6 years ago we were surprised and impressed by the gung-ho irreverence of Bulletstorm from the Polish based People Can Fly. It spun the FPS genre on its head and delivered an action packed, swear word laden rollercoaster ride that was more akin to a sandbox murder sim than the typical drab warfare games of the time. Sadly, it wasn’t a complete commercial success and we heard nothing further from Grayson Hunt and his foul mouthed team again. Until now that is…
Back in 2011 when Bulletstorm originally released, we hadn’t had the disappointment of Duke Nukem Forever or Aliens: Colonial Marines, both from Gearbox coincidentally; we hadn’t exhibited Call of Duty fatigue, Battlefield was yet to hit its stride on console, and studios were taking a chance on new and different IPs. Along came a relatively unknown developer if you’d never heard of the Painkiller series, with a bombastic idea – make a game all about rewarding different ways of killing, and make sure there are a million and one different knob references. It somehow managed to walk the fine line between being childish and self-deprecating, striking a perfect balance that made it funny, puerile and gruesome in equal measures. Bulletstorm also shipped with a serviceable co-op mode, a decent score attack section and DLC released later on. A lot of fun was to be had and many did, even if you did forget everything after a couple of weeks… except the phrase “dick-tits“, that’s one that crops up far too often in my daily vocabulary.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d never see anything about Bulletstorm again, so it was a nice surprise when Gearbox announced they’d be publishing the Full Clip edition – a full remaster of the game for current gen consoles and PC. Having been a long time since I’d played I was keen to get back into the world of violent kills and bad language, because whilst I couldn’t remember all the details, I definitely knew I’d had fun. Aside from the usual graphical overhaul and inclusion of all the DLC that comes with a re-release, there’s been some additional tinkering by the devs so that you can now access new game + (which was sorely missing from the original), and a full re-voicing of the lead character in the form of Duke Nukem because… well… just because. It’s a decent package with a lot to enjoy, but it also comes at a premium price, so if you’ve still got the old version on your shelf, should you double dip?
For those that are new to the exploits of Grayson Hunt on the planet Stygia, the plot that drives the action is standard betrayal/revenge fayre that doesn’t need much thinking about, which is fine because the showcase here is the gameplay. Crash landing on Stygia leaves Grayson (or Duke if you decide to play through as the King) fighting for his life amongst wildlife, mutants and crazed bandits in a playground designed as an intergalactic training academy for the best of the best. Acquiring a leash module, which is an energy tether attached to his wrist, allows Hunt to access drop pods dotted around the landscape that are stocked with ammo and weapon upgrades, as long as there’s enough points to spend on them. Earning points is simple – kill the locals in the most varied way you can think of. Headshots aren’t the most efficient way to go in Bulletstorm, not when you’ve got a leash that will pull enemies out of cover and slap them in stasis for a few seconds so that you can follow up with a massive boot that then impales them on the nearest rusty protrusion. Using an ever expanding arsenal alongside the environment boosts your score, and finding new and interesting ways to extinguish the enemy rewards you well. There are points for conventional death dealing, but ramping up the creativity means you’ll be unlocking upgrades faster and keeping yourself in ammo for longer.
Having the score focussed approach means playing Bulletstorm with a more carefree approach than you might be used to. Taking it slowly and carefully will keep you alive, but you won’t earn much in the way of points, then you’ll be hampered through the next section. It’s all about maintaining a flow in a kind of chaotic ballet where you’re sliding, kicking, leashing and blasting through colourful landscapes, pushed along at breakneck pace by the story. It really does rocket along through the first 3 acts, slows slightly during some boss battles, but then picks up again for the finale. You’re not given chance to pause and get your bearings, but then you don’t need to. Everything is laid out in your path and collectibles are easily found along the route. Design of the levels is there to funnel you into kill zones and ambush points where you can show off your skills and experiment with the onslaught of bad guys. No matter how frantic it gets there’s always something different to try, so the linearity still promotes replayability. Having the new game plus addition also means being able to start the game from scratch with all weapons and the opportunity to master the skillshot menu, which you’ll need to work hard at to get all 131 on offer.
Outside the campaign there are Echo missions and Anarchy maps to play, with the former being all about the high score achievable in sections from the campaign, and the latter allowing you to team up with other players and fight waves of enemies in arenas, as well as perform co-op skillshots. Echo missions are challenging with you really needing to be at the top of your game to master each one. Unlike most other remasters where the DLC is available from the off, Bulletstorm makes you work for the extra content and you have to complete the original Echo missions first – a feat in itself. Anarchy is much improved over the original release, if only because the matchmaking is better, and it feels smoother to play than before. The same should actually be said for the whole of the game where the improved frame rate makes a massive difference. On PS3 the Unreal 3 engine wasn’t the best way to present games, so the fact that the remaster has no screentear or slowdown means it’s now easier to pull off the moves you want and not have to compensate for jerky motion. It’s a simple change and one that you can’t underestimate how much it improves the whole experience.
I might not have been able to remember the finer points of the plot of Bulletstorm, but I did remember how good it could make you feel when it all comes together. Nailing a planned skillshot is satisfying and randomly achieving new ones in the heat of battle never gets old. Adding the option to play as Duke Nukem overhauls all the main character’s audio, and the game gets round the supporting cast referencing Grayson by having Duke quip at them – it’s a nice touch. Unfortunately the lip syncing is way off (not that it really matters), and you’ll only spot it in certain scenes, but given the attention the rest of the game has had, it’s strange. If you’re looking for something that’s not run-of-the-mill and you don’t mind swearing, then this is probably going make you smile and give you a good time. If you’ve played before then it’s worth picking up again. If you don’t fancy it then what the dick have you been doing reading this?
A PS4 review copy of Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition was provided by Gearbox’s PR team, and the game is available now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.