I meant to talk about Bulletstorm while it was still relevant. I got it immediately after the PC demo was released. I hadn’t really planned on buying the game, but once I played the demo I couldn’t resist. Grabbing an enemy with an electric leash and kicking him into a spike trap seemed to penetrate some primal and instinctive part of my brain that compelled me to shell out my $60.
I played through it quickly afterwards, and I enjoyed it. But once it was over I just didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I played some of the multiplayer and a few of the Echoes (essentially time trial challenge levels) but I quickly lost interest in those. I thought the game had a very visceral appeal and carried quite a nice flow to it, but there was just something very dreary about it that watered down my enthusiasm.
It was hard to identify exactly why I felt it was so mediocre despite all its new ideas, but I think I’ve got it down now.
A lot of people say Bulletstorm is like the bastard child of the old and the new in terms of shooters, in that it features cover-based shooting, iron sight aiming and health regeneration (all of which are relatively new to shooters) while also involving lots of frantic, runaroundy fun action like the shooters of old.
I actually disagree with that. The key factor that separated old shooters from the ones we have now was the emphasis on maneuvering; it was all about fast-paced movement, dodging attacks, circle-strafing, rocket jumping, etc. Nowadays we spend most of our time crouching behind cover and aiming down the sights for headshots.
Bulletstorm doesn’t really have any of that fast-paced maneuvering. You move just as slowly in this game as you do in Gears of War, and very few of the enemies attack in ways that you can effectively dodge. Bulletstorm does have frantic, fast-paced gameplay, but in a completely different way.
Bulletstorm’s biggest game-changing concept is the “skillshot” system. You get points for each enemy you kill, and you get more points for more impressive and over-the-top kills (though the actual measurement of how awesome a kill is is determined by the game, and can seem very arbitrary at times).
This certainly isn’t an entirely new concept, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen it in a shooter before. The two games that spring to mind for me are Devil May Cry and MadWorld. According to Yahtzee these are parts of an entire subgenre of games that he calls “spectacle fighters,” wherein the regular enemies pose barely any threat and the challenge comes from killing them in the most spectacular, creative ways.
The problem with Bulletstorm is the same problem that MadWorld suffered (or so I’ve heard): since specific kills give specific numbers, you’re going to end up doing the same few high-ranking kills over and over, and the novelty of the whole concept quickly wears down into a boring grind. Kicking an enemy into a bed of spikes is a lot of fun at first, but by the end it feels depressingly routine.
To be fair, the campaign does offer some variety throughout. Every once in awhile the game will throw a set piece or interlude at you, like a mechanical dinosaur that you can command to blow up a big wave of bad guys, or an ugly alien boss monster for you to shell out all your ammo on. But for the most part Bulletstorm just feels like a one-trick-pony, and nothing in the core gameplay can really change it up enough.
There’s no competitive multiplayer, because frankly I’m not even sure how you could make a competitive mode in a game like this. I’m alright with that. Not every shooter has to boil down into deathmatch or capture the flag. Bulletstorm went for a cooperative mode instead, and while it does seem pretty promising at first, it also quickly turns into a grind.
You get dropped into an arena with three other players and a whole bunch of completely ineffectual baddies. Your goal isn’t just to survive, but to get as many points as possible. So like with the single player mode, you just have to figure out which kills give the most points and do those over and over again.
It seems like the developers came up with a few neat ideas (skillshots, electric whip, etc.) and simply ran with them at the expense of many other important aspects of gameplay. (Balance, difficulty, variety, etc.) That isn’t to say that it’s bad, just unchallenging. Decent but bland.
All in all, I’m not really surprised that it didn’t make much money.