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The RPS Verdict: Bulletstorm

Featured post You've let Kieron talk about Bulletstorm? This can't be a good idea.

With John literally ten minutes from the end of the game, Kieron having completed it, and Quintin having reviewed it, it was decided that a gathering of the Verdict for Bulletstorm should be called. The mighty trumpet sounded, and we gathered around the Rock, Paper, Shotgun Reflecting Pool, whereupon we sang our tales of dick-fuelled murdering. Read on.

Quintin: You guys want to get started, go ahead.
John: What do you hate most about Quintin?
Kieron: His functioning organs and his vague sense of vimness.
John: For me it has to be the way he keeps just on going.
Kieron: I’m listening to the Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes“. I believe this is how we should start our verdict.
John: Well, no.
Quintin: Wow, that Doobie Brothers album has the best cover. What’s going on with the guy in the middle? Cheer up!

John: You two have completed it, right? I still haven’t quite finished it, because PEOPLE WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE. But I’m right at the end.
Kieron: You are just so slow and weak. I’ve played it, and a bit of the Echo stuff and a bit of the MP.
John: Go on Kieron, tell us what a Bulletstorms are.
Kieron: Bulletstorm is a manshoot game. A very manlymanshooter by People Can Fly/Epic. Who you’ll remember from the liked-by-bad-people Painkiller. It’s a dick-obsessed smartdumb scripted linear shooter set in a OTTP, amps-set-to-10 Sci-fi world. Its main “thing” is a score-chasing system, which is the core of its “Echo” system where you replay bits of the game trying to amp up your scores. So if you kill a dude, you get 10 points. And if you kick a guy off a cliff, you get 50. That kind of thing.

Quintin: Here’s what could be, as Kieron says, the most over-the-top manshoot ever made. We should be poking fun of it, shouldn’t we? Now, we here at RPS have been known to poke fun at the FPS, haven’t we. We have. But we’re not.
John: Well, I can. Because it’s such a pathetically needy game. “Please look at me! Please! No! You’re not looking at the right! Look at me this way! NO! HERE!”
Kieron: I’m not. It’s interesting to see the line between people who think it’s smartdumb and people who just think it’s dumbdumb.
John: It’s obviously smartdumb. You’d have to be dumbdumb to think it’s dumbdumb.
Quintin: Agreed. The writing, art, design, scripting is all artisan-level stuff. But needy? What do you mean?
John: Its desperation for you to constantly be looking in the right direction, begging you to, forcing you to, even bribing you to. As a concept, it’s a great idea. And for a good proportion of the time, it’s great fun. But sadly its real dumbness is in some excruciatingly silly design choices.
Kieron: Give an example.
John: The blue flashing objects.
Kieron: Honestly, I’m on the side of “Anything to keep its flow up”.
Quintin: It’s an arcade game, though, or at least it is in the Echo multiplayer mode that sees you doing timed score-attacks of the single player. Surely you need a bright outline around the drop pods?
John: If you turn off the spoiler interaction hints, objects just flash blue. And you have to guess if it’s a kick one, a leash one, or a climb one. And that you can’t choose – that you have to pick the one it decided, really underlines how madly on rails this whole thing is.

Kieron: It’s not STALKER. It’s Op Wolf.
John: I almost wish it were the Time Crisis game it so desperately wants to be. Why give me WASD at all, if every single aspect of the game is designed to fight against my using them?
Quintin: Time Crisis! Oh man. Can’t we do a Verdict on Time Crisis instead?
Kieron: Stop it Quinns. That’s nonsense though John. It’s not the follow-the-dude Call of Duty BLOPS-ism.
John: No – it’s not follow. But you have literally no choice at any point. Thank goodness it doesn’t go so far as the CoDs. You get to do most of the cool stuff, which is why it’s a great fun game, rather than, say, Medal Of Honor.
Kieron: The hand-holding are in the linking bits between the set-pieces. It’s totally linear, and all that’s there is the actual game. Opening the door isn’t the game.
John: But there’s no choice about route, or approach. It’s purely how you approach each battle, and that’s a lot of fun. But that’s why I say it really might as well be Time Crisis.
Quintin: Wait, so are you railing against corridor shooter design now? Are you going to bring up these arguments against Half-Life Ep 3?
John: Only if HL Ep3 never lets me feel like I’m making a choice. That’s what the HL games do so well, trick me into thinking I’m making choices.
Kieron: But you get no choice of how to approach each battle. In Time Crisis.
John: Sure there is. You can choose the order you shoot people in. That’s all I’m doing here, too.
Kieron: Movement, positioning and all that jazz. I mean, I’ve said it before, but for me Half-life always breaks when I can’t work out which way to go next and go around clicking on all the walls. (I exaggerate a bit.)
John: Yes. No doubt.
Kieron: Bulletstorm is just a game about shooting. It concentrates on that.

Quintin: So, here’s question I’ve been turning over in my mind. Does Bulletstorm have the most impressively expensive, all-out setpieces of any game ever?
Kieron: Yeah. It really does
John: And it looks utterly incredible too. I’ve never enjoyed the graphics of a game so much.
Kieron: Quinns – Did you say that it’s the best environment since the first Bioshock? Because that’s what I think
Quintin: I did say that, yeah.
Kieron: It’s basically UK Resistance redesigning Bioshock. So it’s all crass and sunshiney.
John: It’s Gears Of War with a degree of artistry. And the rain’s stopped.
Kieron: I’m not even joking. I mean, the holiday resort stuff is easy to see as a Bioshock link.
John: Yeah – I got BioShock vibes too. Not in terms of sophistication – it’s a dumb old empty alien world. But in terms of a sense of place.
Quintin: Tell you what. I wouldn’t mind trading all these shattered utopias for a few perfectly functional utopias.
Kieron: When will anyone get their Utopia right? Even Bub and Bob fucked up with Rainbow Islands.
Quintin: Haha.
Kieron: With the rising damp. I mean – draw a line between the bit with the waltz and the dancers in Bioshock and the bit with DISCO INFERNO! in Bulletstorm. Honestly! There’s meat on that Bioshock/Bulletstorm bone.
Quintin: I remember an RPS commenter saying that what he really wanted from Bioshock was a detective game set before the fall of Rapture. I’d love for Bulletstorm to have set you as a mercenary protecting this resort from mutants on the outskirts.
John: Sure, but you design the engine that can handle that many NPCs, and that many variables.

John: I was surprised how long it took to get going, AND to be funny.
Kieron: It’s got a slowish start. Though the visual of walking down to the assasination! Down the side of the building!
Quintin: Hell yes. I disagree with that. I really enjoyed the start.
John: Oh come on! It doesn’t let you play for half an hour!
Quintin: From the opening cutscene with you taunting your prisoner with the bottle duct-taped to his head, to the assassination flashback Kieron’s talking about, to the crashed ship.
John: I’m still telling it to “OH FUCK OFF” every time it steals the controls from me, especially when something interesting is about to happen. But that opening made me furious! LET ME BLOODY PLAY!
Kieron: How long is it until you get to HL2’s first weapon?
John: You get to get to HL2’s first weapon! It doesn’t drag you there with two fingers up your nostrils.
Kieron: I dunno. I may be with Quinns here. Though I felt the characters relaxed a lot more when you were down on the planet. Or maybe I’m with John. I think I may be between you. In a games criticism sandwich.
Quintin: That’s an unpleasant mental image. Speaking of weapons, I’ll tell you what I like. The revolver. I would like that revolver to be in every game. Who can I talk to about that?
John: Simon Gunsingames.
Kieron: We will write to the proper authorities. I love the weapons.

John: I like the sniper rifle best. I like smashing bodies into each other with it.
Kieron: I liked the grenade-bolos.
Quintin: The shotgun’s alt-fire caused my single-player game to collapse like a souffle by the final fifth.
Kieron: Yeah. I saw that coming and didn’t use it that much.
John: Yeah – that is way too powerful. I’ve just got hold if it.
Kieron: The alt fire is expensive though.
John: I’m kind of loving it though, because everyone turns all red skellingtony.
Quintin: While the weapons are interesting, the way they’re designed explains the game not having PvP multiplayer. All of the guns affect your opponent in some way, by wrapping them up or knocking them down or slaughtering them instantly. It’s interesting to me that Bulletstorm went so all-out for the skillshot thing that they abandoned the direction that everybody else is going in- combative multiplayer with unlocks.

Kieron: Weapons are great. I’ll tell you what is iffy – the space-to-jump-over-stuff.
John: Oh that sucks so bad.
Kieron: I almost always trip up with it. It’s a shame. I’ve got no problem with the system per se. As in, removing a jump. But it’s just not quite right.
John: Why can’t they just have it be smoothly integrated into a slide? Or just let you hold space while running before it to smoothly vault.
Kieron: Yes, exactly that. We look forward to Brink, basically.
John: Also that climb over thing is so buggy. I’ve gotten stuck on top of them, and there’s no way out.
Kieron: I had some problems with the AI scripting. It fixed itself, but there was one bit I thought General McSweary was going to have to make me restart a level. It’s very polished in some ways, and not in others.
Quintin: The only bug I encountered was pretty amazing. My allies held open a door, ran through, then let it close behind them, leaving me trapped on the other side as my character continued a conversation.
Kieron: How rude!
Quintin: Then, on my next reload, I had to quit out and SPRINT through that door.
John: I’ve had to restart from checkpoints three times due to getting clipped into the scenery. That never feels okay.
Kieron: Oof. I’ve never had it that bad. Or anything like that.
Quintin: Me either.

Kieron: You were probably being wimpy and taking cover or something. Or trying to heal.
John: Or exploring. Because the game is so bloody determined that I don’t, I look down every other possible route. Tom’s piece on Gamer really captured my frustration with the game. While I don’t do stuff to be a dick, and don’t skip cutscenes or ignore dialogue (because I’m not mad), I do get frustrated and start trying to break stuff when a game won’t let me make choices.
Kieron: I saw Tom’s editorial about that. I just imagine Tom screaming at Time Crisis. In his underpants.
John: While you cry.
Kieron: It’s hilarious though. Why are you trying to explore? You’re going to die if you don’t get somewhere.
Quintin: I really didn’t feel that at all. The game’s offering something you different to what you want from it. Why try and break it as a result?
Kieron: This is not the time to admire textures.
John: But it so often is. When the game tells me to sprint, I sprint. But when the others are standing around blathering at each other, I poke around.
Quintin: I think Kieron means in terms of the story. Or does he?
Kieron: I mean in the story. I think we can agree that its approach to hand-holding is going to drive some people mad.
John: Good.

Kieron: Did you find it funny, John?
John: After the first boring hour, yes. I laughed lots.
Kieron: I was really wondering what you’d make of it. To state interests, I know the writer. And it’s very, very Rick Remender. And if you like this, you should go and buy all his FEAR AGENT trades. But it’s been divisive…
John: He sure likes to write “dick”. And I’m glad too, because the word “dick” is a funny word.
Kieron: It’s very much the Sistine Chapel of dick gags.
Quintin: And yet! My favourite joke in it isn’t even rude.
John: I think the girl is written poorly. Has your friend met a girl?
Kieron: I didn’t say he was a friend. Rick has no friends. And no enemies, above the ground.
John: “I’m tough, in a way you might not expect from a girl! Grrrrrrrrr. Wah my daddy’s dead.”
John: (No one ask Quintin what his favourite joke was.)
Quintin: I couldn’t say anyway! It’s a spoiler.
Kieron: That is now my favourite joke from this verdict.
Kieron: File next to “Not enough Iron”. “Don’t ask Quinns about his fave gags”.
John: What a shame.
Kieron: I’m going to out you about that if you’re not careful, John Walker.
John: So Bulletstorm!

Kieron: What did everyone think of the Skillshots? I think this will segue to the echo-skilltest mode too. I think it works better in the skilltest, where you really are planing stuff.
John: I guess my issue with the Skillshots is that there’s not enough of them, despite there being loads of them. I think it needed more basic ones, ones less context sensitive.
Kieron: In the single player, I found myself all too often just doing stuff like killing with spikes. As it was a safe 100 points a shot. Or 50 for a kick off the roof.
Quintin: You slide into a guy, shoot him into the air with a shotgun, switch to the cannonballgun, and catapult him over the horizon with a cannonball to the gut and the game gives you twenty five points. Which feels like a slap.
John: Also, aren’t you supposed to be able to shoot people in the balls? That never seems to work for me.
Quintin: It requires tremendous accuracy. Also, perseverance. For a game that sold itself on cockshots it’s bizarrely hard.
Kieron: Ballsing a guy is tricky
John: They must have very tiny balls.
Kieron: Probably an evolutionary protective measure when people know it gets points for doing so.
Quintin: IMPORTANT: Have you guys got the skillshot for popping open a boss’s protective cast-iron anal flap and shooting him there.
John: Yes.
Kieron: The anal-death-one? Yes.
Quintin: Yes.
Kieron: Also, in the game.

John: I think the points, aside from their practical purpose, solve another problem brilliantly. That where games offer you the option for being inventive, but can be completed with one or two repeated attacks. Here, whenever any enemy dies for 10 points, that appearing on the screen makes me feel ashamed.
Quintin: Right.
John: Gaming the game results in the game telling you you’re a loser.
Quintin: The beautiful thing about Echoes mode, and what really makes it work, is that it erases your list of completed skillshots for the duration, so you get ludicrous bonuses for doing nothing but new shots. Which means playing Echoes is like a shopping list. Shoot a guy into the water? Check. Kick a guy into a cactus? Check. Then by the end it gets really, really tough. You can check the list, of course, but then it breaks your flow. It’s brilliant.
Kieron: Yes. It really works. Remember the first verdict we did? Of The Club. And we said that The Club desperately needed more bells and whistles to make scoring the points be exciting? Bulletstorm is that game. It is the pinball of the manshoots.
John: BioShock should have given points for electrocuting water. That’s what geniuses would have done in their underwater city, right?
Quintin: Planescape needed a high score table! Also, “The pinball of manshoots” is the takeaway sentence from this Verdict, I suspect.

John: Right, well, we need to wrap up because I’m the poor sod editing this.
Kieron: Yeah, we’ve covered everything – just a small word about the multiplayer.
Quintin: Just one word. That’s all you get.
John: Say it! A small one, too.
Kieron: Which is co-op, in groups, versus waves. I’ve only touched it a little, because it’s got the problem of most wave-based MP modes have for me – as in, they take too long to get to a wave that’s any trouble.
Quintin: FAIL.
Kieron: But still – better than a kick in the balls. Or a bag full of dicks. Or something like that.
John: DICKS! I’m definitely enjoying it. I’m constantly shouting at it for being so idiotically needy and controlly. But then it gives me another battle and I forget what I was saying. I think I wish it were more of an arcade, or more of a shooter, because it frustrates me by not being quite enough of either, but too much of the other. But I’m still having a tremendous time. Summarise, dicks.
Kieron: You should definitely go and nose at the Echoes. I think it would solve the problem for you. Maybe. I digs! Probably the best linear shooter I’ve played since… oh, can’t remember one. A while, anyway.
Quintin: I feel the same way. Any FPS that makes me forget that I’m bored of the FPS is a must-buy for me.
John: I think in the end the whole Fox News/rape fiasco was good publicity for the game. The game could have been crucified in such press for its violence and language, but instead it was accused of something it has nothing to do with, and so ironically escaped any serious criticism. So thanks Fox News!
Quintin: We love you Fox News.
Kieron: Hearts!
John: That’ll do.

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