The most innovative Xbox 360 first-person shooter of 2011, Bulletstorm promises much and comes seriously recommended
FPS epics weren't about snapping to a target, holding the fire button down and then receiving a profane message pertaining to your mother and/or sexual orientation for your troubles.
Sure, perhaps some of us have become a wee bit cynical by that which once enthralled us. We've grown tired of the super serious FPS, and begun to really miss the over-the-top, risqué first-person shooters of yesteryear - when stories could be succinctly summed up by saying something like "those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!". Fortunately for us, People Can Fly and Epic Games' Bulletstorm knows how to party like it's 1996 all over again. Just without Babylon Zoo on the radio.
Set in the 26th Century, the game opens by giving the player control of space pirate Grayson Hunt. We learn that he was once kicked out of a secret black-ops army called Dead Echo, and that within a few minutes of Bulletstorm's beginning, he's not only heavily inebriated, but has caught himself an assassin.
This would-be killer is tied to a chair in the cargo bay of Grayson's ship, and is being raucously interrogated. After learning that his traitorous former boss General Serano commissioned the hit, Grayson rewards his captor's compliance with a boot to the face, sending him into the vacant depths of outer space.
Then, at that very moment, Serano's ship shows up - spurring the brash, impulsive Grayson to order a suicidal frontal assault on his foe's well-equipped fortress. To get the most out of Bulletstorm's nine-hour campaign, you're going to have to suspend plenty of disbelief in the coincidental. In fact, that goes for the wholly unbelievable. This isn't a game that's going to win any high brow awards for a complicated narrative arc. But trust us - that's part of what makes it so much fun.
Following their impromptu invasion, Grayson and second in command Ishi crash land on alien planet Stygia - which is stuffed to the gills with meat-eating plants, bone-chomping monsters and ravenous mutants. They're not alone: Serano is also deposited elsewhere on Stygia in the melee, and you spend the rest of the game trying to find Grayson's nemesis and exit your temporary hell.
Combined with a range of OTT weaponry and mini-bosses of all shapes, sizes and weaknesses, Skillshots makes it difficult for you to get bored of Bulletstorm's combat. Your arsenal eventually includes a faithful Carbine that can liquefy enemies, a Boneduster with four shotgun barrels and the Flailgun, which fires two explosives grenades connected by a chain that wraps around enemy limbs to gory effect.
Even the genre staples within your armoury are given a twist, through a neat 'charged shot' meter, which adds to the deceptive amount of tactical thinking you'll have to do. A clever, dumb game, this one.
Though the Skillshots do bring much grisly joy, their potential is not fully realised in the driving single-player campaign, where there is often little pause for breath as you are ushered forward versus a constant barrage of enemies.
Luckily, the game's multiplayer suite picks up the slack, offering a pleasing amount of variety which, once again, harks back to time when racking up kills was a frantic, rather than calculated pursuit.
Humour is a big part of the game's charm, and those fearful of a relentlessly juvenile assault can relax - beyond the lewd profanity, Bulletstorm does a good job of poking fun at itself. Even uber-geeky games industry in-jokes (such as a certain Red Ring) are sent-up, offering some light relief from all the puerile puns and comic gore porn. But the easily offended should be warned: there is a truckful of both contained within Bulletstorm's walls.
As you'd expect, the game uses Epic's ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3, and dresses the old dog up nicely. Although the game looks strikingly familiar, the art direction has produced environments that are a departure from the greys and browns that UE3 has become synonymous with - with a noticeable presence of greens, yellows and red.
Bulletstorm's locales span the visual gamut, including the darkness of a metropolis where building are traced by the gleam of twilight; a mutant botanical garden where deadly plant life glows vibrantly as it menacingly squirms to life; and dark underground caves where makeshift mutant settlements are eerily lit to cover ambushes and everything in between. There's even a few odd locations such as a nightclub and a city mall that serve as welcome palette cleansers.
The game isn't entirely without its faults in the visual department, though. Unfortunately it also suffers from the 'texture fade-in' problem that plagues a number of other Unreal Engine and Epic Games titles. But these occurrences aren't frequent enough to be anything more than a trifling annoyance.
Bulletstorm is an FPS that offers the kind of personality and tone which propelled genre icons such as Duke Nukem and Serious Sam into stardom - and one which carries this with an originality and freshness that will bring much cheer to those who have become tired of stale, earnest military shooters.
It's a bright, good-looking game with a very smart combat mechanic, one which sadly only fully thrives in multiplayer. Sometimes it seems as though PCF and Epic have ignored modern genre conventions where they would have been welcomed, but in nearly all cases, their striving for innovation (or, at least, a reckless nod to the past) pays dividends.
Yes, its vulgar and obscene nature might rub some people the wrong way, but for many Bulletstorm will be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek romp that distinguishes itself from the samey sci-fi and military shooters clogging up the genre. The game brings simple design concepts used in the infancy of the FPS to the modern day and garnishes them with all the current-generation trimmings.
If you're looking for an exciting FPS which is packed to the rafters with identity - and, of course, doesn't mind getting a little bit silly - this one comes seriously recommended.
Bulletstorm price: £38-£40
Bulletstorm launch date: Out now, on Xbox, PS3 and PC