It is, without doubt, one of the most eagerly awaited titles of the year. Unless you're Fox "News" in which case it's the game that's going to turn us into rapists. No. Really.
I haven't felt any particular violent urges since - oh happy day - getting my hands on the game (which, for the record, is more than Fox did). All I know then is that it's undoubtedly the sweariest, goriest and most shamelessly enjoyable game for years but then I'm not a qualified psychiatrist so what do I know?
Yes, of course, we’re talking about Bulletstorm, EA’s latest spit and polish on the FPS. Last week, I got the chance to play the game to see whether it’s going to live up to the inevitable hype. And the verdict? You bet your sweet bippy it is.
For those who’ve not been to such a thing, games previews are a funny sort of event. You typically have a few hotel rooms or a function suite full of consoles, TVs and assorted reviewers and journalists all of whom are hammering away at controllers while enjoying the game’s sound effects and music through state-of-the-art headphones. That makes these events oddly busy and peculiarly quiet.
That was the picture for the Bulletstorm event but with one notable difference to the norm. Instead of the library-like calm that usually settles on these events, the air was punctuated with regular manic chuckles and “woohoo” noises as the journalist in question performed a particularly violent, utterly irresponsible and really rather funny takedown.
Psychologists (news readers and the purchasers of certain tabloids beloved of Middle England) will no doubt continue to argue that games like Bulletstorm are proof we’re going to hell in a handcart. They may have a point but dear God this is fun, a cartoon-like romp that breathes much needed life (and elaborate death) into an increasingly tired genre.
The game sees you play Grayson Hunt – think fatter / broader / growlier Hugh Jackman – a mercenary who, as part of the Dead Echo team has been protecting the sinister, Universe-ruling Confederation and, in particular, General Sarrano. For years, Grayson and his colleagues have been carrying out Sarrano’s dirty work. When they realise that Sarrano isn’t what he first appeared, and start to question their activities, they find themselves labelled “namby pamby cocksucks” and “assmaggots” on the wrong side of the law and exiled to the edges of the galaxy. And, inevitably, hellbent on revenge. Or, as one character so eloquently puts it (I don’t remember who, I was giggling too much), “stroking one hell of a revenge boner.”
This all gets revealed in an entertaining prologue which also serves as a well judged lesson in moves – climb, kick, etc – and the mechanics of firing your weapons. Then the story proper kicks in – and it’s a hell of a story as these things go – and all hell breaks loose. And stone me, it’s fun.
It should be repetitive and overly familiar, after all you’re running around assorted alien environments, attempting to complete objectives – get there, fix that, rescue her, meet up with them, etc – while blowing the bad guys off the face of the planet(s). You have, without a shadow of a doubt, been here before.
You’ve also used the basic mechanics of the game before. Kills earn you points. Points earn you upgrades. This is made a little more interesting by having to find the Dropkits that allow the upgrades, attach to it with your Leash – a fantastic bit of weaponry which we’ll get onto in a second – and decide what you want. It’s also made a little more challenging when you realise that, quite often, what you want will be more ammo pouches and, where possible, charged bullets that inflict more damage. In some cases, that’s a LOT more. As in “liquefy”. Or “dissect”.
So, it’s a game that requires a little thought in terms of ammo quantity, which is good and gives a little depth to the colourful mayhem. In order to earn more points though – and thus buy sufficient ammo to keep racking up even more points – you’ll need to dispatch the assorted nasties in a variety of ways. For example, “Voodoo Doll” – where you snap out with the Leash, catch them and pull them onto a handy nearby spike – or the similar, but more organic, “Pricked” which involves kicking / shooting / leashing the enemy and impaling them on a conveniently located cactus. The more elaborate the death, the greater the points scored under the “Skillshot” system. The greater the points, the more extras you can download from the Dropkits: brilliantly this system is, apparently, called “The Circle of Awesome”. That says quite a lot about this game.
Ah, yes, so, the Leash. This is a bit of kit your man finds early on in the game that he straps to his wrist and which effectively bonds with his flesh and bones and nervous system. With a flick of the wrist – well a tap of the button – this becomes your New Best Friend, a device that will snare enemies, pull them closer for decapitating headshots, impaling on aforementioned spiky bits of environment or, if you’re keeping it old school, delivering a thorough kicking.
It’s the creative weaponry – as well as the often hilarious script and the actually-quite-dark storyline – that makes Bulletstorm stand out the most. Particular favourite? Well, the Leash is excellent, but the enormous sniper rifle – with steerable, slow-motion bullets – takes some beating: The bad guys prove remarkably lithe when it comes to avoiding a speeding projectile. But the first time you manage to negotiate, for example, fallen debris, a door frame and bank the bullet around a corner into their ugly head? Be prepared for involuntary whoops. There’s another piece of organic weaponry too but I’m not allowed to mention that yet, plus it would spoil a rather brilliant surprise.
The moral guardians are already sharpening the pencils and yes, you wouldn’t want this falling into the hands of a corruptible child. But if you want Casualty levels of gore, Itchy and Scratchy levels of violent humour and many, many hours of testosterone-fuelled fun, well, you know where to go. If Bulletstorm’s not a classic in the making, it’s not far off.