Preview

Bulletstorm

Stormy

Bulletstorm is actually a bit of a misnomer, seeing as you seem to spend most of your time whipping people into the air, throwing them onto gnarly spikes and kicking them in the head, torso, groin etc. Where's the storm of bullets in that? Still, I suppose Kickmasher doesn't have the same ring to it.

The whole game is built around the idea that headshots are boring. The option is there, but People Can Fly hope to dissuade you from such simple executions by giving you the ability to do things like rigging an enemy with explosives and booting them into a pack of their mates. I lovingly dub the ensuing carnage a funsplosion.

It's all part of Bulletstorm's central Skillshot system, which is essentially something like Project Gotham Racing's Kudos translated over to a modern FPS, or like The Club without the heavy emphasis on time trials. Voracity for style is rewarded with oodles of lovely points, which dutifully pop-up on the screen like an RPG's experience ticker and are used in similar ways to buy further weapons, upgrades and abilities.

More style means more points means more upgrades, basically: it's what has been dubbed the "circle of awesome" by People Can Fly. That's the kind of game Bulletstorm is.

Bulletstorm runs on Unreal Engine 3, and has been produced in partnership with Epic. The planet of Cera with its murky brown hues, obliterated scenery and shattered horizons feels like it exists in a completely different galaxy to Elysium's untouched architecture and lush, verdant overgrowth, but beneath the latter's hyperbolic veneer exists a homage to Epic's other world. Na Pali, home of Epic's 1998 smash Unreal, feels like it's been reborn as Bulletstorm's adventure playground, only now it finds it hilarious to shoot a guy in balls. Which is so obviously is.

An epic story is promised alongside gratuitous killing sprees, but the on-screen world seems to exist simply for comedic high-scores and the thrill of netting elaborate combos. The only narrative that Bulletstorm seems to exhibit is the one where freakishly gruff muscle-men have a whale of a time spouting double entendres and using murder as foreplay. And that's okay.

Detailed environments seem to tell the real story, and that tale is more than a little bit Day of the Triffids. Overgrown fauna sport huge sets of pearly gnashers and chomp their way through anything that gets close. Good source of Skillshot points? You bet!

The demo ends with a boss fight against a supersized Venus Fly Trap in a gigantic atrium - a greenhouse of terror, if you will. While the scale is certainly impressive, the beast is dispatched in a fairly humdrum manner involving blasting it in its weak spot three times. Plant 42 doesn't have much to worry about.

Other than the local wildlife, the bulk of your opposition seem to be a group of mercenaries that have crash-landed on the same planet as player hero Grayson Hunt. These snivelling human meat puppets are a bunch of grim space raiders who like to walk around topless and spend most of their time snarling. They'd fit right in on Pandora, and are generally dispatched with the same guilt-free mentality as their Borderlands brethren.

Hunt, on the other hand, makes a habit out of flexing his incredible muscles and loosening his saucy tongue. He exchanges innuendo-laden comebacks with his sultry female sidekick at every opportunity, and while some of the dialog might be a bit rich for my quaint British ears it'll probably bode well with people of a particular age. The same people, coincidentally, who find watching the ten minute Television X previews with their school friends a genuinely titillating experience.

The real character seems to lie in Hunt's arsenal, with one very creative grenade launcher being shown off in the demo. It's a classic FPS staple, with a hint of Victorian ingenuity, which fires two grenades tied together by a metal chain and can wrap itself around nearly everything it's blasted at - people, scenery and even the cover which your enemies are hiding behind.

The other weapon on show, a bog-standard assault rifle, was much less exciting. It has an aim down the scope mode. It gets headshots. It is boring.

Coupling the weapons with Hunt's tools-of-the-trade progresses the game from colourful trigger-puller to comical murder simulation. For starters there's a dapper energy whip, which flings enemies into the air and slows them down to make precision shots much easier, giving you the option to flick a pack of baddies into the air and, with some speed aiming, have them all headless by the time they crumple to the floor.

Hunt also has exceptional lower-body strength and trousers with so little friction he can effortlessly slide across the ground for ten seconds. His hefty boot can even smoosh enemy faces to paste, giving him the most destructive kick in videogames since Duke Nukem 3D.

With Skillshots, weapons and abilities combined, the game becomes a merry jaunt through an exciting playing field of gib-spewing violence. Instead of traipsing along a linear path, peppering enemies with little bits of metal along the way, Bulletstorm opts to present a series of connected playgrounds, each new area affording new opportunities to cause creative destruction and rack up massive high-scores, all whilst laughing at the fact you've just shot a guy in the balls.

Bulletstorm is due for a 2011 release on 360, PS3 and PC.

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