Friday, July 5, 2013

Bulletstorm and Other Unnecessary Political Incorrectness

     There are some games that spark debate about artistic merit. Games that push the boundaries of interactivity, gameplay and immersion. Then there are games like Bulletstorm that are excessively crass, thin on story and intentionally gimmicky, almost to a fault.

Is Bulletstorm fun? Yes. Is it an amazing feat of game development? Not even close.

You play as Grayson Hunt, voiced by Steven Blum, better known as Wolverine from Wolverine and the X-Men if you're into that kind of thing. Blum provides an appropriately aggressive and raspy voice for the swear-laden dialogue running throughout the game.

Hunt is an angry man, possibly bi-polar, definitely a little psychotic and obsessive. Beyond being overly eager to rip every living thing on the planet of Stygia a new one en route to his former general with which he holds an intense grudge with, Hunt is also a man who takes every opportunity to sprinkle colorful language into everything he says.

Except when he sprinkles, it's sort of like going to put a dash of salt on something, but some d*ck unscrewed the top, so literally all of the salt ends up on your food.

You either love him or hate him, or play with the volume down on the dialogue, or the game in its entirety because everything is loud on purpose.

It is a fairly simple game with a game mechanic tailor-made for showing off and being creative. The gadget is referred to as a leash, which not only assigns points to the different ways you kill enemies, but allows you to grab enemies at a distance, and pull them towards you, or toss them up into the air once upgraded.

The goal of the game, beyond exacting revenge on General Sarrano, is to rack up points by using the environment, different weapons and basically thinking of the most f*cked up ways to dispose of the local populous and enjoying it.

That endearing crassness extends to this mechanic, with skill shots named "Gang Bang", "Rear Entry", "Assplosion" and "Boned."

Points from skillshots can be used to upgrade weapons, and upgrades range from increased ammo capacity, unlocking charged shots, as well as unlocking more weapons. The assault rifle-like weapon is standard, but you can acquire a pistol/flare gun, sniper rifle, shotgun, and my personal favorites, the flailgun and penetrator.

The former shoots two grenades linked together by a chain which can be fired round the necks of enemies, and around the feet to trip enemies, while the latter fires a rocket propelled drill that impales enemies, possibly sticking them to walls, floors, other enemies, or just launching them skyward.

I can't help but laugh whenever I pin an enemy to the ground with one of those drills and watching him spin around, getting the "Breakdance" skillshot. It shouldn't be so satisfying to maim a person in that fashion, but it is.

However, tucked underneath the swearing, blood and guts, and explosions (did I mention there are explosions?), is a story just begging to be ignored.

In a nutshell, Hunt and Co. were once assassins doing the dirty work of General Sarrano, and it wasn't until one particular job that they decided to have a heart and question their General as to who they were killing, and if they were really just taking out innocents.

From there, the group known as Dead Echo went rogue, became pirates, amassed a substantial bounty on their heads, and ultimately took it upon themselves to take out Sarrano and his ship above Stygia.

Fittingly, upon crashing to the planet's surface, all but two of the Dead Echo contingent are dead.

Stygia is the setting, and offers plenty of lush scenery as well as a crumbling metropolis that houses everything from mutated freaks to man-eating plants big a small.

The story follows a linear path through the world, which is largely forgettable. Sure, there are unique areas, but there is nothing that stands out, no awe-inspiring landmarks or sights to behold, which is a bit of an oversight for a game that gives players points for pressing a button to zoom in on things it wants you to see.

The majority of said zooming is done when mini-bosses arrive, or there is a particularly large thing to gawk at.

So on this trek from point A to point B, from the crash site to Sarrano, all sorts of things happen, but it all sort of jumbles together. The action and focus on scoring points with kills overshadows what it is that's going on.

I was keenly aware of the tension built between Ishi and Hunt with Ishi's AI component threatening to take over at any moment, as well as the reveal that the foul-mouthed female Trischka's father was the target Dead Echo was ordered to eliminate, which was the exact time Hunt decided to think for a second about the mindless murdering he and his compatriots had been carrying out.

But being aware of the story did not make me care about it or anyone involved. It's difficult to focus on a passingly emotional revelation or plot point with Hunt screaming things like, "You scared the dick off me" or shouting, to a woman mind you, that he's going to "Kill your dick."

For a game that I didn't think warranted such deep discussion, I sure spent a lot of time discussing...

I can't help but laugh at the sequel baiting at the end of the game, where Sarrano is supposedly revived with machine parts like Ishi, as well as having taken control of Ishi. There doesn't seem to be any need, or demand, for a sequel.

Bulletstorm came out during a time when Gears of War was a big deal, and Epic Games wanted to create more games with comically manly character designs, gritty environments and satisfying action, sans satisfying story.

Thanks, Cliffy B. Stick to making game engines...

So if you want swearing, shooting and 'splosions, play Bulletstorm. Better yet, just play Halo online and you'll spout many of the same choice phrases that were carefully written for this game.

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