Immature. Wafer-thin plot. Dumb bro game. Just a long-list of dick-jokes. These were some of the criticisms thrown at Bulletstorm when it appeared back in February 2011. Didn’t bother me. In fact, I really enjoyed all the creative swears and testosterone-driven plot. In a game about murdering virtual people for high-scores, having anything less than a dumb, foul-mouthed narrative would be pretty disingenuous. It just feels… right.
I first discovered Bulletstorm about a month before it actually released, at a review event in London. Cliffy B and Adrian Chmielarz rocked up, very late, to introduce the game before we started playing. He used the words ‘Angry’ and ‘Birds’ a lot when talking about Bulletstorm, something that set off my internal alarm bells. I was tired, I was on deadline, I was hearing about Angry Birds--not a great start. But the moment I started playing all these reservations and frustrations just melted away.
From the first interactive scene--where you drunkenly shoot a bottle off a prisoner’s head and flush him out into space--through to the final scenes where you impale (yeah, it’s irony) your nemesis, General Sarrano, on an exposed spike of metal, Bulletstorm entertains and challenges. It doesn’t ponder life’s mysteries, or try to teach us about the savage nature of man. It demands that we shoot a bad guy in the nuts and then kick his head off so we can score more points than our friends.
It does that beautifully too. The actual gunplay is slick as hell, and the opportunities for combining weapons, whip and the hazards dotted around you to create absolute mayhem are vast. There are few things in games more satisfying than pinging a man 50ft into the air with a thump from your leash, before picking him out with a flare and watching him explode in a shower of gore and points. I love a smart story as much as the next person, but if the game is no fun to begin with… what’s the point?
People often criticise Bulletstorm for being a dumb game. Bulletstorm is actually one of the smartest games of this generation because it perfectly marries up gameplay and subject matter. Not only that, the balance between weaponry, scenario and the points you’re awarded for killing is incredibly well balanced. It’s one of those games where you assume you’ve nailed a certain level in Echoes--no-one could possibly beat your score--until you find someone who has not only beaten it, but smashed it. You go back, you replay, and you discover even more creative ways to kill. Most of the time, you’re not even competing against the person who beat your score; you’re challenging yourself.
People often criticise Bulletstorm’s producer, Cliff Bleszinski (formerly of Epic Games), for being a dumb bro. Cliffy B, as he’s known, is actually one of the smartest men working in games. In many ways, Bulletstorm is both his personality and persona in digital form. On the outside, it’s brash and loud. You assume it’s dumb because it wants to fist-bump you and use words like Sushi-dick. On the inside, it’s smart and knows exactly how to entertain and amaze you.
When it launched, no-one really knew what to make of Bulletstorm. It was a new shooter entering an industry at the height of the Call of Duty craze. It looked a bit like Gears of War, but it was first-person and had high-scores like a retro game. It laughed at itself and challenged the prevailing thinking that games should be serious, gritty and arty. No wonder it received a mixed critical reception and underperformed in the sales charts.
It was great to see Bulletstorm recently appear as one of the PS Plus instant game collection titles. This has undoubtedly exposed it to a wider range of people who ‘gave it a go, because it was free’. My hope is that I don’t even have to talk it up to you all--you’ve already played it. Good. A big, dumb game like Bulletstorm deserves a large, discerning audience like yourselves.
Want to parachute children into bottomless pits? Play Snowboard Kids!
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