Bulletstorm is a big-armed, bigger-brained contradiction. On one hand, it’s about a band of hulking space pirates who can’t go two sentences without shouting some (admittedly hilarious) variation on a certain male organ. The game is juvenile and ridiculous, so it only makes sense that it’d have game mechanics to match, right? Wrong. Behind Bulletstorm’s barrel-chested bravado is a quiet brilliance—a reinvention of the FPS genre as we know it. It’s just a shame that—despite what its title may imply— Bulletstorm doesn’t quite manage to completely pull the trigger.
Console port or not, this game is absurdly gorgeous.
See, Bulletstorm’s contradictory nature doesn’t stop with its dual personalities. The game’s central selling point—the creativity- fueled “skillshot” system—is an amazing idea on paper, but its tremendous potential is only able to leak out in tiny drips precisely because it’s in Bulletstorm. Here’s how it works: Each time you kill an enemy, you’re assigned a certain number of points. The amount you gain, however, depends on how you introduce your enemy to his maker. So let’s say you get a headshot. Well, the skillshot system’s going to be about as impressed with that as Simon Cowell is with anything in the world, so why not mix things up a little? Let’s reel the guy in with your leash, give him a nice boot to the face, chain a mine to his torso, and then slide-kick him into some open electrical wiring. And if it makes it easier on you, let’s pretend he’s Simon Cowell.
The end result is comically brutal, wonderfully satisfying, and—most importantly—tons of fun. There are hundreds of creatively named skillshots, too, so it’s like Pokemon, only thousands of times more disturbing. Here’s the problem, though: Bulletstorm’s levels are extremely linear and scripted—sometimes literally forcing you to aim and shoot exactly where the developers want. Other times, the game serves you the optimal skillshot on a silver platter, allowing you to kick off an obvious chain reaction in the name of scripted spectacle. In those cases, it’s actually to your disadvantage to be creative, which defeats the purpose of the skillshot system altogether.
Normally, if your screen looks like this, you’re doing something very, very right.
Most troubling, however, is the fact that many levels—while visually stunning and interestingly themed—simply aren’t very inventive. Your options for skillshots, then, often boil down to “kick that guy into a spiky/electrical object,” “kick an explosive barrel at a bunch of guys,” or “send that guy plummeting into an abyss,” over and over and over.
Multiplayer, meanwhile, isn’t quite what you’d expect, but it’s much better for it. Basically, it’s horde mode, but with a focus on brain-bending, head-exploding team skillshots. After all, considering the amount of havoc one Bulletstorm player can wreak, imagine what’ll happen with three. It is, however, surprisingly tactical, stopping you dead in your tracks if your score’s not high enough.
At the end of the day, then, Bulletstorm’s definitely not a bad game. Far from it, in fact; it’s a gore-spattered blast of a time. Unlike many of today’s grim, gray shooters, it aims for pure, unfiltered fun and nails it right between the eyes. However, it falls a few steps short of greatness—a problem compounded by the fact that the campaign’s only about seven hours long. Of course, it’s supposed to be replayable in pursuit of better skillshots, but the aforementioned stifling linearity and run-of-the-mill level design mean you probably won’t be chomping at the bit for a second helping.