Contrary to what some politicians, news channels and other narrow-minded do-gooders would have you believe, violent videogames can actually be quite educational. Take Bulletstorm, for instance, Epic Games and People Can Fly’s controversial new first person shooter. You may have heard it mentioned on Fox News recently, where a panel of psychologists suggested that its violent theme and excessive use of sexual innuendo could encourage real world crime. It’s actually had the opposite effect on me. After completing a hectic and intense single player campaign, I feel too exhausted to want to hurt anyone, yet alone ‘Shishkebab’ my next door neighbour and his wife by impaling them with a drill bit. In fact, I feel I’ve been educated somewhat with a new word to add to my vocabulary. In my 30-odd years as schoolboy, online gamer and semi-professional pub-goer, I’ve surprisingly never heard of the word ‘assmaggot.’ Thanks to Bulletstorm, however, I’ll be sure to take that tremendous insult with me and use it again whenever possible.
If those words offend you, you probably won’t like Bulletstorm, which is jammed full of expletives and jokes that might antagonize those with sensitive souls. Inappropriate as some people might think, I’m sure the majority of gamers will actually feel the opposite about Bulletstorm’s use of language, because never before in a videogame have such insults and innuendos actually felt so appropriate and in keeping with the overall theme. This is most definitely a game made by men for men, and it’s all the better for it with its over-the-top, comical violence and tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Don’t listen to the people who will have you believe that Bulletstorm will encourage you to start raping and pillaging like Vikings through the city streets, because it’s no more likely to incite barbarism than any of the dozens of violent big screen films doing the rounds. Bulletstorm is, after all, an adult game with an adult rating. If you’re likely to be offended, then bugger off and play de Blob 2. This kind of creative violence and dirty humour should be positively encouraged.
Somewhere among the masses of dead bodies that you’ll accumulate in Bulletstorm, there is a storyline too. However, if I hadn’t read about the background to the game prior to launch, I’d probably be none the wiser having played it. As so often is the case with games where the gameplay makes such a huge impact, the storyline isn’t even that necessary. After watching the first five minutes or so of cut-scenes and learning that space pirate Grayson Hunt has crash landed on the Planet of Stygia after getting drunk and trying to kill the man who betrayed his crew, the real reason why you’re kicking so much arse soon becomes a distant memory. As soon as I booted my first enemy in the crown jewels and got my hands on the energy leash, which I used to grapple onto a wild-looking tribal warrior and send him crashing into a set of spikes, I didn’t really care why I was fighting these people. All you really need to know about Bulletstorm is that it is full of violent tribesmen and monsters that you need to destroy in any way you see fit.
The meeting where the developers sat around to discuss giving names to over 130 different ways that you can kill your opponents was almost definitely dominated by men, who must have racked their brains hard to think of every sexual innuendo that they could to tie in with a skill shot. It sounds like a great meeting. Among the moves on offer, there’s the ‘Sausage Fest,’ ‘The Money Shot,’ the ‘Gang Bang,’ ‘Topless’ and even one called ‘Rear Entry.’ Granted, Bulletstorm isn’t going to win any awards for subtlety, but surprisingly the names given to the kills fit perfectly with the action that you need to carry out to execute them. ‘Sausage Fest,’ for example, requires you to kill an enemy by using a hot dog kart, and there are many more great examples which show off the creative genius of Epic Games. Bulletstorm is all about trying to kill folk using this full complement of skill shots, and that’s really what it makes it so addictive and fun.
As you move through the levels trying to take down the constant stream of enemies, you see flashes on screen revealing the name of the move you’ve just carried out and the score you’ve been awarded for it. Satisfying skill shots such as ‘Pricked’, where you kill an enemy by flicking them into a cactus, to the aptly named ‘Nut Cracker’, where you have to guide a bullet into an enemy’s nether regions, encourage you to delve further into the exhaustive list of kill moves. There’s an insane amount of variety and plenty of fun to be had in experimenting and nipping into the menu to check off the kills that you’ve yet to achieve. Variations on standard FPS weapons, such as the Peacemaker/Carbine and the Boneduster/Shotgun, are great fun to use in conjunction with more unconventional weapon such as the Flail Gun and the Energy Leash. However, the real reward comes in combining all your skills and weapons to experiment and pull off combos to create some insane kills that are just as entertaining to watch as they are satisfying to execute.
Though there’s a standard FPS blueprint lurking underneath its stylish exterior, the level design in Bulletstorm is top notch. You do move linearly through the levels, but each area you enter is designed with experimentation in mind. Cleverly distributed traps that can be triggered with a well-placed shot or kick of your enemy, and multi-tiered environments littered with the likes of exploding barrels and spiked walls, means there’s plenty of ways you can go about your killing. The system in place for rewarding you for inciting mayhem in the most creative and destructive ways possible, is superb. The more inventive you are with your kills, the more points you’re awarded, which gives you access to bigger and better kills. The way the system is set up encourages you to think outside the box and get creative with your killing; it’s a very satisfying mechanic.
Aside from a few graphical glitches, most notably some texture pop-up and screen stuttering, there’s little to dislike about Bulletstorm. Anarchy co-op mode is great, and there’s further replay value to be had out of Echo mode, where you only have a certain amount of time to rack up points. But, a sequel would benefit from a more fleshed-out multiplayer experience, which amazingly lacks any deathmatch modes. Nonetheless, the campaign should be enough to satisfy any fan of first person shooters. Bulletstorm is, on its own admission, a shooter that revels in its violent combat. But it handles mass killing with a great deal of style thanks to the brilliant Skill Shot system, solid level design and satisfying control scheme. Violent videogames don’t turn you into a raging psychopath, unless you’re one already. In fact, you’re more likely to shout out a few “Hell yeahs,” whoop in delight and grin like a Cheshire Cat as you burn, impale and vaporise hundreds of mindless grunts in a huge variety of amusing ways than you are to take an axe to a granny’s head – I hope.