A videogame history of bullet-time

2008 - Fallout 3

Bullet-time had lost its halo by 2008, but its use in Fallout 3 showed that in the right hands (and with a new implementation) it could be dynamite. You can’t beat a little bit of the old ultra-violence, and the way VATS expressed itself was the slow-motion cherry on Fallout 3’s irradiated cake. From the muffled sounds bullets, missiles and lobbed tin cans made as they flew through the air, all the way to the incredibly over-the-top decapitations and flying eyeballs, it was a satisfying spectacle. We expected it to unnecessarily slow the game down, but several thousand flying limbs later we’re still entertained.

2009 - Wolfenstein, WET, Wanted, FEAR 2: Project Origin

Above: Wolfenstein (2009)

In recent years bullet-time has become less and less of a main feature in gaming and become more of a side-salad. 2009 was the year that proved the sensation you only get in real life when you’re about to be hit by a bus a) isn’t leaving gaming and b) is now largely attached to games that feel a bit old.

Wolfenstein’s use of slo-mo was ho-hum and dated, WET was hung by its own repetitive slow-motion petard, and Wanted had bullet-spiraling moments of semi-joy but no one played it. As for FEAR 2, even we couldn’t help but admit that the game was good but the series needed new ideas, and quick. The lack of love for bullet-time in FEAR 3 marketing shows that Warner Bros. feels the same.

2010 – Read Dead Redemption

Red Dead redemption is smart in that it doesn’t use slo-mo as a central gimmick. It’s just one more feature in an endless list of features. A couple of notable details about Red Dead’s idea of bullet-time: it gets upgraded as the game progresses, providing you with more and more precision of your shots, allowing you to pick out specific body parts and targets in what order you want before firing a shot. It also has its own meter, which isn’t particularly noteworthy, except that you can refill the meter in the middle of combat by scarfing some chewing tobacco. Way to promote mouth cancer, Red Dead!

2010 - Singularity

Singularity lets you snipe heads in slow-motion, and also has exploding barrels and a gravity gun. It’s a great shooter, but also a collation of every over-used FPS mechanic in the genre’s history. FPS developers: new balls please.

The future

When you look at recent and forthcoming shooters you realize that bullet-time is getting sequestered into different weapons and set-pieces rather than as a hook to hang a game upon. The allure of slow-motion gunplay is far less of a sales prompt in this day and age, and it’s no mistake that the games being released with it loud, proud and up-front are those that have been in development for an eon. Hollywood has moved away slightly from slow-motion action too, concentrating more on precision gunplay and the high adrenaline close-up body slams used by Bourne and neo-Bond.

As ever, perhaps not sadly in this case, games will follow Hollywood’s suit. We are at the point at which slow-motion bullet-play is uncool. Then again, no one is going to stop it from actually being slightly fun anytime soon. It’ll never truly go away, and we’ll never stop feeling a secret degree of satisfaction when we pop a few heads under its influence. There are only three constants in our lives: death, taxes and bullet-time.

Bullet-time quiz bonanza answers

Jade Empire: Focus Time
FEAR: Reflex Time
Painkiller: Haste
John Woo’s Stranglehold: Tequila Time
Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil: HellTime
Mirror’s Edge: Reaction Time
Call of Juarez: Concentration Mode
TimeShift: Slow Time
Wolfenstein: Mire
Killing Floor: Zed Time
Singularity: Temporal Dilation
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Adrenalin

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  • breadkiller - February 23, 2013 6:02 a.m.

    I wish you could have included non-shooter games like Prince of persia's Sand powers and Need for Speed's speedbreaker
  • Jack Slate - December 2, 2011 11 a.m.

    How could you forget Dead to Rights?? This list also forgot: Total Overdose (and it's sequel Chili Con Carnage) Rise to Honor (with Jet Li)
  • ChrisAntistasMarvelousMechanicalMolestorium - September 7, 2010 9:26 p.m.

    I have a friend thaqt had /no idea/ what bullet time was. She had apparently heard of it, because when she sat down to play some Halo for the first time, she exclaimed, "It's bullet time!" Indeed it is.
  • Johnny2900 - September 5, 2010 5:53 p.m.

    slow-motion bullet time may be over used be we can never seem to get tired of it...
  • Sleuth - September 3, 2010 1:50 a.m.

    Witch Time in Bayonetta was pretty awesome!
  • pin316 - September 2, 2010 12:28 p.m.

    Awesomeness - any article which brings back memories of Max Payne abd MDK is full of badassery. Two of the most fun games i ever played on my PC. I like the modern implementation of bullet-time effect in action games, where you get a set window of slow=motion time automatically as a reward for pulling off perfectly timed really makes sense to me, and works well (as long as it's not too easy to trigger - it should always feel like you've earned it i reckon) Also, a shout out to Stranglehold. I picked it up from the bargain bin purely on the basis of Chow Yun Fat and John Woo being involved, and i really enjoyed it - a couple of the levels got a bit messy in places, but it actually felt like playing through a John Woo film. The cinematics and set pieces were genious, the Tequila Bombs like Precision Aim and Spin Attack were a lot a fun, and the interaction with the environment (slow-motion sliding down banisters, or rolling through a corridor on a cart, or just blowing up huge pieces of the landscape) was brilliant too!
  • Dorglesisthebest - September 1, 2010 10:36 p.m.

    Killing Floors Zed time was neat, but remember it only lasts a few seconds, is unpredictable and really rather useless if you dont count the cosmetic effect.
  • santaclouse37 - September 1, 2010 7:44 p.m.

    Great article, but you forgot Matrix: Path of Neo (Just like everyone else), which, while still mediocre, was far better and more fun to play than it's older brother.
  • Boxer47 - September 1, 2010 7:38 p.m.

    Great article now I know where bullet time started. I like having that feature they should put it in a game but as an unlockable or cheat
  • Chickenfoot - September 1, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    Aw. I love timeshift. And I was really impressed with the multiplayer.
  • GamesRadarJoeMcNeilly - September 1, 2010 2:36 p.m.

    LOL @The_Tingler: when I saw that feature on the tracker, I was all, "I need to make a video for that!" It could have been much, much longer but I think it came out alright. Bayonetta would have been a good one to include, since most of the entries are (by necessity) shooters.
  • philipshaw - September 1, 2010 11:05 a.m.

    I think after the last 2 matrix films came out and were shit, is when people stopped caring about bullet time
  • pimlicosound - September 1, 2010 10:49 a.m.

    One more for the list of "games you missed": Mass Effect 2 has bullet time as the Soldier's special ability.
  • jackthemenace - September 1, 2010 8:36 a.m.

    CoJ:BiB's slow-time wasn't that bad! and the cow shooting part in the second level was hilarious! and you really shouldn't have missed out Bayonettas witch time, that was epic. But, to be fair, Slow-motion is never good as a main point, ony a helpful side-feature, like darksiders cronomancy, whcih was, in turn, pretty crap
  • MaynardJ - September 1, 2010 8:27 a.m.

    Is there any western-themed shooter that didn't have bullet time?? Gun had it too, so you could shoot flying arrows out of the air. Also, I love seeing MDK get the tribute it deserves.
  • marioman50 - September 1, 2010 7:16 a.m.

    The screen shot used for Max Payne 1 is actually from Max Payne 2. How do I know? No spikey hair and constipated grimace link
  • gbiZZle08 - September 1, 2010 4:49 a.m.

    anybody else notice that the names for bullet time for stranglehold and singularity are flipped?
  • NinjaJamez - September 1, 2010 3:35 a.m.

    the sniper rifle on resistance has a pretty useful "bullet time"
  • MrKENnedDy - September 1, 2010 3:31 a.m.

    IIRC, didn't Scarface the World is Yours have a bullet time feature. Another game that had bullet time was the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Sure everyone knows you could rewind time, but you could slow time down (and the Prince moved in real-time). Shame GR that you guys missed that. reCAPTCHA: wtf is bangends kong?! Is that Donkey Kong's redheaded stepson?!
  • The_Tingler - September 1, 2010 2:49 a.m.

    Excellent feature, and I'm amazed that you got that video in the magazine!

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