A Band of B's.
'B' is for bullets. Bullets blazing, blasting and burning, breezingly buzzing like bees bound for bodies and brains and blowing up bombastically. But B is also for Bulletstorm, the newest game from People Can Fly and Epic Games. And 'B' is for the grade that Bulletstorm gets as well, but we'll save all that for later.
Marcus Fenix Grayson Hunt, a black ops military man turned space pirate out for revenge on his old commanding officer, General Serrano. Grayson looks like a certain badass COG from Gears of War, only on fewer steroids and a full head of hair and he has the voice of Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop. His lust for revenge drives him to barrel his ship drunkenly through the general's battleship and force a crash landing on what appears to be just another planet in a vast and endless galaxy. But what kind of a game would it be if that were the case? Now it's up to you and your only surviving crew member, Sato, who is none too pleased with Grayson after he is turned into a cyborg by Grayson to keep him alive. The two form an uneasy alliance and get to the business of finding the general and getting off the planet.
Standing in your way are gangs of marauders, man-eating plants, locust hordes, mutants, and super-mutated mutants. As you blast through them, you receive Skillshot points based on how creative you get with your killing sprees. It's a welcome addition to the cut-and-paste FPS monotony that games like Call of Duty have moved the industry towards and adds a unique arcade twist to the genre that is difficult to bring to a home console. Getting 500 points for blowing up a group of enemies with a flail gun (it shoots two spikey grenades attached with a chain!), with the game flashing on the screen that you've just performed a “gang bang” or earned a “drilldo” bonus for shooting a drill gun up some unlucky mutant's ass is both humorous and rewarding.
It's like playing a game of Peggle in that there are multiple ways to solve the puzzle and earn as many points as possible, but only instead of the pachinko-like setup, you get various rooms for which to implement torturous and violent murder. Unique combat skills, like your slide kick and an electric whip that can “bounce” groups of enemies and objects into the air, cause your targets to go into a form of slow-mo stasis that give you a chance to smell the roses and contemplate the best way to turn your enemy into dog food. You can even get drunk off discarded bottles of booze you find and collect extra bonus points for killing while under the influence!
Campaign mode even finds some ways to spice things up with some vehicle-based levels, such as a helicopter ride that will remind arcade fans of the old L.A. Machine Guns cabinet and helps bring across the high score competitive vibe of the classic arcade. There's even a point where you get to trounce a model city with a robot monster in an Godzilla-esque homage. As you can imagine, this also leads to a decent amount of variety in environments and areas to explore.
[image2]The plot is basic, as basic can be, but offers up some of the most unapologetically racist humor and cheesy action quips that I've ever heard in a video game. General Serrano's potty mouth alone had me cracking up and questioning my racial sensitivity every time he uttered a word. It blends perfectly with the over-the-top action and vulgar skillshot titles, but I doubt it's going to win an award for best screenplay anytime soon.
So with all this action and humor and unique murderous carnage, why give it a 'B'?
Well, while the concept is amusing and unique and they get a lot right with Bulletstorm, there's also some serious misses, like the fact that there's no real cover system to speak of. You just hide behind things a la Halo style, but unlike the Master Chief, you're usually not given too many options on where you can hide, and ducking requires that you hold the left analog button down or you immediately pop back up.
And while there are multiplayer modes, there's not a lot of variety to them and they tend to fall short of expectation. For instance, Echo Mode allows you to go back through various instances of the campaign and compete for the leaderboard high score for that particular area. As a rabid Pac-Man Champion Edition fan, I can appreciate the competitiveness of the idea, but once you've beaten a game like this, do you really want to go back and do the abridged highlight section with limited resources after you spent all that time unlocking all those cool weapons and upgrading them? There seem to be no fields of combat uniquely designed just for score attacks either (perhaps we'll get some in DLC?) And it's a single-player multiplayer mode, which in and of itself is quite the oxymoron.
Horde Mode Anarchy Mode allows you and up to three other players to battle through wave after wave of enemies in an attempt to earn enough points as a team to move onto the next wave. Initially, it's fun as would be expected by yourself, but after the first few waves, you're going to get nowhere without serious teamwork and that requires real communication. In an online world full of teenagers who have nothing more to say than various racial epithets and imply that other teammates prefer the company of men, serious teamwork is a rare commodity. Having to do a wave over and over because some dumbass on your team decided to push the enemy with the team-kill bonus into a wall of spikes instead of cooperating gets frustrating quick, as does trying to find new ways to kill someone after ten waves in the same cramped area, because the killing fields are pretty damned small too.
[image3]On top of all that, I would also recommend playing the campaign mode in short bursts as opposed to trying to run through it blazingly fast in order to really enjoy it, since unlike most FPSs out there, there is something to be gained from taking it slow, so to speak. If you don't want to get tired of all the "gag reflex" and "mercy" Skillshots (shoot a guy in the balls, then shoot his head off), you're not going to want to run through this like most FPSs or else the monotony will catch up to you, and you'll find yourself not being as creative with murder as you could be. But that's the kind of thing that also varies with your playing style.
Sadly, Bulletstorm's multiplayer features make it a mixed bag, but there is a solid and enjoyable single-player campaign mode in there. The only question is whether that's enough to justify a purchase over a rental. I must admit that I do find myself wanting to go back for more to satisfy my lust for insanely over-the-top blood, guts, and carnage, but others will find themselves perfectly fine with their single run-through fix. No matter which side of the fence you're sitting on though, you will get a decent amount of enjoyment out of Bulletstorm.