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Bulletstorm review: It's raining fun, hallelujah


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. 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.

The people who clearly felt that the first-person shooter genre was skimping on the "S" in "FPS" and taking itself too seriously birthed it; the sort who've made the likes of Painkiller and published Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. It's clear in everything from its distinctive style to its disregard for the plausible.

Yes, Bulletstorm is ridiculous, but in the way that the very best guilty pleasures are.

Gallery: Bulletstorm (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) | 14 Photos

There's a story, and ... well, let's just say there won't be any novelizations around the adventures of its protagonist, Grayson Hunt. (They'd simply read, "He killed a lot of people. The end.") But it's there, and Hunt's revenge-fueled bloodlust is plenty of motivation for his wild ride through some truly fantastic, alien locations.

A lot has been made of the language in the game, namely that it's pretty salty. It's true: Grayson and his rival, General Serrano, speak in an almost unending stream of near-poetic vulgarity. It could have come across as forced, but I think it fits, with Grayson's swears and quips helping to punctuate the violence and provide a little levity exactly when needed.

While its characters may be one-dimensional, Bulletstorm's setting is far from it.

While its characters may be one-dimensional, Bulletstorm's setting is far from it. The world – Stygia – is as deadly as it is gorgeous. From wreckage-filled mountains, through desert wastes, and finally to (and under) the ruined resort, Elysium, it's a surprisingly vibrant setting, especially after all the blood's been spilled.

That's the crux of the game really: the violence. Not the amount, but the inventiveness. This game succeeds in providing a great setting within which you can shoot, kick and energy leash bad guys to death in a huge numbers of ways. From a simple headshot to remotely guiding a (sometimes) human bomb into other enemies and beyond, the possibilities for being sadistic for points are awesome. The world is filled with deadly surprises with which to dispatch foes gruesomely (and stylishly), whether it's giant cacti or blast furnaces.

Despite plenty of murder, I never really made use of the full arsenal at my disposal. The flare gun and shotgun played second fiddle to the likes of the fully-upgraded Bouncer Cannon, which fires a repeatedly-exploding ball you can kick into lone or groups of enemies for a special Skillshot (that's the game's term for fancy deaths, by the way). Besides a special tingle of pride, you'll want to pursue Skillshots for the weapon upgrade points they dish out.

The base combat is frequently broken up by some impressive set pieces. A massive runaway grind-wheel chases a train; an entire dam comes crashing down with you on it; a giant monster – well, there's no point in spoiling them, but they're really exciting and nicely paced throughout.

You shouldn't go into Bulletstorm expecting a cover-to-cover affair. Sure, there are points where you have to get out of the line of fire or risk death, but for the most part it's full-bore shooting. In this sense, it's a total throwback ... almost a super-polished arcade game, with all the thrills that entails.

The overall experience is big, loud and fun enough to surmount these annoyances.

If only the AI of your squadmates was equally thrilling. Though they manage the "shoot at bad guys" part, they can never follow through with a kill. Instead, they might knock them down, in which case the creeps just hop up and charge at you until you kill them. Perhaps it was designed to give the player more to do, but it can feel frustrating.

Less aggravating, but still disappointing, is the amount of texture pop-in. Yes, the Unreal Engine is notorious for rendering visuals where surfaces go from blurry to properly-textured, but I've never really had it get in my face as much as it does in Bulletstorm. The pre-scripted, in-game cinematics specifically are just filled with it. Characters near the camera will be wearing blurry suits one moment, only to look fine the next.

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Luckily, the approximately 12-hour experience is big, loud and fun enough to surmount these annoyances. Even after beating the game, I'm already playing through it again, trying to unlock the "official" Skillshots that I missed and sometimes just taking a moment to admire the level design and scenery. Plus, there's a unique take on the "horde mode" style of cooperative multiplayer, and an "Echoes" mode for replaying set slices of the game to improve your spot on global leaderboards. The latter is pretty cut-and-dry, but the former is a surprising treat, featuring all-new ways to send enemies to their graves (anyone for an energy leash tug-of-war?) and get as far as possible by meeting round challenges as a team.

It's been a long time since I've grinned as widely while playing an FPS as I did with Bulletstorm. It's a vulgar, violent and supremely gung-ho experience obviously created by some slightly mad people who really love the genre. I suggest you turn up your sound system, forget about your military FPS training and settle in for some good old fashioned killin'.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Bulletstorm provided by EA. The reviewer played the game to completion (approximately 12 hours), in addition to multiplayer sessions.

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