Bulletstorm review: Remember when first-person shooters were all about having fun?
You know, back before developers cracked open an Ivan Pavlov text book and mass-produced passively satisfying number grinds. When a kill meant maniacally hopping over rockets long enough to grab Quad Damage power-up, then delivering sweet explosive justice. When FPS epics weren't about snapping to a target, holding the fire button down and then receiving a profane message pertaining to your mother and/or sexual orientation for your troubles.
Sure, perhaps some of us have become a wee bit cynical by that which once enthralled us. We've grown tired of the super serious FPS, and begun to really miss the over-the-top, risqué first-person shooters of yesteryear - when stories could be succinctly summed up by saying something like "those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!".
Fortunately for us, People Can Fly and Epic Games' Bulletstorm knows how to party like it's 1996 all over again. Just without Babylon Zoo and Robson and bloody Jerome on the radio.
DRUNK AND DISORDERLY
Bulletstorm lays its vulgar cards on the table early on. Set in the 26th Century, the game opens by giving the player control of space pirate Grayson Hunt - very much a character from the Gears of War 'burly man with angry face' school of design.
He looks like the end product of a Marcus x Dom fanfic - except with delicate feathered hair. Only Grayson's no by-the-book marine. We learn that he was once kicked out of a secret black-ops army called Dead Echo, and that within a few minutes of Bulletstorm's beginning, he's not only heavily inebriated, but has caught himself an assassin.
This would-be killer is tied to a chair in the cargo bay of Grayson's ship, and is being raucously interrogated. After learning that his traitorous former boss General Serano commissioned the hit, Grayson rewards his captor's compliance with a boot to the face, sending him into the vacant depths of outer space.
Then, at that very moment, Serano's ship shows up - spurring the brash, impulsive Grayson to order a suicidal frontal assault on his foe's well-equipped fortress. Now, we know what you're thinking. That phrase,: "Then, at that very moment". Sounds a little like the rampant stream of consciousness of a breathless teenage sci-fi writer, yes?
Well hush your inner literary snob. To get the most out of Bulletstorm's nine-hour campaign, you're going to have to suspend plenty of disbelief in the coincidental. In fact, that goes for the wholly unbelievable. This isn't a game that's going to win any high brow awards for a complicated narrative arc. But trust us - that's part of what makes it so much fun.
Following their impromptu invasion, Grayson and second in command Ishi crash land on alien planet Stygia - which is stuffed to the gills with meat-eating plants, bone-chomping monsters and ravenous mutants. They're not alone: Serano is also deposited elsewhere on Stygia in the melee, and you spend the rest of the game trying to find Grayson's nemesis and exit your temporary hell.
Bulletstorm's lead characters have a lot more to offer than the game's shallow plot and head-turningly crass marketing campaign might have you believe. While they all fit fairly neatly into ancient archetypes, each one has an unexpected wrinkle to their personality that makes them likeable if your glass is half-full, or bearable if you're a bit more of a gaming grouch.