Reviews: How many times has Duke Nukem Forever been delayed? Too many to count. Check out the equally irreverent Bulletstorm on Xbox 360 and PS3.
Bulletstorm is violent, bloody, crass, immature and fun as hell to play, meaning it's the latest ? and probably the last ? game of its kind to beat the long-delayed Duke Nukem Forever to store shelves. While we wait to ?Hail to the King,? Epic Games and its studio People Can Fly offer this foul-mouthed, fast-paced shooter with a few unique gameplay twists that are worth checking out on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Best of all, it didn't take 13 years to develop.
Beyond scoring points for headshots and melee attacks, Bulletstorm doles out bonuses whenever you pin an enemy against spiky environmental hazards ? cleverly named ?Voodoo Doll? ? or trip up a bad guy so that he falls to his death ? dubbed ?Vertigo.? These moves get even more distinct as the game goes on and you get better at manipulating the enemies and their environments. ?Fast food? scores you 100 points whenever you ram an enemy to death with a hot dog cart; ?First In, Last Out? nets you 100 points if you get an enemy airborne, kill a different enemy, then kill the airborne enemy before he lands; and ?Rear Entry? is easy-access to 50 points for killing an enemy by shooting him in the behind. The list goes on.
There's actually a detailed database of 135 ?skillshots? and they're all listed in a convenient menu that is reminiscent of a fighting game's combo cheat sheet. These once-random occurrences in dynamic videogames, from exploding barrels that kill multiple enemies in 1997's GoldenEye 007 to grappling enemies to a moving vehicle in 2010's Just Cause 2, now serve as addictive and essential
Adding to the physics-based fun is an energy leash and the ability to kick enemies. The leash allows you to lasso bad guys from a distance, then pull them your way for up-close-and-personal combat. Kicking enemies adds a second layer to this whip-and-retrieve mechanic. This melee attack sends them back to where they came from and allows you to toss them around like rag dolls. If you shoot them in the process, you can always earn 25 points thanks to the Bullet Kick skillshot. Or opt to use the environments to take care of your dirty work. For example, ?Shocker? is earned whenever you fling an enemy into an electrical source, while ?Meatspin? can be had by slingshotting them into a revolving door of a futuristic monorail station. One of the added benefits of trying out new moves is that there's a generous bonus the first time you pull off a skillshot, so you're always trying to discover additional ways to disembody enemies.
Both the leash and skillshots are worked into the story of drunken space pirate Grayson Hunt. Ten years ago, he was the headstrong leader of Dead Echo, a mercenary squad that assassinated evil radicals at the order of General Sarrano. When they stumble upon information that says they are actually killing innocent people like journalists (a grave, grave crime in this writer's eyes), the squad decides to betray the manipulative Sarrano.
Of course, turning on the powerful general means that Dead Echo has to operate on the edges of space, playing cat and mouse with their former boss. They drift through space for ten years while avoiding bounty hunters that the general sends after them when, suddenly, they stumble upon the general's ship by accident. They attempt to take it down only to destroy both vessels in the process. Grayson, along with Ishi Sato, the only other Dead Echo crash survivor, is forced to take haven on planet Stygia where they discover that the General has been using the outlawed, symbiotic-like energy leash weapon. They also find that the planet is host to a Darwin-like boot camp in which pulling off these moves earns points that can buy new weapons and additional ammo. Only the most fit survive.
Bulletstorm is filled with a wealth of adult humor, salty language, immature jokes and a boss who sounds like he's voiced by R. Lee Emery (he's not). It also has a well-written female character, who isn't scarily written as ?just one of the boys? or thrown in as a blatant sex token. ?If you sh*tpiles give chase, I'll kill your d*cks,? she says when you attempt to pursue her on an infested island. You, as Grayson, immediately wonder aloud, ?What?! What does that even mean? You're going to kill my d*ck?? Grayson's character essentially calls out the over-the-top dialogue of this non-playable female character, almost breaking the fourth wall - Family Guy-style.
Playing as this alcoholic space pirate who also has a drunken thirst for revenge, I felt like I got to know Grayson, not just his supporting cast. Too often, FPS games depict a silent protagonist in favor of a completely first-person POV, an old technique that didn't pigeonhole your character with a specific response or attitude. It was up to your imagination. But as game developers have gotten better at writing stories and fleshing out characters, there's less reason for the supporting cast to monopolize the dialogue and solely advance the story. This is my major contention with Homefront. Although THQ's recently launched FPS title has a more original plotline, its missions aren't humorous and its characters are far from as interesting as the ones here.
For a game that moves so quickly, Bulletstorm is commendably no graphics slouch. The development team's successful use of the Unreal 3.5 engine (they must know someone with Unreal engine experience) delivers expansive environments that are filled with unique torture devices on which you can pulverize enemies. Not even the speedy sliding mechanic reduces the intricate details on these tools of destruction. Kicking the cover that enemies hide behind to sandwich them between their cover and the wall behind them ? a skillshot called ?Pancake? ? delivers buckets of blood, as does every high-scoring kill technique. The gushing red stuff is so over-the-top that it almost looks unrealistic? not that I know what alien blood looks like and not that I'm complaining about the ridiculous amount of violence.
The sole presentation gaffe is that there's no radar, which is sorely missed whenever a non-playable character (looking at you, Ishi) runs off to the next part of a level, yells at you from some unseen vantage point and leaves you running in circles to figure out where that is. A few glitches also pop up, like being able to leash through walls (helpful) or finding NPCs refusing to advance through the scripted action (not helpful).
There's more carnage to be had in the Echoes and Anarchy modes. Echoes acts as a points-based test of your skillshot abilities throughout two-dozen level segments lifted from the campaign mode. It grades your performance on a three-star scale and, if you're able to use a variety of skillshots and keep the elapsed time low, your name will appear high on the subsequent leaderboards menu. Anarchy is where the real-time multiplayer comes into play, but be warned: it's a cooperative-only affair. You and three online teammates can take on 20 enemy waves, which get progressively harder, and try to meet a certain required score. This means that you'll have to be picky with your skillshots; pulling off new and high-scoring moves is a must. But not even the exclusive, team-based skillshots or rage-filled Blood Symphony move is enough to prevent this drop-in, drop-out multiplayer mode from feeling tacked on and sorely missing game types Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch.