|System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
|Dev: People Can Fly|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: February 22, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
It's been a decade-and-a-half since Doom, and a decade since Halo. Is there really anything left for the first-person shooter to accomplish? Or is it bound to go the way of the space-combat simulator (played Freespace lately?).
With Bulletstorm, due in February from the Epic-owned developer People Can Fly, we might get an answer to that question. By the looks of it, it will be one of the more innovative games of 2011.
The plot, written by comic-book author Rick Remender (The Punisher, Fear Agent), goes through some elaborate twists and turns before things even get started. You play as Grayson Hunt, a member of Dead Echo, a group of mercenaries who protect society in the future. However, Hunt soon decides that Dead Echo are the bad guys and defects. He and a comrade are banished, and end up on a planet that's mainly inhabited by flesh-eating mutants. The goal is to fight your way off the planet and exact revenge.
If that sounds like nothing more than an unusually complicated excuse to kill monsters, don't worry; it's the gameplay that promises the most innovation. In the fashion of Dead Rising or Madworld, the game's "skillshot" system will provide you with lots of comically gruesome ways to kill and then reward you for using them in the most creative way possible. We've never seen this style of gameplay executed well in a first-person shooter, so we can't wait to see how this experiment turns out.
In fact, much of the gameplay will be nothing more and nothing less than an exercise in stylized first-person brutality, with plenty of sex jokes thrown in. Your various moves' names include "gang bang," "bad touch," and "deep penetration," and one skillshot involves kicking your foe in the groin. You can kick enemies into the air, which freezes them briefly while you contemplate your next move; throw them into the many spikes, blades, and other fatal contraptions that litter the environment; or just shoot them. One gun even drops a fiery cannonball for you to kick toward your foes. Each kill gives you points, which serve as a currency, and you get bonus points for creativity.
Also, while the world hardly needs another monster-shooter, the man in charge of this game can create a good one if anyone can. That man is Cliff Bleszinski, of Gears of War and Shadow Complex fame. Given the guy's track record, all eyes should be on this next project, even if it recycles some basic premises as a pretext to get us into the action.
Bleszinski's influence is obvious when one looks at the available screenshots and footage. While the game's attitude is much more Duke Nukem than Assassin's Creed, there's a certain old-school charm to the environment, which years ago was a tourist resort. If you look past all the blood, guts, and dismembered body parts, you'll see a beautifully rendered world filled with decaying architecture. Hyper-macho gameplay in the middle of stunningly detailed imagery serves the Gears franchise well, and it looks like it will work here, too. The sound, meanwhile, is exactly what you'd expect: thunderous gunfire, sickening crunches as death is dealt, and epic music.
Bleszinski's influence is also reflected in the controls. Those who've played the game note its effective cover system, its ease of movement, and its simplicity, all of which of course hearken back to Gears. In addition, the experience feels visceral, with none of the cold, out-of-body feeling that often comes from a first-person shooter. You feel as though you're controlling a person, not a gun that's miraculously suspended in mid-air.
The multiplayer experience promises to be fun, too, though a few of the developers' decisions are highly questionable. There's a co-op mode called "Anarchy," in which you battle wave after wave of enemies with the game's signature ultra-violence. You have to work through twenty waves in total, and for each mode, you have to earn a specific number of points to proceed. However, no competitive modes beyond the leaderboards have been announced, and it seems there will be no split-screen co-op. We consider those to be core modes for a modern shooter, and without them, the game could feel less than complete. We hope an announcement is forthcoming, or at least that the developers will add some modes via DLC.
Going back to Wolfenstein 3-D, we've been playing first-person shooters for close to twenty years. There have been plenty of improvements to the genre's mechanics over the years, but lately, the biggest accomplishments (for example, Bioshock) have had more to do with story than with gameplay. Hopefully, Bulletstorm will change this by giving us more style, more violence, and more ways to kill stuff from a first-person perspective. We're getting a little sick of using our twitch reflexes to clear one room after another.
CCC Freelance Writer