Bulletstorm is as expletive-happy as four Colorado kids on a big screen and as excessively violent as an angry Liam Neeson in Paris. Just like the South Park and Taken movies, with Bulletstorm you ought to leave your high horse in your stables. If you can, then you'll enjoy an Epic game with a testosterone-y but genuinely funny script that props up a wicked form of marksmanship.
The premise is typical sci-fi shooter drivel. You play as Grayson Hunt, a mercenary who fits his reckless-action-hero name right down to his Wolverine-lite look. His booze-addled impulses leave him and his pal, Terminator-clone Ishi Sato, stranded on the ruins of a holidaying planet. In search of escape, revenge - yadda yadda - they must defeat a whole bunch of irate vicious dudes.
Luckily, Bulletstorm is knowingly ridiculous, at least to the point where it doesn't take itself seriously. Grayson is a one-liner vending machine. Some are glibly disgusting ("persistent, like herpes") while others are sardonic of himself and the game at large ("ah, dangerous place, I'm hip!"). It's through him and the impassive cyborg Sato that the game charms in a ragtag way. When the pair negotiates a bloodbath in a retro 20th century disco, fighting to the backdrop of classic tune "Disco Inferno", Sato coolly notes that "this classical music explains World War III". Minutes later, an angry exchange breaks out about "dick-killing". Bulletstorm is definitely more Schwarzenegger than van Damme.
This irreverence is appropriate support to a game that rates how skilful you are with your violence. The skill shots are its unashamed USP, after all, with over 130 specific ways of killing rewarding players with skill points to be used on upgrading weapons. With the a light beam leash to lock on to bad guys and yank them towards you, and a big right boot to kick them back whence they came, you can suspend enemies in midair slow motion and manipulate their deaths to rack up the kill points.
These start off simple, like kicking a goon into a handy nearby cactus for the Prickled bonus (100 points) or shooting an enemy after kicking them for Bullet Kick (25 points). Throwing in a headshot (25 points) or even the crudely self-explanatory Rear Entry bonus (50 points) adds to your tally.
The skill shots become more complicated as new weapons and environments are introduced and combined. For example, there's the Para-chooted bonus: when you take down a helicopter its pilot is thrown out of it, and killing him before he hits the ground earns a meaty 50 points. If you kick the pilot off a platform and into the abyss, that's an extra 50 for the Vertigo skill shot. If, before he plummets into the abyss, you shoot an explosive flail chain around his neck but leave it to detonate after he's already died, you'll earn another 50 for the Sadist bonus - and rightly so, you sadist.
It's the working out of these combinations that's the most fun in Bulletstorm, especially in the short burst Echoes mode with friends' scores and leaderboards to compete against. There are clever design touches that amplify the hunt for big points, like rewarding the first use of a specific kill with a 5x bonus. This encourages experimenting to find new kills in the single-player campaign, while simultaneously encouraging diversity of kills in the Echoes and co-op multiplayer Anarchy mode.
However, there's the nagging feeling that the combinations could go deeper, or at least could be more creative. Rather than reward you for building up a chain of moves, the game is confined to rewarding the skill shots it lists out. So if you leash an enemy to you, kick him, use the Thumper ability to slam him into the ground and throw him into the air, leash him back to you again and then kick him into a cactus, the game will only reward you for kicking him into the cactus. Even though some of the skill shots do go deeper than a one-two move kill, and eliciting a high score combination still requires artistry and skill, especially in Echoes, there remains the feeling that the list of skill shots could go deeper, both in terms of number of shots and artistry of kills. At times, Bulletstorm feels like ticking off the boxes on a gussied up Achievements list - not that this isn't a lot of fun, mind you.
Nonetheless, the slow doling out of weapons and their secondary charges helps keep a strong pace to the campaign, and some of the weapons like Flail Gun and the shotgun - sorry, Boneduster - the latter with its incendiary secondary fire, are a real joy to play around with. Throwing up enemies into the air and then frazzling them out to get the Acid Burn skill shot doesn't get old. Some weapons are more miss than hit, though. The sniper rifle, with which the camera follows the bullets as you direct them in slow motion, is a fun novelty at first but slows the game down too much. The grenade launcher, the Bouncer, and its bouncing cannonballs seem to require more luck than skill for effect.
As for the Anarchy mode, which is essentially a score attack version of Horde mode with some extra skill shots for combination kills between friends, the concept is strong enough and with friends it's a definite win. The key point here is 'with friends'. To progress through later levels you absolutely must kill in combination with your allies, a fact that doesn't significantly impact upon all online folk.
Nonetheless, if you do have friends to play with or at least compete against in the Echoes mode, then Bulletstorm has a lot to give beyond a campaign mode that is in many ways frivolous and fun training for the game's multiplayer. Bulletstorm may be a sick, filthy game that you may not want to show to everyone, but at least it knows it is and simply doesn't care. It's much more interested in whether or not you can slam three shotgun shots into that guy you just flung into the air.