In a month, hurling a slavering mutant with your energy whip into the air, firing a two-pronged grenade attached by a flail into his body mass, before delivering a final kick and detonating the entire package won't seem odd. It's all in a day's work for the foul-mouthed Greyson Hunt and co, stranded on the unforgiving planet of Stygia, crawling with backwater mutants and carnivorous flora. And what better way to jump-start the Bulletstorm hype machine than releasing a demo with the added incentive of cementing a place on the online leaderboards?
So let's strap on our energy whips, grab our Peacemaker carbines - and stuff in some ear-plugs if you're averse to foul language and imagery - and get stuck in to the Bulletstorm demo!
Skills For Kills
Bulletstorm is mad. It's obvious from the demo's opening cutscene, as ex-merc Greyson Hunt greets you with his sandpaper voice and colourful language, introducing you to the wacky world of Bulletstorm. What sets Epic's shooter apart is its Skillshot system. Sure, you can play Bulletstorm like an average FPS, sighting down the barrel and pumping your enemies with lead. But incorporate the ability to kick a mutant into the air - miring him in delicious slow-mo animation - an energy whip that can wrench your foe from cover and slam entire groups airborne, not to mention the obscenely powerful weaponry on offer, and Bulletstorm reveals itself to be perhaps the greatest reinvention of the FPS genre in recent memory.
At first, it's difficult to separate your innate FPS instincts. I began by simply firing from cover, little numerical notes popping into the air to reward my meager success. Slowly but surely, however, I began wading into the thick of it, soaking up damage as I yanked mutants from twenty feet away with my energy whip, delivered a thudding boot to their midsection and a precise headshot to top things off. Then I accidentally kicked a mutant into a wall, impaling him on a bent girder. 'Voodoo Doll', the game informed me. Fantastic.
It's this open-ended, wildly creative nature that makes Bulletstorm so special. Discovering new and inventive ways to dispatch the cannibal cannon fodder is terrific fun, the three basic abilities - shoot, kick, energy whip - malleable enough for near a limitless amount of combination. The game wisely throws a lot of enemies your way, but not so smart or powerful enough to ever inhibit your imagination. The loftier difficulty settings provide a far greater challenge, but just setting yourself personal targets on the lowest difficulty is reward enough.
Echo, Echo, Echo
The Bulletstorm demo offers you the chance to try out Echo Mode, which retrofits moments from the campaign for snippets of action, funneling you through environments at breakneck pace. You're on your own, but joined by two AI companions - who in reality do little other than attract attention. Set in the crumbling ruins of a collapsed hotel on the fringes of a futuristic metropolis, Echo Mode is a linear, but incredibly fun, experience that charges you with achieving a score worthy of the online leaderboards.
We've mentioned the ability to perform slow mo-inducing kicks and summon an energy whip, but what of the weapons? At first glance, the Peacemaker carbine appears to be your standard issue, all-purpose rifle, despite that wonderfully oxymoronic title. Accurate at close to medium range, it has a fancy holographic scope to boot. However, it has an alternative fire-mode, unleashing an entire magazine with a single pull of the trigger, reducing your foe to a molten skeleton. Your backup Revolve can ignite enemies, while the wonderful Flail Gun fires its chain-linked grenades like razor blades, lopping off limbs.
It helps that Bulletstorm is beautiful, too. In fact, it's one of the prettiest games thus far this generation. Don't expect the monochromatic wash of Gears of War, as Stygia pops with colour and detail. It bears the obvious hallmarks of a UE3-developed title, with excessive amounts of normal-mapping, chunky character models and somewhat underwhelming explosions. But the art is strong, the weapons deliver a meaty rattle and the sound-effects, from the fizz of the energy whip to a mutant being impaled on a wall, are gruesomely satisfying. This might just be a game-changer. No pun intended, of course.
Bulletstorm is due on Xbox 360, PC and PS3 on February 22nd in the States and on the 25th here in the UK, but you can download the demo of Xbox LIVE and the Playstation Network. Drop us your impressions in the comments section below!