Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
It took me all day to shoot a monster in the balls. Well, I shot a lot of monsters in the balls, but it took me all day before I was coordinated enough to start kicking their sharp-toothed zombie heads off after they scrunched up their faces and clutched themselves in pain. To win the “Mercy” Skillshot in Bulletstorm, I needed to “Shoot an enemy in the balls and kick or shoot his head off.” Worth 100 points, that one. And it took me all day.
Bulletstorm has figured out how to be yet another splendid, monotonous shooter without being boring. Right now, every shooter has some groovy feature. Currently, both Dead Space 2 and Killzone 3 let players stalk each other in zero gravity. But at their hearts, these games are just shooters. They are 3D interactive shooting galleries for the home theater. They aren’t “Zero-G Combat” games.
Bulletstorm is a shooter, and it never loses sight of that. Which means that Bulletstorm can be repetitive and predictable. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little bit of that in a shooter is desirable. How else can I show off my amazing trigger skills if I can’t keep blasting at familiar targets? Bulletstorm enlivens its shooting with gory, elaborate Skillshots like “Mercy” or “Rear Entry.” (“Kill an enemy by shooting him in the ass.”) These earn players points that can be used for purchasing ammunition, acquiring new guns and upgrading their favorite old firearms. These armaments in turn allow players to go out and shoot their enemies in the balls, thus earning more points, thus earning more bullets. And so on, offering an escapist alternative to the work/ spend cycle of reality.
Many of the Skillshots involve using guns in combination with the leash and the boot. The leash is an electronic tether I can shoot from my wrist, wrapping around enemies and yanking them up into the air towards me. And the boot is exactly what it sounds like — a deep-treaded combat boot on the end of my foot. It sends foes flying in the other direction.
The whole spectacle is powered by the Unreal engine, which is notoriously wishy-washy as far as shooter targeting goes — and Bulletstorm suffers somewhat from the engine’s imprecision. But does that matter in a game that features kicking and whipping as frequent means of attack? Only when you’re trying to shoot someone in the balls before you drop-kick their head.
THE GOOD: I’ve always loved melee weapons in shooters — knives, claws, crowbars. Now I have a new favorite: the boot, with its XOXO kiss-off on the sole.
THE BAD: At first, Bulletstorm looks like a stylized outer space Western. The main character wears a buffalo skull belt buckle and his old-timer buddy was wearing what I swear were chaps. But the game quickly migrates into an amalgamation of standard video game environments. I clamber through jungles that could have come from Uncharted 2 and creep through old buildings that look like they were salvaged from BioShock 2 — pretty generic settings for a game full of original action.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Bulletstorm hits the heart of a shooter with a scatter-shot blast of close-up combat.