Ah yes, remember all those tirades about DRM, and how these services are invariably disabled long after the fact, making playable games unplayable by mere disconnection of their activation gateways? Sigh.
Luckily, there’s a hacked Games for Windows Live DLL floating around that shoves it out of the way to let you get on with playing Bulletstorm. No more achievements, alas, but at least we can get in. It’s long past time for another trip down this rollicking foul-mouthed rollercoaster romp…
The fact that the points system that powers Bulletstorm‘s combat mechanics is completely justified and coherent in-universe is a testament to how far you can actually go into detail-driven sci-fi without losing the fun factor. The military experiment of a psychopathic general, in an attempt to train super-soldiers troops were dropped on a hostile world with very little equipment and made them earn their kit through brutal acts of ultra-violence against the natives. The more ridiculous, the better.
You crash land on that planet with legitimately no equipment, get into the system, and since it’s all automated — away you go!
Bulletstorm is a game that’s hard to put down, mainly because it doesn’t give you convenient stopping points.
The narrative is at heart a simple journey: you crash on a hostile world, you travel ever forwards in search of a way to escape, you encounter obstacles on the way. Except those obstacles come thick and fast, and if you’re not running from some monstrous explosion you’re running to keep up with one of your companions — and they’re always talking so you’re always running and listening and then something else has happened.
Locations bleed together in beautiful cacophony of destruction that completely forces all other concerns from your mind. It is quite simply spectacular, in the most literal sense of the word. The downside is that it’s all over pretty quickly, but as the old saying goes, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
All the insane spectacles that surround you are of course only a logical extension of the insanity of the characters. Bulletstorm justifies its skillshot system with the psychopathy of the villainous General Sarrano and his antics are equally matched by the gleefully murderous protagonist Grayson Hunt, and they’re both matched shot-for-shot by the gangsters and mutants that flood every inch of the planet.
Any real first-person shooter lives or dies by its weapon set, and Bulletstorm has a more inventive suite than most. The assault rifle, pistol and shotgun might appear bland, but they’re backed up by an explosive flail launcher, a bouncing cannonballer, a sniper rifle with steerable exploding bullets and a drill-shooter. Once you get into that territory, the assault rifle barely sees the light of day again except in emergencies.
The projectiles from most weapons have special properties, and the skillshot system encourages inventive use of each — you get a massive points boost for the first time you perform a particular combo and more points in general for fancier ones, so you’re always on your toes trying to do sillier and sillier things to get the big bucks. After all, without points you can’t afford ammo — and no ammo means no fun.
And yet, for all the dynamic intensity of battle, the game is actually incredibly rigid. There’s no jump button, so you can’t get up or down the scenery or fall off even the smallest edges, and you have to be at just the right spot to contextually switch the ‘slide’ button to ‘climb over’ an obstacle.
Likewise, many obstacles can only be dislodged with a Kick or the Leash as defined by the level designer, falling perfectly into scripted position, rather than being open to any impact at all. The fun of improvised carnage with whatever guns and environmental hazards are to hand is completely removed from the strict quick-time events of the spaces between fights.
Indeed, the Leash itself is quite undersold; all it does is pull enemies towards you, leaving them suspended in slow motion ready to accept further combos. What about whipping them around, throwing people into each other and the environment? What happened to the physics-driven future those first janky Havok-integrated games promised us? The glorious destruction of the world around you in Bulletstorm is completely on rails.
It feels odd to talk about what was a high-budget triple-A console shooter in terms of being a lost gem, but Bulletstorm just didn’t seem to quite hit the commercial spot and so, despite the sequel hook, we’ll never see it continue to grow and flourish into something even more ridiculous.
Which is a damn shame, because there’s a whole heap of fun to be had in this direction. It’s rude and it’s crude and it’s stupid but it’s a total blast.