Bulletstorm: the second review

This was originally intended as a second opinion for the first review but that didn’t happen as I have a tendency to stumble around drunkenly, swearing and proclaiming the end of video games loudly at anyone who might listen and everyone who might not. Instead this piece is several weeks late due to my subsequent incarceration by the Montreal police and the serious talking to I received from all involved. Just kidding: I walked away with a warning that, although it might be amusing to write “video games are dead” in my own piss on the sidewalk next to a prestigious Canadian (sorry, Quebecois) college, it does not convey the seriousness of People Can Fly’s crime against gaming society. What? You find it hard to believe that a cop would tell me that? They’re people too, you know.

I struggle to control the anger I feel towards Bulletstorm and the heavy disappointment I feel towards the developers People Can Fly, and I guess it is expectations that are responsible for most of my vitriol. I wrote about expectations briefly on my own blog in regards to Homefront. But that was in regards to not understanding what the publishers aim in setting expectations was, with Bulletstorm it is different.

You see, when they released the Duty Calls game/video I expected Bulletstorm to stand against everything that Duty Calls mocked. The reality was that the game is one of the worst proponents of this kind of linear, hand holding gameplay, to the point where they could have renamed it Call of Duty: Space Warfare: with tons of extra swearing that might be a little funny even if your balls have dropped.

Should I have expected less? Admittedly Painkiller was quite linear, with just its over-the-top weapons making it stand out. Certainly some of the gating throughout the Painkiller made it feel restrictive at times, but then People Can Fly seemed to have done the best they could with some of the limitations they had. With Bulletstorm it just feels like they looked at The Club and decided to re-imagine it as something as boring as walking through a shopping centre alongside your grandma while she recounts the entire plot of Dad’s Army.

Okay, this moment was pretty cool.

Alright, alright, I will talk about the game’s narrative. You follow this guy who used to be an elite military man with his posse of elite military dudes. There is one guy who is Asian who has bland lines which denote him as more Asian than Asian stereotypes, and the other two are meatgrinder fodder who look exactly the same. Then some big slow motion reveal happens (much like in the Duty Calls parody) and they all end up on death’s row with, predictably, the two cookie-cutter characters (named Doc and Barry, I think) ending up dead. Brilliant.

I could have completely ignored the storyline if Bulletstorm hadn’t been such a pricktease when it came to its mechanics. The first hour is at an almost Assassin’s Creed level of handholding where you don’t get to do anything fun and instead you are forced to watch exposition you don’t give a fuck about because all you want to do is shoot people in the face, leg, crotch and throat. When the game finally gets going it constantly (metaphorically) squeezes your crotch painfully by forcing you to grit your teeth through needless cutscenes every 5 minutes. It’s like sticking your sushi dick into a sopping, fecund vagina only to have a bear-trap snap shut on your scrotum and ruin all the fun. The game, right up until the end of the campaign, constantly keeps taking the skull-fucking gun porn away so that you can listen to people talk about feelings that involve getting boners when killing people.

I apologise for the last paragraph; that really isn’t me and the abusive vocabulary was not really to my taste but I went with it because the game delights in using different words for priapisms. I’ll be fair: there is an ironic wink about the over-the-top nature of the penis-stomping and casual racism but the only people who could think it was awesome are the same people who are way beyond help. I feel damn well demotivated as a human being for starting to find the story enticing.

To be fair once again, enough of it is pretty well-written and the game doesn’t succumb to just making every dude a badass and every bad guy an unfunny cardboard cut out. I just marvel at the extent to which people can be sucked in by these linear, by-the-numbers shooters that really don’t bring enough to the game. Bulletstorm lacks imagination, inspiration and, most importantly (outside the constant references in the dialogue), balls.

When it finally gets going the combo kills are fun, but they’re constantly hampered by the game’s need to tell you something you don’t want to care about but find yourself stuck while some one talks about something. The good bits of kicking, blasting and leashing are evanescent and instead I get a lot of ‘Blah, blah, blah’.

The time challenges (known as Echoes) go some way towards redeeming the game and trying to reclaim The Club’s crown. I certainly enjoyed them more than the campaign but they felt false, as though the game was not confident enough about putting them on their own. That they had to create a storyline to keep the critics and audience entertained, is telling of the sad world we are inhabiting.

I am sure that many people will find things to enjoy in Bulletstorm (hell, Shaun’s review makes a valid point in opposition to this review), but those looking for something markedly different to the linear shooters out there will find this pedestrian game, which built up false expectations about itself to such a degree, deeply disappointing.

Incidentally, I got around to watching the Zero Punctuation video on Bulletstorm. I don’t frequently see eye-to-eye on his pieces but this one hit the nail on the head.