To my sadistic enemies I bequeath… a boot to the head!
A few months back I got my first look at Bulletstorm at a very low-key presentation. And yet, the first item that I saw related to the game made more of an impression than any ear-shattering video, raucous demo, or smooth-talking PR rep. It was a simple screenshot of the game, of an enemy in its death throes, with the words “Gag Reflex +100” floating above his head Scott Pilgrim-style.
[image1]My curiosity was definitely piqued – whose wouldn’t be? Keep in mind that I had no previous briefing on what Bulletstorm was, and this was the first thing to greet me when checking it out. One had to wonder: What kind of game would have a “Gag Reflex” score? Is it a stat you need to build to beat some kind of S&M boss? Does the player rack up points based on sexual fetishes? Do I even want to know the answers to these questions?
Well, it turned out that the answers were not as disturbing as they could be, yet at the same time they were somehow even crazier than my initial wonders. Bulletstorm is the kind of FPS that embraces its video-gaminess and has as much fun as possible with it; it doesn’t try to be anything more than a way for you to kill a few hours and have a blast while you’re at it. As games get more and more like epic interactive movies, it’s one of those few dissenters that comes along and gives a great big old “fuck you” to dramatic plots and character development. When you load up Bulletstorm, it’s time to blow shit up and score some points.
The main character, Grayson Hunt, looks like he’d be right at home in Gears of War, which makes total sense given that Epic Games and Cliffy B are the mad scientists responsible. Grayson and his gang used to be mercenaries who quit and went into exile after realizing how fucked-up their commander was. The game opens a few years later, when Grayson has settled into life as a perpetually drunken space pirate. An unfortunate crash landing on a strange alien planet reunites him with an old team member, and they proceed to kick, slide, shoot, and kill their way off the hostile rock.
You do that by way of “skillshots”, Bulletstorm’s central mechanic that rewards killing enemies in unique and varied ways. The crazier your method of murder, the more points you get. Headshots, for example, reward slightly more than a normal kill, but still a trivial amount since everyone and their grandma is capable of them nowadays. But kick an explosive barrel at him, blow it up, and light the guy on fire, and you get the more valuable Afterburner skillshot.
[image2]They only get wackier and more over-the-top from there. Wrap a guy up in explosive bolas and detonate him in a group of baddies? That’s a Gangbang. The aforementioned Gag Reflex requires precision targeting with a bullet to the neck, which then prompts the enemy to grab at his wound and gurgle out his death rattle. To perform Mercy, you must shoot a guy in the nuts, then while he’s bent over grabbing his poor junk, run up and knock him out with a kick. And yes, the animations for all of the different skillshots are very, very detailed.
To make sure that players actually utilize as many skillshots as possible, there are diminishing returns on the point values for using the same skillshot repeatedly. The points are also not just for high scores; you’ll be trading them in for upgrades, new weapons, and all that good stuff, many of which will allow you to perform more new skillshots. For instance, upgrading to a whip-like device called the “thumper” enables you to toss enemies up in the air, where you can blow them up with a grenade and shower the landscape with their remains, earning the Fertilizer skillshot.
Bulletstorm tweaks the standard FPS gameplay with a few mechanics that tie in well with the skillshot concept. You’ll get used to seeing your boot flying around on the screen, because foot-first slides and straight-up kicks to the face are very useful moves for both getting around quickly and enabling certain skillshots. On top of that, enemies who get knocked backward or up in the air get wrapped up in a “pocket” of bullet-time. They’ll move in slo-mo for a few seconds, allowing you to get your skillshots off, but the catch is that everything else on screen moves at normal speed, so you still have to watch your ass before it’s grass.
Bulletstorm is set to hit this February. If you want to kick back and relax with an FPS that goes out of its way to crank up the absurdity level - or you just want to shoot people in the nuts and get big points for it - this is one game you probably can’t wait to get your murderous little hands on.