Price: Rs 2,499 (Xbox 360, PS3), Rs 999 (PC)
DEVELOPER: People Can Fly/Epic Games
Distributor: Milestone Interactive
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Bulletstorm seemed to have it all when it was announced last year. A perfect marriage between Polish developers People Can Fly (of Painkiller fame) and Epic Games, the promos seemed to suggest a transcendent experience that would push the limits of what we would come to expect from a first-person shooter. Slick hype videos, a playable promo-game that flipped the bird at more serious FPSs, and the audacity to stick up to Killzone 3 with a near identical release date all promised good things.
Sadly, the only revelation that playing Bulletstorm manages to elicit is one of crushing disappointment. You play the alcoholic Grayson Hunt, the former member of an elite hit squad known as Dead Echo. Hunt and his band of knuckleheads went rogue after they discovered (surprise!) that General Serrano had been using them to assassinate dissidents. A decade later, and now leading a band of space pirates, Hunt discovers Serrano’s ship and decides to take it on – foolishly risking everyone’s lives in the process. Both ships crash-land on the planet of Stygia, which is where most of the story takes place.
The deep-ish backstory of the planet is fleshed out nicely, as are the small cast of characters. Hunt is joined by Ishi, a bionic who’s mind is gradually being taken over by a resident AI, and a svelte Dead Echo operative with a past named Trishka. The banter between the characters will have you laughing out loud, and you’ll warm to them despite the character design being wholly ordinary and very Gears of War-like.
For a game that revels in using the Unreal Engine, the prologue level is terribly bland, with simplistic models and designs, all splashed with gunmetal gray. Thing’s don’t change much once you hit the planet surface, aside from the candy-color scheme and stunning vistas. The game gives you many opportunities to stop and stare at some of the sights, and you really get a sense of being on another world. Sadly, the graphics in your immediate vicinity are ordinary. You’ll see your fair share of low-res textures, and the level design always pulls you down corridors and combat rooms, where you’re given the same set of enemies to kill.
For a game that talked up how different it was from other shooters, what hurts Bulletstorm most is a lack of variety. There are only a handful of enemy types, and one boss battle (that outstays its welcome). There are a couple of mini-bosses, but you face them so often that they quickly become part of the scenery. Much more damning is the fact that the game falls short on fulfilling its basic premise. The ‘kill with skill’ catchphrase is shot to bits when you realize that the number of stylistic kills you can perform are limited depending on the level and the number of interactive objects within it.
Adding to the disappointment is the fact that most of these kills are bog-standard for any FPS, except that Bulletstorm doles out points for them. You can’t use these points for much, aside from purchasing ammo, and unlocking ho-hum secondary abilities for weapons. The most striking tool in your arsenal is the combat leash. Using it on enemies or objects causes them to be pulled towards you in ultra slo-mo, giving you plenty of time to aim your shots. Sadly, you’ll find that even this doesn’t help in alleviating the drudgery that combat becomes.
The levels are bite-sized, so you can run through the campaign reasonably quickly. There are a couple of set-piece levels that hint at what could have been, but the grand scale that was alluded to in marketing blitz is missing. The game also has an arcade mode that lets you time attack single stages, and a cooperative multi-player variation of Gears of War’s Horde mode called Anarchy. They’re minor distractions and go some way toward beefing out a bare bones package, but there’s only so much you can do when the basic gameplay mechanic fails to stick.
Bulletstorm could've been so much more than it is - a competent shooter. Fleshed out levels, more toys to play with and more enemies to gob would be a start. As would reigning in the marketing team.