It seems one of the more popular things to do at the moment is update and re-release games from the previous generation. Some are perhaps more deserving than others and sometimes one comes along where youíre pleasantly surprised that they did. When first-person shooter Bulletstorm was originally released in 2011 it did so to rather favourable reviews but missed the mark with the gaming public, failing to garner the sales that original publisher EA were hoping for. The hinted-at sequel was cancelled and the world moved on until People Can Fly, who were under the wing of Epic Games at the time of Bulletstormís original release, were set free in June last year. Fast forward to now and weíre treated to what this reviewer considers one of the most underappreciated games of the past generation.
You play as Grayson Hunt, a pirate who had previously been a member of an elite military squad called Dead Echo. Early on you learn that the teamís commander, General Sarrano, has used the squad to silence dissenters and innocent civilians. Deciding to desert rather than continue serving Sarrano, Grayson and the rest of the Dead Echo squad become space pirates with a hefty bounty on their heads. After escaping an assassination attempt, Graysonís ship finds itself in orbit of the planet Stygia and face-to-face with Sarranoís Confederation of Planets battlecruiser, the Ulysses. Blinded by a lust for vengeance, Grayson decides to fire on the Ulysses and, in a last ditch attempt to destroy it, rams it with his own ship. Both ships crash land on the former resort planet of Stygia, now ravished by solar flares, its surface a mix of feral tribes and carnivorous plant life. The only way off the planet is via a rescue ship that will be sent for Sarrano.
Thereís much more subtlety to the story than the general overview suggests and itís often missed due to its style. Given that People Can Fly used to be part of Epic Games, thereís a fair amount of influence from one-time stablemates Gears of War. The crass humour and art direction are eerily similar but they went all Spinal Tap and turned it up to eleven. This was probably one of the major sticking points that perhaps cost Bulletstorm its revenue. Looking back itís perhaps hard to look past this crude veneer and see the slick shooter hidden beneath. Even the story is pretty well rounded and while the character arcs are rather dramatic, with some twists seemingly coming from nowhere, itís much more than what first appears.
As mentioned, the core of Bulletstorm is pretty much bulletproof. It starts off at a rapid pace and rarely lets up all the way to the end. The skillshot mechanic, where players are awarded points depending on how they dispatched their enemies, was, and still is, unique. Each weapon has their own laundry list of skill shots and if you are talented enough, you can link them together to rack up points in no time. These points can then be used to reload and upgrade your weapons. However, you donít have a long list of upgrades and weapons to unlock. This really hones things in a good way, as you can only equip three at a time and as such really have to be choosy about what you carry. You can change your loadout but only when using a dropkit (small canisters dotted around Stygia where you can upgrade and rearm yourself), or through dropped weapons by downed enemies. Much like Halo if you pick the wrong loadout you have to make do and adapt on-the-fly. None of this has changed from the original releases and itís still amazingly good fun to play. Itís like a gaming version of The Fast and the Furious; itís one of those games where you can just kick back and have lots and lots of fun.
So for this re-release, what exactly are we getting for our money? Graphically, things have been improved with much of the world and character skins getting a new lease of life. The planet of Stygia was pretty anyway, but with an increased draw distance things look pretty sweet when you find good vantage points to soak in the view. Itís not just the vistas that benefit though, as many of the environments, indoor ones especially, benefit immensely from the graphical bump in power. Unfortunately, however, we did hit plenty of invisible walls and every now and again we had to wait for AI controlled characters to navigate them before things could continue. Itís a shame that, like so many other re-releases, bugs seem to come along with them. We just wish that sometimes the developers would take some time to iron a few of them out. Bug-free games are certainly a pipe dream but things like frequent invisible walls really should be a thing of the past.
Audibly Bulletstorm is rather good. The heavy metal soundtrack is rather befitting given the often crazy spectacle taking place before you, especially during some of the more over-the-top action moments. Thereís plenty of incidental noise with resort announcements and news robots still carrying out their duties. Along with the sound of wildlife when in outdoor settings, you really get the feeling of a living world. Each of the gameís weapons have a heft to them when they fire, especially some of the more crazier weapons like the Bouncer. Every time you fire thereís a rather satisfying thunk for each of its bouncing cannonballs and subsequent explosions. Bulletstorm is unabashedly an action game and everything about it screams so. Even its voice actors know this and lines are given just the right amount of ham without sounding too silly or forced.
The exception to this comes when we involve the Duke Nukem DLC. While entirely new audio was recorded by The Duke himself, Jon St. John, it just feels so out of place. Whilst the character feels right, with Bulletstormís environment probably giving him the platform he deserves rather than the damp squib that Duke Nukem Forever ended up being, the voice audio is just all wrong. The lines are delivered as they should be but feels forced and unnatural in Bulletstormís setting. This is made all the worse by the fact that all the supporting cast still refer to Grayson not Duke. Donít get us wrong, itís still fun in a weird way but the feature really does feel a little odd. Itís perhaps unrealistic to expect the team at People Can Fly to get all the original cast in to rerecord things but at the same time if they knew this why try to make it happen? What may have been better option, wouldíve been to have The Duke as a playable character in multiplayer or in the gameís speedrunning echo mode. Here, they couldíve cut all supporting charactersí audio and just have Duke delivering his lines with all the machismo he could muster.
If you never played Bulletstorm the first time around and youíre into your action movies then youíll feel right at home. Itís action for actionís sake, so unashamedly over-the-top it borders on parody without quite tipping over the line. As a first-person shooter it is, in our opinion at least, one of the slickest out there. Itís hook, or rather leash, of skill points for imaginative killing still elicits giggles every time we read one of the amusingly named skillshots. Bulletstorm wants to thrill you, excite you and more importantly entertain you and it does this in spades. Pick up your gamepad, check your brain in at the door and just enjoy the ride.