"Bulletstorm" offers cathartic killing, but can get a little repetitive
Most of the time that you've got a controller in hand while playing "Bulletstorm," it's a rolling, rollicking ride: You yank one mutant into a wall of spikes, kick another off a cliff, throw a group of guys into the air and shoot them down like clay pigeons. You'll find your teeth are bared in a fierce grin, your adrenaline pumping, heart pounding and you're loving every minute.
But put the controller down and the buzz quickly dissipates. You wonder, "Why was I having fun? That was so ... repetitive. Yank, kick, shoot, yank, kick, shoot. Listen to a two-minute string of profanity during a cutscene, then more yank, kick, shoot. Meh."
However, you pick the controller up once again and give it another go and suddenly you're back to "Did you see his head explode? Hah, I shot that guy in the butt! This game's COOL!"
Both the credit and the blame go to this first-person shooter's central conceit: the kill-with-skill system. Thanks to a piece of tech your character acquires early in the adventure, you'll spend most of your time playing looking for inventive ways to off antagonists, in order to earn vital upgrades and ammo.
Yank guys into spikes? That's the "Voodoo Doll" skill shot. Kick them into a cactus? "Pricked." Knock them off a cliff? "Vertigo." Blow up a hot-dog cart to kill nearby mutants? "Sausage Fest."
It's all very titillating ... for a while. When you're playing, you're caught up in the moment. You want to discover murderous moves you hadn't previously executed.
But when you think about it afterward, it bothers you that the only difference between one skill shot and another is the object you kicked somebody into -- or that the great maneuver you tried out wasn't recognized by the game at all as a skill shot. (Seriously, I kicked one guy around a field for a while, never letting him hit the ground before he expired. But was I rewarded for my effort? Nope. No "Hackeysack" skill shot. I was disappointed.)
Truth be told, most games are repetitive in one fashion or another. It's just glaringly apparent here because you're supposedly being rewarded for your creativity, yet you don't get many tools to work with: a variety of guns, each with a secondary firing mode; an energy leash, used to yank enemies toward you or "thump" them into the air; and your steel-toed boot for kicking butt. Oh, and you can slide into enemies too.
Any enemies knocked into the air, whether by your leash or your boot, immediately go into slow-mo, allowing you to further interact with their helpless selves.
And just to be clear, if you hope to survive the adventure, you will have to use all the tools at your command. Yes, you can just fill a guy with bullets, but that doesn't earn you many points, and that'll leave you hurting for ammo later. Also, even on "normal" difficulty, the enemies are tough enough to kill you pretty easily if you aren't bringing your "A" game.
All of this action is tied into a pretty basic revenge story. Essentially, the X-Men's Wolverine was tricked into being a bad guy by the drill sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket," and now he wants some payback.
OK, you aren't really playing as Wolverine. You're playing as Grayson Hunt, a guy who looks just like him and who just happens to be voiced by Steven Blum, the same guy who provides Wolverine's voice in many cartoons and video games. And the villain, Gen. Sarrano, isn't really played by R. Lee Ermey, just a guy doing a profanity-laden homage to him.
Actually, the guy swears so much that even my jaded ears were impressed. So, parents, even if you don't care about your kid bursting a mutant's head like a pimple, you might want to know that "Bulletstorm" will provide them an education in invective that will make them extremely popular on the playground for all the wrong reasons.
(Personally, I don't have a problem with it. I was that kid.)
Anyway, the narrative is nothing to write home about. It's on the level of a made-for-TV movie on "Syfy," not a Hollywood blockbuster.
If you want to ignore the story, it's all stripped away in the game's "Echoes" mode. There you can play through barebones battles with limited weapons, trying to earn the best score possible before reaching the end of the stage. Your score goes up on a leaderboard where you can compare your performance against your friends' and other players'.
"Bulletstorm's" sole multiplayer mode is a four-player cooperative game called Anarchy. You and your companions fight through waves of enemies, earning new weapons along the way. Surviving each wave isn't all that difficult, but making it to the next one can be, because your team only advances if you all surpass a certain score with your kills.
All the skill shots from the single-player game are available in Anarchy, as well as a bunch of new ones involving cooperation from two or more players. It's just ... well, getting strangers to play cooperatively isn't exactly easy, I've found. But the chaos of it all makes it equal parts fun and frustrating.
In the grand scheme of things, "Bulletstorm" is a solidly enjoyable game, cathartically violent if you're in the mood for blowing off some steam. But it's nothing extraordinary, I'm afraid.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
Publisher: Electronic Arts.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: This violent, profane game -- dedicated to idea of killing creatively -- is fun but a little repetitive, and while there is some multiplayer, it's not really built to hold a long-term audience. So while it does have some value as a purchase, most players are better off renting.