Weathering the Bulletstorm

kill kill kill kill kill etc.

“Release! Release!”
This pitiable cry comes from a green-skinned mutant-man, who’s tugging in vain at the flail grenades you wrapped around his neck. The grenades beep—they’ll detonate in a second or so—but out comes your boot, kicking the mutant off the catwalk to plummet to his death on the rocks far below. Or will the grenades turn him into blooming red fireworks first?
Does it really matter? This poor green lizard-guy drifts over the ravine in a slow-motion sentence; he’s f*cked either way. But yes, it does matter here, in this game, so you pull out your pistol and shoot him in the face with a fiery flare. Gratuitously, the flare explodes.
ENLIGHTENMENT +250. SADIST +50.
The Skillshot names are darkly appropriate, but more important in the moment is the gameplay outcome: Now you have enough points to buy some more flares, so you can get on with the killing. And this is Bulletstorm.

Kill Them All

Everyone must die: lizard-mutants, special operations soldiers, crazed bandits wielding pipes, ogre-like monstrosities—everybody. They’ll get blasted in two by your four-barreled shotgun (TOPLESS). They’ll be incinerated, en masse, by one hundred bullets all fired at once (X-RAY). They’ll be grabbed with an energy leash and hurled into impaling spikes (VOODOO DOLL). Bulletstorm requires inventiveness—become stale in your approach and the points trickle rather than flood. If you’re especially lame, one of your dick-quipping sidekicks will finish the job for you (no points).

Enormous and visually stunning set-pieces of mass destruction punctuate the core gameplay, and these scenes are better experienced than read about. The campaign plays a bit like an MGM Studios ride if, say, the riders were asked at regular intervals to get off the train to murder each other using conveniently placed items such as turbine fans and electrical wiring.

Surely There’s Some Context Here

Violence of such magnitude would be unsettling, but for the ludicrous and surreal glibness of Bulletstorm’s world and the characters who inhabit it. The main character, for example, is a drunken former-soldier-now-renegade type, an idiot hell-bent on revenge. One of the few choices he can make along the way is whether or not he continues to get drunk. In tone, Bulletstorm is thankfully far from the psychotic-driven and creeping Manhunt, a game the average human needs to chase with fifteen minutes of weeping in the shower.

To make downtime more interesting, the player is compelled to pay attention to Important Things—such as huge explosions in the distance—via quick time events. Correct button presses earn point rewards, so I suppose one might progress through the game using dull, routine (compassionate?) murders, so long as they possess the dogmatic obedience required to ‘win’ these cut scenes. But that would be missing the point.

There’s a story of sorts that pins up the premise, a narrative tentpole that delays the inevitable revenge and idly describes why it is that soldiers who shoot an enemy in the balls, then kick them in the face (MERCY) are more deserving of ammunition than those with a modicum of respect for their opponents (HEADSHOT). Once again I refer you to the MGM Studios allegory: The rider is thrown wildly from one experience to the next, following the predictably unpredictable train tracks. You will lose count of the times the protagonist does that ‘hazy, dazed, wake up off the ground to find out where he is now’ routine.

The fact that the game remains enjoyable is a testament to the power of the Epic polish that lovingly drenches the whole juvenile circus.

“Anarchy” Is Right

Anarchy, Bulletstorm’s multiplayer component, is cooperative, which is absolutely mystifying given that the core single-player premise is ‘I will be the one who kills them all’. If you play with pubbies, you will quickly understand the consequences of this behavioural dissonance.

False Allegations of Rape

Let me be very clear: Bulletstorm is not a game about rape or sexual assault, as certain “experts” like Carole Lieberman have suggested. It’s a game about straightforwardly horrific violence. Yes, there's a smattering of sexually suggestive wordplay interlaced with that violence, but these Skillshot descriptors are nothing we haven’t seen before (Quake: “Bl1nKI82 eats two loads of AC1DRE1GN’s buckshot”, circa 1996).

The game’s lone female character is a certified badass. “I will kill your dicks!” she threatens, cementing herself into the crass surrealism of Bulletstorm’s world. She’s a player, not a victim. The males, similar badass types, are also certainly in no danger of being raped. And really, who has time for sex when there’s so much high-octane killing to be done? Lieberman would’ve had better luck pursuing the more obvious angle—the complex influences of a reward structure that promotes diversity in committing violent acts—if she knew anything of video games at all.

Still, the core of Lieberman's misguided argument holds true: The confluence of violence and sex is never a neutral or trivial thing.

Never Stop Killing

Within a framework as parodic as Bulletstorm's, the violence is so frequent and flamboyantly over-the-top that it approaches the level of insignificance accorded to 1980s Saturday-morning cartoons. As the importance of score-chasing is reinforced, the shocking thrill of dicing enemies in new ways recedes. Soon, slaying is rote-mechanically employed—kill those guys with these weapons in this place, and do it in the 'best' possible way. In other words, the bloody, visceral spectacle is no longer the foreground of the experience, but rather automated execution in service of a grander creative plan. A plan to kill everyone in your path.

If Jack Thompson hadn't been disbarred, I'm sure he'd be losing his sh*t right about now.

Comments

Way to work a Jack Thompson reference in.

Did you manage to play the mp with people you knew? It's a horde mode, right? I think I read/saw that somewhere.

Nice read, Clem.

Saw a clip of this and it made me smile.

Should have picked that up instead of Killzone 3 probably?

interstate78 wrote:

Saw a clip of this and it made me smile.

Should have picked that up instead of Killzone 3 probably?

Since you mentioned you're only interested in the single-player portion, probably. I think most of us that picked up Killzone 3 did it because the multiplayer is a lot of fun.

Good read. If I might be permitted an English-teacher-style quibble, though, I'm not sure I understood the purpose of the paragraph under the subheading "'Anarchy' Is Right." It didn't seem particularly salient to the rest of the post and sort of broke up the flow of the piece. It seemed like something that was put in an early draft with the intention of getting fleshed out and then never got deleted when the piece wound up going a different way.

In any case, to me Bulletstorm is a delightful throwback to a better time in the shooters. I'm one of those guys who was all about first-person shooters back when Unreal Tournament was king, and then when the whole genre took a hard left into a very brown and military territory, I sort of felt left out in the cold.

I find that a general truth among all video game genres is that it's always a mistake to settle for the mere simulation of reality when working in a medium in which it's at least as easy to improve upon that reality. Racing? If my car can't shoot missiles, I couldn't give less of a crap. I drive a boring-ass missile-less car to work every day already. Sports? I better be able to wreath the basketball in flames before dunking from the three-point line and shattering the glass. And shooting? I want at LEAST twice the barrels of any shotgun currently on the market, rockets that can propel me through the air when fired at the ground, and ideally, a method for turning gravity on and off.

The game sounds like so much fun but I cringe at thinking how I could possibly explain it to my non gaming friends.

Good article, Clem! This game is a lot more fun than it should be.

hbi2k wrote:

If I might be permitted an English-teacher-style quibble

I control the dispensation of English-teacher-style quibbles. You'll have to fill out an application.

Wordy is the uber quibbler. If Clem's post passed wordy's quibble then it's beyond quibbling.

garion333 wrote:

Did you manage to play the mp with people you knew? It's a horde mode, right? I think I read/saw that somewhere.

Yup, Horde-ish, but based on total team points which, at higher waves, pretty much requires good coordination between at least two people for the team to advance. Me and SallyNasty are giving it a shot this weekend if anyone's interested.

hbi2k wrote:

Good read. If I might be permitted an English-teacher-style quibble, though, I'm not sure I understood the purpose of the paragraph under the subheading "'Anarchy' Is Right." It didn't seem particularly salient to the rest of the post and sort of broke up the flow of the piece. It seemed like something that was put in an early draft with the intention of getting fleshed out and then never got deleted when the piece wound up going a different way.

You're mostly right -- I left this section in because I thought it was strange/poignant that:

a) if you buy the game used, you pay extra to access multiplayer -- not worth it, in my opinion
b) the very nature of the multiplayer (cooperative play) is rather at odds with the foundational mechanics introduced in the single-player components (kill everybody yourself)

Your analogy of an MGM Studios ride seems applicable to a lot of shooters, huh? I like that characterization a lot; it encapsulates the linearity, canned spectacle, and cheesy veneer of The Modern FPS. And from what you've said, it sounds like Bulletstorm, sort of like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, is fun regardless.

Is there any kind of single-player challenge mode? It sounds like the game might be more interesting (and encourage more creativity) if they let you off the leash a bit.

hbi2k wrote:

I drive a boring-ass missile-less car to work every day already.

UR DOIN IT RONG BRO

kincher skolfax wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

I drive a boring-ass missile-less car to work every day already.

UR DOIN IT RONG BRO

Seriously. Think of the environment, brosef.

kincher skolfax wrote:

Is there any kind of single-player challenge mode? It sounds like the game might be more interesting (and encourage more creativity) if they let you off the leash a bit.

Most certainly. It's called Echoes -- basically a series of 5-minute slices of violence lifted straight from the campaign. This mode is somewhat akin to Stuntman: Ignition or the older Tony Hawk games, where you play the same bit over and over again until you know the challenge of the environment near-flawlessly and can work towards mastery and optimization, given the tools at your disposal.

Pulling from the MGM Studios example, you're only playing the stops between train-rides.

Each Echo is also a leaderboard -- a passive challenge vs the community.

Neato review.

Well done review, and I think it captures the flavor of the game very well. I will say this though, the couple of times I dipped into Anarchy was with pubbies, and I was pleasantly surprised that folks were working to get the team kills done right. I think the fact that you don't advance to the next round unless you meet the point goal motivates people to cooperate more.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised that playing with pubbies will get better later on down the road as the achievement whores/kill-death-ratio bros tire of it and move on to the next new and shiny.

Hopefully I get my internet up and running in time to join you and Sally this weekend.

barbex wrote:

The game sounds like so much fun but I cringe at thinking how I could possibly explain it to my non gaming friends.

Why would anyone what a non-gaming friend? Unless you enjoy hanging around people who hate fun.

So they ported MadWorld to the HD consoles, eh?

ClockworkHouse wrote:

So they ported MadWorld to the HD consoles, eh? ;)

Quit your trolling.

I had a lot of fun with this game. When I fired it up, I was already familiar with the game being smarter than it marketed itself to be, but my expectations were exceeded.

Looks nice but... Quick time events? No thanks, I try to avoid those in whatever game I can.

plavonica wrote:

Looks nice but... Quick time events? No thanks, I try to avoid those in whatever game I can.

I wouldn't call them Quicktime events in the traditional "fail or die" vein - the window to complete them is huge, and they only ever provide additional points for completing. Instead of punishing you for failure, they reward you (in a small way) for success.

Yeah, they really are Quicktime Events in the loosest sense of the term. I generally hate them too, and I love Bulletstorm.

I imagine the multiplayer kind of has to be cooperative because of the way the combat is designed. Every battle is a curb-stomp battle; the challenge isn't in whether you can kill the enemy, but HOW you kill the enemy. Put two players who both have Gray's power set up against one another and it becomes a game of "who can hammer the Leash button fastest as soon as they get in range." Booooooring for the person on the receiving end.

imbiginjapan wrote:
plavonica wrote:

Looks nice but... Quick time events? No thanks, I try to avoid those in whatever game I can.

I wouldn't call them Quicktime events in the traditional "fail or die" vein - the window to complete them is huge, and they only ever provide additional points for completing. Instead of punishing you for failure, they reward you (in a small way) for success.

More like "push X to bro-hug Da Vinci."

This one is on my Christmas list for 2011.

I'm a sucker for any game that trots out the arcade score-chase sensibility (Gungrave; Overdose, Chili Con Carnage, God Hand, Wet, Borderlands, Katamari Damacy...). Games with developers that remember that games have always been about earning points, usually by being destructive in some spectacular way.

I like a compelling story every now and then, but given my druthers I'd just as soon a thin premise for a lot of explosions.

And yes, I like Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay movies. Why? Because I don't try to make them be something they're manifestly not. Sometimes you just want to watch some alien robots get their sh*t blown up, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I read somewhere on the interweb that the PC version has shipped with a suitcase-load of graphical bugs and glitches (I know, it's shocking). The main one for me and my 1268*1024 monitor was that it wouldn't work in anything but 16:9 screen resolution.

Does anybody here know the scale of these reported issues and whether Epic are going to release a patch? I do want to buy this, but not if I have to spend a lifetime hacking ini files to get it to work.

I don't know, but I played on PC in 16:10 resolution with no issues at all.