The few moments when Bullet Witch shines are impressive, but not nearly enough to elevate the rest of the game above the dismal plane of mediocrity.
She has the raven hair and ruby lips, and sparks do fly from her fingertips, but this witchy woman isn't wicked in the least. In fact, she's pretty lifeless, and so is her game, Bullet Witch. This third-person shooter developed by Cavia and published by Atari wastes the promise of a gun-toting, zombie-blasting witch on a brief and banal game. But even more disappointing than the wasted potential of the premise is the fact that Bullet Witch is peppered with some great moments that you'll want to experience again and again. A couple of the spells are truly awesome to witness, as is the complete destruction of the world around you, but these moments are too short lived to carry the rest of the game.
The game takes place in the year 2013 after war, disease, and a couple of natural disasters have killed billions. To top it all off, an interdimensional portal has opened up, unleashing masses of homicidal demons upon the remnants of the world, or, at least the East Coast of the United States. You play as a witch named Alicia. She's not quite human and not quite a demon, but she uses her magic powers and her massive gunrod to fight the demons and save what's left of humankind.
As Alicia, you have to eliminate hundreds of identical demons throughout six different stages. You start in a suburb, work your way through a city, head out into a forest, and end up back in the city. There's not much diversity to the stages, and each one is very linear, with strategically placed barriers to keep you on track. In most stages you run into a mob of enemies, kill it, and then run a short distance down the path and do the same thing again. The combat is very dull, because you'll face the same idiotic demons throughout the game in a series of bland settings.
The shooting is all done with Alicia's cumbersome and impractical gunrod. It's a huge hunk of garishly decorated metal as long as Alicia is tall. The basic function of the gunrod is similar to an assault rifle, but you can spend skill points that you earn for completing each level to unlock new gunrod forms. There are only four forms, though, and none of them are any more useful than the default form. Even the cannon form, which is supposed to behave like a sniper rifle, doesn't have any greater range than the basic assault-rifle form. Reloading your weapon costs magic points, but your magic points regenerate so quickly you'll essentially have unlimited ammunition for most of your gunrod forms.
The gunplay is hampered by some terrible artificial intelligence. The enemy AI is bad, but you'll occasionally have allies on your team who are somehow even dumber. Allies will often run up and stand right in front of you in the middle of a gunfight, which doesn't matter for the most part because you can shoot right through them, but they still obstruct your view. Fortunately, your allies will often get stuck behind walls or other objects, so you won't have to worry about them tagging along and getting in your way for very long. The enemies' AI is slightly better, in that you will actually see enemies run for cover every once in awhile. Usually, though, they just stand in one place waiting for you to mow them down.
To supplement the weak gunplay, Alicia can also wield magic spells. There are nine different spells, several of which you can upgrade by spending skill points. Unfortunately, only about four of the spells are ever worth using. It doesn't help that casting spells requires you to cycle through an awkward spell wheel and then press a corresponding button. So to cast a lightning spell, you have to press the right or left bumper three times, then press the A button, and then find a target and press the right trigger to finally cast the spell.
Casting spells is a hassle, but there are a couple of spells in the game that are definitely worth the trouble. One of the first spells unlocked is the will power spell, which lets you use telekinesis to pitch cars, boulders, trees, and even massive water tanks at your enemies. It's odd, though, that while you can send a bus skipping down a city street, your enemies are completely immune to your will power spell. That means that you can't chuck foes into walls or off bridges, which is disappointing. The two best magic spells in the game are the tornado and the meteor spells. You don't unlock these until late in the game, and they require a full magic gauge to cast, but when you finally get one of these spells off, the resulting carnage is well worth the wait. These spells conjure up massive cataclysms that tear the world around you to pieces. Huge meteors fall from the sky and crush enemies and collapse skyscrapers. A tornado tears the roof off of a building and drops it on a group of unsuspecting enemies. These moments are truly impressive and extremely gratifying. The problem is that you can only use these spells in a few certain areas, and the spells' effects only last for about 30 seconds at a time.
Aside from a couple of great spells and some impressive explosions, Bullet Witch doesn't look good. When you conjure up some of the more spectacular-looking spells, the frame rate drops drastically. There are also some technical issues with the short draw distance. When you're running around the environment, you'll see trees, cars, and often entire buildings suddenly pop into view from out of nowhere. All of the destruction onscreen also surfaces some odd behavior from the physics engine. Twitching, floating, clipping, and oddly bouncing objects are commonplace, which makes for some very unusual sights. The textures are bland and flat, there are only a handful of character models in the entire game, and the lighting effects result in a lot of flickering and horribly pixelated shadows. The sound in the game isn't much better than the presentation, either. The voice acting in the cutscenes is horrendous and isn't done any favors by the awful dialogue. The game does have some good music, which isn't especially memorable but fits the theme well.
You can play through Bullet Witch in about six hours on your first play-through, and after that there isn't much reason to go through the game again. You can continue playing to earn more skill points and power up your gunrod and spells, but there isn't much point in doing that if you've already beat the game. There are multiple difficulty settings, so you can go back for more of a challenge, and you will earn achievement points for finishing each level and for beating the game on all of the different difficulty settings. There's also an online leaderboard that lets you compare your scores to the scores of other people around the world, but that's not much of a consolation for the short single-player and complete lack of multiplayer.
Bullet Witch shows promise, but it ultimately fails to deliver anything more than a ho-hum third-person shooter that you'll forget as soon as you finish playing it. There are some fantastic moments in here that you should experience, but there's no way to justify the price of this game for just a few minutes of worthwhile gameplay.