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Bulletstorm: Epic Edition

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Epic Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Co-Op)
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

My favorite part of E3 every year isn't the new games coming out, but finding overlooked gems. Every year, I discover one or two ignored games, which, seemingly, are the most influential to future releases. Two years ago, the game on every developers lip's was The Club, a score-based shooter. After the show, I gave it a try and was instantly hooked. It plugged back into the faster pacing found in older shooters, like Quake, which you don't see all that often.

Although The Club never came up in the same conversation as Bulletstorm, the pacing and score-based gameplay was enough to get, and hold, my interest.

Bulletstorm has earned a lot of attention recently for its presentation. Not because it looks or sounds particularly good (which it does -- the Unreal Engine really shines here), but rather for what it presents. I won't sugarcoat it, you'll hear and see a lot of things you probably will wish you'd hadn't. Bodies explode with all the gusto of a stuffed piņata and characters are just as creative with their swear words as they are with a gun.

Yet, as gory as Bulletstorm can get, the over-the-top guns and Skillshots add an almost cartoon-like atmosphere. Yes, there's blood and dismemberment, but when you're launching guys into the air and hear the scream of fireworks, it adds a darkly comical spin to the proceedings. The same is true for the dialogue. Some of the writing is wince-worthy stuff, but there are some truly funny lines buried beneath the four-letter muck.

Does it go a little too far? Probably, but most of it is within its own reasoning.


Gameplay:

For all the attention the creative use of four-letter words and gore has received, Bulletstorm: Epic Edition hasn't seen enough for its merging of story and play mechanics.

Ten years after discovering his commanding officer, General Sarrano, was sending his team to murder innocent civilians, soldier-turned-pirate Grayson Hunt set out on a crash course for revenge by ramming his ship through Sarrano's, trapping both on the Stygia, a former-resort planet hiding a few deadly secrets.

Bulletstorm is at its best when delivering fast-paced gunplay. However, the pulpy story, which is absolutely perfect for the play style, takes an unneeded turn for bigger drama at the halfway point. The "Shoot Everyone in the Way" revenge story takes a leap for something a little deeper. The story never loses it's pulpy edge, but it does lead to a few pace-crashing cutscenes towards the end. Bulletstorm is better when you're pulling off Skillshots with Grayson, not listening to Grayson talk. I will admit, however, Sarrano has easily jumped to the top of my list of awesome game villains. He's perfect, right down to his twisted justifications and taunts.

The best part of the entire story is how People Can Fly has managed to integrate the Skillshot system into the game's universe. Per the in-game explanation, soldiers are outfitted with scoring interfaces, setting up a "Survival of the Fittest" scenario on the battlefield. Those with high scores earn new weapons and ammo. The rest either need to shape up or die trying. It's a cool merging of mechanics and story, especially since you want to be the guy earning high scores.

A bulk of Bulletstorm's replay value comes from Echo, which takes small chunks of each level and challenges players to earn points and star rankings through each. If any aspect of the game most captures The Club's spirit, this is it. My OCD-player tendencies got a workout replaying each Echo and finding the best weapon/Skillshot strategies for each. The addition of a leaderboard made it worse. Echo will keep leaderboard-addicted players busy for a long time. Conversely, if beating your ex-roomate's score isn't a big deal for you, it might not hold as much value.

Players with a taste for co-op, however, will find something beyond the story with Anarchy Mode. Here, the goal isn't just to survive against waves of enemies, but also earn a set score to make it to the next round. It's a total team effort, right down to special Team Skillshots, though the option to spend points between rounds for better gear adds a bit of competition to the camaraderie.


Difficulty:

Although multiple difficulties are offered, I was more concerned with checking off Skillshots than I was my own safety. Death is very much a reality in Bulletstorm: Epic Edition, though the Skillshots force you to re-think how you would typically handle certain situations. It's not about finding cover and returning fire when you have a clear shot. Instead, it's about looking at your loadout and environment and figuring out the most spectacular way to kill your opponent. More deaths were a result of trying to play H.O.R.S.E. with some poor guy's body, not because enemy A.I. is particularly bright.

Checkpoints are generous, and each reload opens the opportunity to improve your score. You're encouraged to experiment with new Skillshot combinations; otherwise you may find yourself a few rounds and augmentations short. Again, it's "Survival of the Fittest." The only major downside is you don't keep Skillshots earned after the last save. All you really have to lose is a few points and that particularly challenging Skillshot.

However, as much as running with guns blazing is encouraged, some battlefield awareness is necessary. Enemies are everywhere, and some are hard to kill. Snipers are pests, as are mini-bosses, who require special tactics. Have fun, but be careful - it's as simple as that.


Game Mechanics:

Skillshots are the heart and soul of Bulletstorm. As much as I tried to describe it after my E3 2010 demo (which Twitter followers know had my smiling for days), I couldn't. Even after nearly two weeks with the game, I have a hard time finding an effective explanation.

It's an over-used example, but Skillshots are akin to tricks in a skateboarding game. The more creative you are with your kills, the more points you earn. A headshot, for example, is worth 25 points. But, if you shoot a person in the nether regions and THEN hit them with a headshot, you'll earn 50 points. The cornerstone to every Skillshot is your leash, which can either pull enemies towards you or launch them into the air, and kick. Both slow time, giving you the opportunity to concoct all sorts of mayhem with your weapons of choice. You can even fling enemies into the environmental obstacles for added carnage.

Gunplay by itself is fun, but trying to find new extemporaneous executions is even more enjoyable. It's not like Call of Duty, where you know what you're getting each time. Instead, it's the (incredibly violent) game equivalent of "The Jungle Cruise." There's a set structure, but every trip through the ride is just a bit different based on your Skipper. The same goes for Bulletstorm and its Skillshots. You'll hit the same level multiple times, but unless you stick to a handful of basic shots, you'll get a slightly different experience each time.

Bulletstorm has a lot of fun with its weapons. Even the old standards have slight modifications. My favorite is the sniper rifle. I'm typically not one to use sniper rifles, but I loved the sniping mechanic. Enemies are able to dodge your rounds, forcing you to guide the bullet to its destination. It's just one of the many ways you're encouraged to constantly stay active and not passively stand behind cover.

When Epic first announced Bulletstorm: Epic Edition would also house an invite to the Beta of Gears of War 3, I was a bit worried a guest star was being used to prop up the main event. Thankfully, this is not the case. Bulletstorm is a pulp-filled treat for FPS players. Even though it sometimes tries, it doesn't take itself too seriously and just has fun with the idea of shooting a gun.

I've come to terms with the fact I'll never see a sequel to The Club, but hopefully Bulletstorm's success will pave the way for more frantic, fast-paced shooters.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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