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Wot I Think: Bulletstorm - Full Clip Edition

Dropped a Duke

What a peculiar thing is Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition [official site]. It's Bulletstorm from six years ago, that entertaining FPS, but this time with an optional additional mode that is loads worse. That'll be full price, please!

Bulletstorm rather inexplicably didn't sell well. It was a big budget FPS that tossed aside all the bullshit bathos that polluted the genre then and now, focusing on gore, explosions and naughty swears. Competent, well written (comic guru Rick Remender wrote the dumb-but-smart script), and incessantly bombastic, it completely delivered. It should have been a hit. People Can Fly managed to be boorish without being vile. But modest sales were not enough to convince the bossmen it was worth persisting with a sequel. Oh, and the PC version was gruesomely strangled by GFWL at the time, which certainly didn't help matters.

It has been, they say, visually upgraded, 4K resolutions added, and I'll assume that's true. The original version is gone from the inter-shops (owned by EA, it's not even on Origin), so I can't really compare. I remember that it looked extremely pretty back then, and it looks extremely pretty now (outside of cutscenes, that look bizarrely awful), so that likely means it's been much upgraded. Six year old pretty tends to look pretty crummy in the present, and this certainly doesn't. Although close-ups of faces reveal the passage of time, and some textures are pretty cruddy, the vistas remain breathtaking. Saying that, looking at old screenshots it's hard to tell the difference, but this more stands as testament to how damned good it looked back then.

You don't need me to review Bulletstorm again. I really enjoy it, despite its being a corridor shooter - it gets the constricted genre exactly right, allowing inventive, improvised combat within its narrow walls, charging from ridiculous set-piece to more ridiculous set-piece without pause, and it does it well. You can read Quintin's original review, our group verdict of the game, and Alice's more recent reflections on the fun it offered. We really like the original Bulletstorm, present here, and we haven't changed our minds. It's great, you can't buy the original any more, and so if you never did you should.

So now it's back, olden DLC included, and with new DLC that, oh, replaces the central character with Duke Nukem. Oh.

What a weird decision. It's like re-releasing Bladerunner but replacing Harrison Ford with Mel Gibson. True Lies, but with Arnie's role portrayed by Dane Cook. The Wicker Man, but Edward Woodward usurped by Nicolas Cage - oh wait. It's so madly out of touch with reality, a decision made by a boardroom so isolated from actual air-breathing humans that they think Duke Nukem is anything other than a weary punchline. And, naturally, the results are a disaster.

Of course this is an optional mode, offered as a pre-order bonus or separate DLC, but if you played the original then it's really the only new content available. And wow, it's shoddy. It's a straight replacement of former hero Grayson Hunt with the ever-dreary Duke, with all "original" dialogue from the flat-topped anti-hero. And only him. Leading to the incessant farce that his hastily bashed out lines absolutely do not fit in to the game, clashing amateurishly with the original dialogue spoken by the rest of the cast. And yes, I scarequote "original", because it's as fresh as Duke's lines ever were. (Those old enough to have enjoyed Duke Nukem 3D will recall his most famous lines just happened to have been previously uttered by the likes of They Live and Evil Dead.)

Now, had this been handled with flare and grace it could have been pretty funny. Alas. Duke fairly early on gives up correcting people who call him Gray, and instead just says tired, "borrowed" action dialogue that doesn't quite match up with the conversation around him. Occasionally it rather desperately resorts to Duke's saying pretty much the same line as the original in order for there to be any sense, and this always entirely contradicts the rest of his character. It feels clumsy, so much so that when it then tries to be self-referential about this, it feels more like it's laughing at you for having paid than itself for having failed.

Worst of all, so haphazardly has the replacement been done that Duke uses all the same animations as Gray - it is, really, no more than a reskinning - and this becomes problematic when it comes to the lip-sync. Which is - obviously - ludicrous as a result. Duke's mouth moves while he's silent, stays still while he's talking, and if the two happen to line up, clearly don't match. It's pretty surprisingly shoddy stuff. And Jon St. John's delivery is as bad as I've ever heard.

And so pointless! It's not like Gray was a mild-mannered accountant to be amusingly contrasted by the crass and foul-mouthed Duke. Gray's typical dialogue consisted of lines like, "You scared the dick off me!" He already was a far, far more entertaining and well-written character in the same mold as Gearbox's long-loathed license. It reeks of desperation.

There are six more Echoes maps for the single-player speed runs/high score tasks, although I'm not sure if that extends to the much more fun Ultimate Echoes challenge modes. They don't say, and my memory isn't that good. It also offers the splendid-sounding Overkill Campaign mode, with all weapons and Skill Shots unlocked from the start, which sounds like it would be tremendous fun. Would be, because for no good reason it's not available from the start, isn't mentioned anywhere by the game, and will only appear once you've completed the game. Hey, guess what? I completed the game six years ago. Sigh. It certainly doesn't help that the game's marketing info doesn't mention this is locked.

So it's an odd bag, really. Bulletstorm is lots of silly fun, and deserved to do better in 2011. It's still lots of silly fun, but it's hard to quite get as behind the desire for it to do well when it's being released at full price with very little new put in. Refreshed graphics, 4K support, increased polygons you absolutely won't appreciate unless you've got a video mode on your photographic memory - that's the sort of thing you'd hope to see in a patch. It's great that it's in there, and the game unquestionably looks lovely - I've obviously no idea how much of a slog it was to achieve this. But when new modes are restricted to a few more Echoes maps, and even the shitty Duke mode is a separate piece of DLC for those who didn't pre-order (which is everyone, right?), it's not a bedazzling offer. Not least when the new game plus mode is locked, despite your having finished the game over half a decade ago.

At a budget price reflecting the age of the game and the lack of new content, this would be such an easy recommendation. Especially as I could so easily recommend you not waste your money on the cruddy half-arsed Duke DLC mode. At £30 that's a tougher call for you to make.

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is out tomorrow via Steam on Windows only for £30/$50/€46.

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