Bulletstorm strikes me as quite possibly the most supremely epic mannishly manly game for manly men. Released in February 2011, the seemingly non-traditional first-person shooter has enjoyed it fair share of commercial success and highly positive reviews despite having been heavily critiqued and scrutinized for containing ‘inappropriate’ content.
Bulletstorm is an outrageously goofy and violence riddled science-fiction ‘epic’ (sort of) set in the 26th century. The game primarily follows the story of black-ops operative turned space pirate, Grayson Hunt, and his rebel crew. Following an alcohol induced and ill-fated attempt at revenge against his former commanding officer 7.62×39 surplus ammo, General Sarrano, Grayson ends up stranded on Stygia, a planet formerly colonized as an interstellar resort now overrun by mutants. With half of his standing crew lost to the aftermath of his drunken recklessness, Grayson embarks on a desperate search for a means to leave the forsake planet, all the while enduring the perils that Stygia has to offer.
Story wise, while Bulletstorm isn’t exactly simplistic in nature, there isn’t a whole lot of substance to be had beyond Grayson’s journey and motivations. For the most part, the over-arching plot devices are pretty typical, predictable even at certain (if not most) junctures. On a slightly positive note, the story does occasionally shine with a handful of epic, surprising, deeply engaging and outrageously funny moments, especially so when accentuated by the personalities of Grayson’s companions (the remote controlled dinosaur segment made me ‘lol).
Given the seemingly light-hearted nature of the game, the shallowness of Bulletstorm’s overall plot seems oddly appropriate. The games tells a story that is no-nonsense, no-frills and ultimately straightforward, not to mention violent. For all its one-dimensionality, it very aptly plays on notions of survival, vengeance and redemption, notions that anyone, gamer or not, can easily relate to.
For starters, Bulletstorm is heavily and creatively stylized, so much so that the trend of realism in modern mainstream shooters doesn’t quite apply to the fullest extent. For example, as a combatant, Grayson can soak in an astonishingly inhuman amount of futuristic lead, which, when coupled with the sheer destructive potential of Grayson’s armory, renders tactical movement and cover somewhat of an afterthought. Suffice to say, taking into consideration the fact that your companions don’t actually ‘die’, it takes quite a bit to fail at this game.
Grayson’s armory definitely takes offensive and violent gameplay to the extreme. As the game progresses, players have the option to outfit Grayson with weapons spanning the likes of quadruple barrelled shotguns, sniper rifles that fire homing explosive rounds, portable launchers that fire cannonballs and explosive chain flails, not to mention his pair of physics defying gravity boots and energy leash. Very excessive, very violent, and all the more fun for players willing to temporarily suspend themselves in the action packed spirit of the game.
With all that in mind, it has to be said that Bulletstorm isn’t a game that requires much in the way of deadly accuracy or situational/tactical awareness. Rather, for all its crudeness and violence, Bulletstorm is a shooter that encourages speed, wanton destruction, and more importantly, innovative killing methods, which brings us to the topic of Skillshots.
The skillshot mechanic is essentially Bulletstorm’s primary selling feature and a key gameplay element that sets the game apart from its FPS compatriots. With each passing kill, Grayson chalks up skillpoints (SP). These skillpoints serve as in-game currency and may be used to purchase weapons, upgrades and ammunition from dropkits scattered across Stygia.
The number of skillpoints Grayson receives per kill is predominantly based on the method by which players take out their adversaries. To start with, a simple run-and-gun strategy will likely net players a measly 10 points per assault rifle kill. However, players will sow kills of exponentially higher skillpoint value should they creatively dispatch their enemies while adhering to certain conditions. Killing an enemy while intoxicated or by kicking an enemy into an electric fence for example nets 100 and 500 skillpoints respectively.
Skillshots add a great deal of dynamic and entertainment to Bulletstorm’s already aggressive, fast-paced and combative gameplay. For the most part, skillshots are immeasurably fun to experiment and wrought destruction with, especially so at the expense of Grayson’s many varied opponents. It is a mechanic that is very player dependent, visual and provides instant feedback. It is, in my opinion, a creatively clever mechanic that was designed to be undeniably necessary in order to succeed and yet extremely fun to work with.