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Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Developer: People Can Fly
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Well, weíre approaching four years into the eighth generation of video game consoles, and one of the dominating trends weíve seen is that of the re-release. While itís definitely true that the last generation played host to some pretty spectacular software, itís also true that itís not only the good stuff thatís being reintroduced. But to be fair, itís mostly the good stuff. Gearbox continues the trend with one of the good ones: Bulletstorm, the result of a collaborative effort between Painkiller studio People Can Fly and Gears of War developer Epic Games. A commercial failure but critical success, Bulletstorm didnít make much of a splash; a shame, considering the fact that the game is actually damned good. But with last yearís Doom serving as the harbinger of a possible renaissance of the good, old-fashioned dumb shooter, the time is now to reintroduce fans of high-speed, stakes-free gunplay to this underappreciated gem. Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition makes no strides towards unlocking the cult classicís ultimate potential, but its intoxicatingly chaotic gameplay systems still mesh seamlessly with an audio/visual package that holds up extremely well.

Bulletstorm arrived relatively late to the scene last gen, and perhaps that is part of why it still looks so fantastic. But thatís too reductive; the developers at People Can Fly and Epic Games certainly knew what they were doing with Unreal Engine 3. Unlike the countless other games that have been recently remade, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition comfortably passes as a product of the current console generation. This is an extremely colorful, well-animated game with an unforgettable setting. Death-dealing is an art in Bulletstorm, and the planet Stygia is a fine canvas. Settings range from natural to industrial to commercial; itís like if Mad Max took place in Walt Disney World. And with all those trappings comes a cornucopia of possibilities when it comes to the butchery of the mindless savages who make it their playground. Thanks to the incredible arsenal of weapons and Stygiaís overabundance of natural and artificial hazards, thereís almost no limit to what you can do with the hapless freaks.

Sound design is pitch perfect. Gearing up for a charge shot is a magical prelude in and of itself from the audio side of things. Powering through it all is a soundtrack that takes heavy metal, orchestra, and vocals, and delivers about what youíd expect from a game about sociopathic space pirates, mutants, and big ass guns. Naturally, the blood keeps pumping throughout. For the most part, the voice cast turns in performances that can be described as anything but nuanced. Grayson is exactly what you get when you crank Steve Blumís classic guttural drawl up to 11, Trishka is Jennifer Hale Jennifer Haling like only Jennifer Hale can, and Andrew Kishino Ė you know what, his performance as Ishi contains enough subtlety and restraint for the rest of the gang. Quite a feat, considering Anthony De Longisí planet-devouring turn as the loathsome General Sarrano, which may be the most stupefyingly incredible bit of overacting Iíve seen since Nicolas Cage in Deadfall.


Gameplay:

Grayson Hunt is out for revenge. Formerly the leader of a group of space mercenaries known as Dead Echo, Gray and a handful of loyalists have gone outlaw after discovering that their commanding officer General Sarrano had been manipulating them into committing unspeakable atrocities for purely selfish reasons. So when he and his crew happen upon the good Generalís warship, the drunken lout decides itís time for some payback. Nothing goes right, and both ships end up crashing on the planet Stygia, the site of a once-famous tropical resort, that has been overrun by mutants, monsters, and homicidal maniacs. After a few mishaps, the only survivors are Grayson and squadmate Ishi Sato, whose grievous injuries during the crash led to a botched operation that rendered him a mutilated cyborg. Not only is poor Ishi in constant, overwhelming pain, but heís also in danger of having his humanity superceded by an artificial intelligence. For Grayson, killing Serrano and getting off world are not mutually-exclusive goals; Ishi not only disagrees, but is understandably pissed off at Gray for ultimately being responsible for his maiming. Thus begins a buddy action tale that has the two space pirates cutting a stylishly murderous swath across the surface of Stygia in the hopes of escaping and maybe Ė just maybe Ė serving a particular dish nice and cold.

Bulletstormís story isnít bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the same canít be said about its script. The game goes well out of its way to score laughs at every turn, and most of them flop hard. Itís the Superbad of games; fancying itself an edgy, subversive experience while in reality, coming across as childish and forced. It is so obsessed with tickling and offending that it doubles back on itself, ultimately ending up somewhere in the dubious ether between desperation and cringe. As Bob Saget once said of the notorious "Aristocrats" joke with no small amount of disdain, "itís just arbitrary filth."

But you donít play Bulletstorm to laugh at the writing. You play it to laugh at the over-the-top comic kamikaze style violence; fortunately, that is also delivered in spades. Iíll get into the nitty gritty of what makes Bulletstorm special later, but at this point all you need to know is that the campaign is raucously fun despite its desperate attempts at humor, and there are really only two gameplay-related criticisms I can level at it. The first is that thereís no cooperative play. This was a massive missed opportunity the first time around and no less forgivable this time around; at no point is Grayson ever without at least one additional character to back him up. The second is that the game just runs out of steam towards the end; the unique gameplay championed by the majority of the experience is shunted aside in favor of whatever gets the job done quicker.

Bulletstormís multiplayer is once again restricted to Anarchy and Echoes. Anarchy is your standard wave-based kill-em-all mode, but it takes the gameplay systems of the single player and makes it work for up to three other players. Teaming up to accomplish special Skillshots is a delight, and while itís a solid mode, it only makes us wonder what a co-op campaign could have been like. Echoes Mode is less likely to hold your attention; itís essentially bite-sized snippets of the single player with leaderboard functions. Thankfully, Gearbox included all of the original gameís multiplayer DLC, which certainly adds value to the package.

But hey, this is Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, implying thereís some new stuff here. And thankfully, there is. The first addition is Overkill Mode, which is essentially a New Game Plus for people who have already finished the game; itís designed to be even more of a power fantasy than it is for first-timers. You might be miffed that youíve got to finish the game at least once before unlocking it, but hey, itís a really fun game that wonít ever have anyone looking at their clocks.

The last addition is bizarre, but oddly appropriate. Duke Nukem Forever may as well have been Bulletstormís brother in cringey, forced edginess. If you pre-ordered the game, youíll be able to play the entire game as Duke Nukem. Jon St. John recorded all new lines to bring thisÖ unique experience to life. Be warned, though; not all of the lines are in sync with the supporting cast. Ishi, Trishka, and Sarrano donít have any new lines, and the disconnect occasionally comes into painfully sharp relief. But the absurdity of the model swap is only amplified by the frequent non-sequiturs, which, strangely enough, makes it ultimately work.


Difficulty:

On the default difficulty setting, Bulletstorm is only as difficult as you want it to be. Most combat encounters are positively loaded with easy ways to bring your foes to a ruinous, catastrophic end. But if you want to stay fully stocked on ammunition and charges for your weapons, you will need to take a special approach rather than simply running and gunning. Creativity in your sadism is richly rewarded, and the most difficult Skillshots are the ones that shower you with the most currency.

This doesnít quite apply towards the end of the game. Certain sequences seem designed not to play off of the gameís primary strengths and instead funnel the player into engaging in competent but basic shooting action. The most frustrating of these takes place in a cramped room where literally nowhere is safe. But itís over and done with after a few tries at the most. Overall, itís balanced.


Game Mechanics:

Bulletstorm controls similarly to most other fast-paced shooters, though it oddly lacks a jump button. Itís a design decision, of course; the sprint button is paired comfortably enough with a double-tap for the fastest, longest foot-first slide I think Iíve ever seen in a game. It works; getting in and out of where you do and donít want to be is simple and efficient, and thatís hugely important for a game that seeks to foster creativity. This is further compounded by the gameís arsenal of weaponry; frankly, itís one of the best in any shooter to date. Each one has a standard and alt-fire (here called Charges), and all are incredibly fun to use. Honorable mentions go to a pistol packing explosive flares and a gun that fires drills that can be rerouted at the touch of a button. Thereís some really sick sh*t in here. I love it.

At first glance, this is a straightforward shooter experience, and if youíve never played it, the first half hour might feel a bit too standard. But things change when Grayson finds himself in possession of an Instinct Leash, an energy lasso capable of snatching and pulling things towards him. Turns out, itís a remnant of an old military program that judges combat performance and authorizes resupply based solely on how creative the wielder gets with his or her kills. This is the Skillshot system, Bulletstormís bread and butter.

Skillshots are generally classified as any non-generic kills you achieve. Basically, as long as youíre not simply shooting center mass, youíre almost guaranteed to earn at least one per kill. But when youíre on a planet teeming with hazards like massive carnivorous plants, explosive food carts, razor-sharp cacti, and good, old-fashioned industrial equipment, thereís no reason to be boring. And with the power of the Instinct Leash and Graysonís foot working in tandem, itís often easy to get exactly the kind of kill you want. You see, when you use either the Leash or the kick, affected enemies are temporarily enveloped in a kind of near-stasis, allowing you to prepare for a coup de gr‚ce. Thereís over a hundred possible Skillshots, and many of them depend on a number of factors, including the environment and the weapon being used. But the game doesnít hide them from the player, which is smart; it wants to deliver an entertaining experience above all else, and for that, itís to be commended.

With the release of Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, one gets the sense that Gearbox is testing the waters. Given what it includes, itís kind of difficult to recommend this to the ones who were early adopters. This is mostly thanks to the unjustifiable price tag, a six-year-old game should never warrant full price. But ultimately, considering the gameís initial (and completely undeserved) lack of commercial success, it makes sense; I get the main reason behind this repackaging. So my strongest recommendation is definitely reserved for those who missed Bulletstorm the first time around. Thereís too much promise at the core of this game for it to remain forgotten.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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