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Bulletstorm gameplay preview

Hands-on: Epic's new shooter thunders in...

Given the rampantly macho track record of the developers involved, it's hardly surprising that this collaborative effort is called what it is. What could be more explosive than a primal force of nature, made out of bullets?

Yet it's a strangely misleading title. It conjures in the mind anything between hectic online UT3 warfare and a key-pounding retro indie shooter from Japanese maestro Kenta Cho.

What Epic (of Gears of War fame) and Polish devs People Can Fly (creators of old-school FPS Painkiller) actually revealed at Epic's North Carolina HQ was an exciting, excessive turbo-twist on the action shooter, with more emphasis on brutal melee and imaginative weaponry than just bullets.

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As far as titles go, Bulletstorm is selling itself seriously short. People Can Fly's Adrian Chmielarz explained the basics to me. "Bulletstorm is about creative mayhem. You do have guns, and yes, you do shoot them, but it's not just about that. Just like Burnout isn't about going fast, it's about smashing cars, and the feeling you get when you do."

Tanya Jennsen, Epic's producer, introduced me to the 'Circle of Awesome'. It's a basic formula that underlines most games, but the difference is the degree to which Bulletstorm lets you indulge yourself.

At the top of the Circle of Awesome is 'Do cool shit'. If you do shit with guns that the game deems cool enough (see Killing with Class), you'll win points, which advance you to the next stage: 'Get cool shit'. That new shit will move you further onwards, to the final stage: 'Do cooler shit'. If you think that's far too many shits for one paragraph, don't blame me, blame the testosterone in the Carolina water supply.

So, how do you do cool... stuff? Bulletstorm has the ridiculously entertaining weapons that you'd expect of the Painkiller devs. The Peacemaker Carbine is a standard enough weapon, but an upgrade lets you fire a hundred bullets at once. The unlikely force is enough to obliterate the enemies in your path without trace. The weapons aren't on display today, however, and there are more fundamental matters to consider. Bulletstorm prides itself on three basic functions that might not individually raise an eyebrow. Kicks, slides, and an energy leash. As unspectacular as they may sound, they're all designed to bring you out of cover, into the action, and pulling off named combinations that'll widen your eyes and punch a surprised laugh out of your gut.

So, kicking: simple enough, but it's not just a melee attack. The exaggerated knockback effect from a kick sends your victim flying backwards in slow motion. This allows you to pull off an easier headshot. It's one route into the bank of prestige kills that will give you the points you need to get the aforementioned cool shit. Headshots are only the most basic option - the world is self-conscious and pregnant with methods to despatch the gangs. But more on those in a moment - two other fundamentals shape the way you'll play.

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You've got a leash. An electric leash, no less, that can be used to drag enemies into melee range. This creates the faintly amusing possibility of leashing someone in, simply to kick them away again. You then have the option to leash them in again, if you're feeling pointlessly sadistic. Later on, the leash develops the Thumper upgrade - a pounding force that sends everyone and some things flying into the air. These all enter the same slow-motion mode.

Finally, there's the slide. Yes, we've all slid a couple of metres into cover before. Bulletstorm, however, has no cover mechanism, and we're turbo-sliding 20 or so metres further than science's popular 'momentum' would realistically take us. Sliding gets you to places fast, and takes you where the action is. So many shooters let you hang around, hiding, sniping a couple of pixels as they poke briefly out of cover. But killing the enemy in Bulletstorm isn't the challenge - it's finding the hundred-plus ways to kill them in point-boosting style.

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