Written by Chris Price
07 Monday 07th March 2011

Whether it’s throwing human darts in Madworld, Bayonetta coquettishly firing her ankle revolvers mid-backflip, or Duke Nukem kicking ass and chewing bubblegum, over-the-top comic book characters have always found refuge in video games. Machismo, arrogance, gore and swearing. As a result, the medium as a whole has been painted as lowbrow, never to reach the same levels of high-art as cinema and music.

Unfortunately, this primeval approach to video games is what incurred such scorn from tabloid media on slow news days back in the mid '90s. And Epic Megagames and People Can Fly studios' latest release Bulletstorm has been providing plenty of hits for Fox News. With Malcolm Tucker levels of creative profanity, a lot of sexual innuendo and bonus points for shooting off enemy scrotums, it’s Duke Nukem with roid rage.

The usual rhetoric was thrown around by the US right-wing media; game content marketed at kids, lack of age restriction enforcement. Just try telling that to Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas, who wrote a letter of complaint to Game when her son was refused an age rated title because he didn't have proper ID.

Sensibly, publishers EA didn’t take the bait and enter a war of words with Fox (this is the same channel that thinks Glenn Beck is a good idea). Instead, they released a very straight-faced press release via the digital gaming press. Epic are old masters, having grown from a shareware publisher in the early '90s and watching Apogee and ID cope with the ensuing media-circus around games like Doom, Rise of the Triad and Quake.

But Epic developed Unreal, the game that spawned the Unreal Engine - the backbone for modern classics like Bioshock and Arkham Asylum. And Bulletstorm is the pinnacle of the engine's visual style.

David Lynch distilled the elemental motifs of film noir, slapstick and silent film to make Eraserhead. And with Bulletstorm, People Can Fly Studios head Cliff Belzinski (aka CliffyB, outspoken creator of Gears of War) has peeled back the first person shooter genre to expose its core elements. Simple controls, three weapons, two variations and a propel maneuver. While enemies pile into each arena, you’ve got seconds to assess your environment and pick the highest scoring ways to dispatch them. First propel an opponent with a kick, slide or leash. Then wait for them to come into range and trigger a bullet-time slowdown. Then make your move.

This can involve many environmental threats; flesh-eating plants, spiked walls, explosive hotdog stands, giant fans, low ceilings. As well as different variations of your weapon functions; bolus-style grenades, sniper rifles with mid-flight bullet control, incendiary space-hoppers of death.

The story is watery and the voice acting's moderately effective (in context). All the main characters are okay but knuckle-headed. And the game's happy to poke fun at itself, from referential FPS elements like ‘bullet-sponges’, to identi-kit enemies being called ‘lack of imagination punks’, to the in-game vernacular ("You’re gonna murder my dick!" What does that even mean?!!?)

The emphasis on killing as a craft is genius though. Creative death-dealing delivers 'Skillshot Bonuses', which are gleefully laid out like a butcher’s specials. Shoot an enemy in the throat for a 'Gag-Reflex' Skillshot, slip a drill-bit up their keester for 'Drilldo' (or a bullet for 'ear Entry'), or whip an opponent into exposed wiring for a 'Shocker'. Link moves with increased numbers for maximum Skillshot points, new weapons and ammunition.

By conscientiously keeping the weapons slim and inventive, Bulletstorm gives you all the tools with sufficient time (only sustained pummeling will put Grayson in danger of death) and location to experiment and tick each move off your list.
I can’t say I agree with Bulletstorm as a package (I have visions of action planning meetings with fist-bumps and the word "badass" repeatedly written on whiteboards). But aside from its puerile nature, on a conceptual level, Bulletstorm could well be one of the most important games of the FPS genre. Beneath the ropey story and gleeful swearing, it pulses with the sophistication of more than two decades of experience.

Bulletstorm displays an incredible level of balance, regularly tipped by even the biggest FPS titles. Just like Portal and Left 4 Dead, Epic have shown that there is still mileage in the FPS genre. But more importantly, that FPS games can still be about unencumbered fun without emotional anxiety or an emphasis on pure shock value.

Bulletstorm is out now from Electronic Arts ,available on Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3 and PC

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  • Guest: warpenguin
    Mon 14 - Mar - 2011, 09:55
    this by far the best game i have played in a long time. the characters in game conversations are pretty funny, the names of skillshots are jokes, its just well fun