however, and you'll find yourself marching through many areas like a one man army. Thankfully there are harder difficulty settings for the more hardcore gamer, but even then combat can come down to getting up close to an enemy and kicking them into some instant kill object on the map, or even just off the platform you're fighting on. One guarantee is that the combat will immerse you, from the second you fight your first tribal soldier you'll be on the lookout for cool skillshots and having a blast blasting your foes limb from limb.
The major downside of Bulletstorm is it's longevity, or lack thereof. The campaign is agonizingly short, clocking in at around the ten hour mark, and once you're done with it there's not a huge deal to keep you coming back. The multiplayer mode has some good ideas and game modes that mainly require you to work with three other players to complete challenges or kill waves of enemies, but it very quickly becomes repetitive and there's not a huge incentive to work alongside your team, turning the whole thing into a bit of a free for all. The only other game mode on offer is called Echo Mode, which is essentially a time attack mode. Players work their way through the chapters of the campaign mode, however now the focus is on getting the highest skillshot score and completing the levels as fast as you can. With nothing new on offer this mode becomes boring very quickly, and only die hard fans will persevere with it.
Bulletstorm is much like a cheesy Hollywood movie, with great production values, stereotypical characters and a laugh out loud awful storyline. You'll enjoy it from start to finish with only a couple of hiccups, and there are several points the where action will leave you scooping your jaw off the floor (one particular set piece that was shown during development of a huge circular saw chasing you across the desert is still amazing to physically play through). The one downside is that like most cheesy Hollywood films it's instantly forgettable. Nothing really grips you as you play through the all too short campaign mode, and with little replay value you'll soon leave this to the side in favour of a game with more depth, and ultimately come away from it unfulfilled. That's not to say Bulletstorm is a bad game though, it's a lot of fun and has some nice features and ideas. It's also nice to see a game that's trying these new things rather than play it safe as yet another Modern Warfare clone (*cough* Homefront *cough*). Bulletstorm is slightly like Mirror's Edge (and I can't emphasize the word 'slightly' enough) in that it experiments with some potentially fun new game mechanics. Sure they didn't work to perfection, but that's the point of experimenting, and all it takes now is some plucky developer to take the framework seen here and build on it.
If you've got a few hours or a night spare, Bulletstorm would make an great rental game, at the very least you'll get a continuous chuckle out of kicking everyone and everything (a mechanic that needs to be used much, much more often in games).