Sometimes a game is released which, even though it has so much going for it, completely fails to grab people's attention. Normally, for these games there is little hope of them reaching the mass market, unless they gain a cult following, but with the recent change in console hardware, and the re-release of a number of older games on them, they sometimes get a chance to shine again. Fortunately, Bulletstorm is one such game.
Grayson Hunt isn't exactly what you'd call a hero. He's a foul-mouthed drunk who leads a band of wanted space pirates who are on the run from the military that they betrayed. As the game starts, and you're put in Grayson's boots, his day gets considerably worse as a miss judged opportunity for revenge sees his ship destroyed, most of his crew killed and him trapped on a resort planet and fighting for his life and trying to find the only way off the planet.
At first look, Bulletstorm seems a very standard first-person shooter (FPS) – you walk along, shoot things until they're dead and then walk along until you find some more things to shoot. But Bulletstorm brings in a number of mechanics which change it from being more than just another FPS. Unlike most shooters, Bulletstorm scores players according to how they dispatch their foes (called skillshots); shooting them to death earns you 10 points, dispatching them with a shot to the head will earn you 25 but killing them in a unique and unusual way – such as forcing them to be electrocuted, impaling them on razor wire or shooting them in the private parts – can earn you up to 100 points. Although there are a large number of weapons, including familiar favourites such as the assault rifle, pistol and shotgun, there are plenty of more unusual weapons, each with their own unique properties. Each weapon can also fire a charged shot, an extra powerful shot which uses ammunition and a specialised charge (if you have one available) and has it's own unique skill shots.
To keep you on your toes and make sure the game doesn't turn into just another shooting slog, you face a carefully crafted mix of enemies, from basic grunts to gigantic beasts which are natives of the planet, each with their own style of combat and needing to be tackled in a slightly different way.
Movement in Bulletstorm is fluid but there isn't the ability to jump, which can seem strange for most FPS players; instead, Grayson can slide and mantle over objects when needed. In addition, Grayson can also kick enemies with his anti-gravity boots, which launches them into air in slow motion, giving you time to line up a skill shot or shoot them. Lastly, a shot way into the campaign Grayson also gains access to the leash, an energy whip which allows him to pull enemies and objects towards him, launch a group of them into the air and access Final Echo pods. These pods allow you to exchange your skillshot points for weapon upgrades, ammunition and charge shots which gives you an intensive to aim for the highest scoring skill shots where possible.
Graphically the game is breathtakingly beautiful and features a wide variety of environments. As you explore the planet of Stygia, where the game is set, you get to explore jungles, deserts caverns and the abandoned tunnels and resort complexes, each one having it's own detailed graphical style.
For an FPS, the campaign story is surprisingly detailed and contains a number of plot twists and surprises. The characters are also believable and you find yourself getting drawn into their stories and wanting to see whether they survive or not. Yes, there is a lot of swearing and crass language, but between there are plenty of genuinely funny moments especially in the interactions between the characters.
Although the main focus of the game is the campaign, there is a multiplayer co-op mode which sets you as a member of a military "Final Echo" squad, fighting your way through waves of enemies. Although it's a reasonable team based co-op game, the number of maps are limited and it can get a little stale quite quickly.
Bulletstorm is a very cleverly crafted and designed game (as you would expect from it's designer, the veteran Cliff Bleszinski) which pretends to be a dumb shooter. There are so many clever aspects of the game and it is so surprisingly complex, that although it should appeal to a wide variety of gamers, it doesn't really market it's self too well to any of them. It appears to be to be too complex for many casual FPS players and not in depth enough for strategy players, yet it delivers well for both gamer groups. But once you play the game, you'll find a shooter which has the same humour of the classic Dune Nukem with a surprising level of complexity and enough replay-ability to keep you coming back multiple times, even if it is to get that illusive skillshot involving getting an enemy airborne with a shotgun and then blowing them up with a hotdog cart.