Even before Epic Games’ Bulletstorm was released, lots of folks were wondering just how nasty this new first-person shooter might be. E3 gaming conference sneak peeks and the ESRB rating descriptor hinted that it was going to be pretty bad. And foxnews.com went so far as to hyperbolically inquire, “Is Bulletstorm the worst video game in the world?”
Well, is it?
The action centers on a thick-necked, foul-mouthed quick-quipper named Grayson Hunt, the head of an elite band of mercenaries. In a short flashback, we see that Gray and his men bailed on their bloodthirsty leader, General Sarrano, when they learned that their Confederation of Planets missions weren’t just about killing bad guys. It seems the fiendish general had been using them to murder innocents to cover up his own dirty secrets.
The game starts years after that, with an alcohol-fueled Gray torturing and killing a suspected assassin, then finding and confronting the general in outer space. Sparks fly. And spacecraft crash on the nearby planet Stygia. From there the objective is simple: Find the general, blow his brains out … and get out of Dodge.
Standing between Gray and this revenge, however, is a ruined metropolis full of crumbling dams, skyscrapers and amusement parks; a gigantic Godzilla-like monstrosity; and a churning populace of horribly mutated humans.
The Skill of the Kill
As expected in this genre, players are armed with a variety of upgradeable weapons including several different guns, a special whip-like electronic leash that grabs and tosses things at a distance, and a very hefty left boot that can smash through obstacles and send victims flying. But the game lets you know right out of the gate that it’s not what you kill with this arsenal that’s important, but how you kill it.
Bulletstorm repeatedly emphasizes that the only way to really do things is to earn upgrade points through what’s called the Skillshot System. Rather than just alerting gamers when they make a specialized “stylish” kill, the mechanic shows you a list of over-the-top obliterations—and challenges you to figure out how to make the bloodiest one happen. Why just fire your clip of ammo into an enemy and earn meager points when you can impale him and empty his guts on a wall full of rebar and earn Voodoo Doll points? Or shoot him in the throat and watch the blood gush for a Gag Reflex bonus?
The Skillshot data menu then continues to unlock new murderous challenges while it “entertains” you with its tongue-in-cheek titles. The Flyswatter attack splatters a target across the ceiling. The Mercy Kill entails shooting out a victim’s crotch, then kicking his head off while he writhes. Cutting off legs, obliterating heads, chopping torsos in half and igniting flesh with flares are all part of the “fun.” The more ridiculous the kill, the bigger the point bonus. The more points, the better the upgrades and the wilder the “whoa!” potential.
Getting Your Fill of Swill
Garnishing this gore is a script crammed with lowbrow vulgarity—f-words, s-words and much, much more. And again, the intent is to make gamers giggle.
“Bulletstorm beats every other game on the market when it comes to d‑‑k-related jokes and senseless swearing,” reports actiontrip.com.
“Sandwiched somewhere between a random profanity generator and the mind of a fifteen year old, Gray and Ishi’s banter boldly goes were few games have gone before,” opines digitalchumps.com’s reviewer.
“I’ve come to a conclusion: Bulletstorm wasn’t so much developed as it was raised on human growth hormones and taught the English language by a group of sailors and truck drivers,” comments joystiq.com’s game critic. “It was also shown every ’80s action and sci-fi movie ever made about a dozen times, given a bottle of whiskey, handed a gun and instructed to shoot anything that moves.”
And gamezone.com simply says, “Bulletstorm is filthy, raunchy and crass.”
Gray is driven through this virtual journey by more than just revenge, bloodlust and a love of crude sex jokes. In helping his crewmate—an injured, pieced-together comrade named Ishi—he’s putting his life on the line and seeking a kind of personal redemption for all his past (drunken and foolish) choices that have hurt so many. But it’s oh-so-hard to take that heroic tack seriously while the game is rewarding you for coming up with the most gruesome ways to kill hundreds, if not thousands of onscreen opponents.
Bulletstorm bundles up some of the same smooth slaughter-centered mechanics and gore-spewing visuals that other M-rated games have showcased and wraps them up in a new splatterfest style. It’s raw and grotesque, and proud of every ripped out crotch and tortured-language gag. It’s hardly the worst game in the world. But it’s not for lack of trying.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.