Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is an HD remaster of the 2011 original, with updated graphics and textures, and a bit of extra content. The cult classic FPS released by Polish developer People Can Fly and Epic Games in 2011 garnered a substantial fan following, but failed to receive wide commercial success. People Can Fly is hoping to change that with this re-release.
The game has some catching up to do to compete with the modern echelon of first person shooters, but it’s earned its place. Five years isn’t a terribly long time, but innovations come quick, so a re-release to a new audience is always a touch risky.
In this case it mostly works.
Full disclosure, I never played the original Bulletstorm, and went in blind. I’m glad I did, it allowed me the luxury of experiencing this very unique game without the bias of nostalgia.
Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is out for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Let The Bullets Fly: Gameplay
Bulletstorm is not a subtle game, but the gameplay is deceptively complex, and has aged surprisingly well.
At first it seems traditional first person shooter fare, waves of enemies, increasingly powerful weapons, and a bold faced rejection of realism. Where Bulletstorm stands out is it’s unbridled creativity. Through a forced stretch of lore you're told that the more creatively you kill your mostly generic opponents, the more points you receive. These points can be redeemed at various drop locations for slight upgrades for your weapons.
If I sound unimpressed, it’s because initially I was. Once I impaled my first mutated raider into rebar and got a “VOODOO DOLL” kill I was an immediate believer.
You want to kick someone screaming off a cliff? You will do a lot of that. You want to light someone on fire and kick them into a cactus? Feel free. You want to slide into a raider’s feet, send him screaming into the air, shoot him a few times and then blow him up? Bulletstorm has got you covered.
A great deal of the fun comes from a plasma whip that can bring objects and enemies towards you, what’s known in game as the “leash.” It doesn’t work on every foe, but the simple ability of being able to pull objects toward you only to kick them at other objects is instinctually satisfying. It becomes a combat and progression tool that is most inventive, and quickly becomes a standout.
It sounds like a shallow thrill, and it is, but it’s fun as hell. Throughout the roughly seven hour campaign I never grew tired of finding new and creative ways to dispatch my foes. The reward system is compelling enough to justify multiple playthroughs, just to see which kills with what weapons you missed. They’re like mini achievements, and I never got tired of chasing them.
The creative kill shtick is really at the center of Bulletstorm’s charm, and there is no denying the effectiveness of rewarding players for creative mayhem.
As with any good FPS, guns are part of the draw, and in this regard Bulletstorm does not disappoint. There are your standard shotguns and sniper rifles, but each has a secondary firing option that allows for some fun and messy kills. The cannonball launcher was a particular favorite of mine, along with a sniper rifle that allows you to manually guide the bullet after it’s fired. Good stuff.
Blast From The Past
Bulletstorm is a game that very much wears it’s historical influences on its sleeve.
This is, at it’s heart, an old school FPS, along the lines of Duke Nukem, Painkiller, and Serious Sam disguised with a more modern engine and graphical trappings. It’s clear the developers loved these games, and some of the nods to that lineage are more subtle than others.
A particular scene where screaming foes wrapped with explosives run towards you until you detonate them with your extraordinary ordinance are a fairly direct reference to Serious Sam and it’s headless suicide bombers. There’s also some less subtle references, like the inclusion of a certain bit of conspicuous graffiti:
And if that wasn’t homage enough, this remaster of Bulletstorm allows you to play through the campaign as the famous (infamous?) Duke Nukem via a preorder bonus or a five dollar bit of DLC. It’s exactly what it sounds like, the exact same campaign with a different voice actor and a reskin of the main character.
It’s a strange choice, in that the Duke is not exactly a super relevant character these days (even less so after his less than stellar outing Duke Nukem Forever) but as strange as it is, it works. Jon St. John recorded all of the Grayson Hunt’s for the most part deplorable dialogue, and though it’s occasionally awkward given the time that has passed since the original recording, the character fits. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on where you stand on the Duke.
It’s an unusual bit of DLC, but for fans of the franchise it’s a very out of the way nod that I can’t help but respect.
Bulletstorm is not Bioshock or Half Life 2; the narrative is very much a means to get from insane set piece to insane set piece. Those set pieces are amazing though, the age of the game notwithstanding. Particular standouts are the miniature city plagued by a giant robotic Kaiju, and the endless supply of collapsing buildings. It’s been done before and after, but rarely with this much style.
As for the story, it’s fairly standard FPS fare. A gruff soldier tries to redeem himself in a grim future while defeating an unbelievably evil (for some reason) general, and makes friends and enemies along the way. It’s perfectly fine, though far from memorable, and the ending leaves quite a lot to be desired.
What does stand out though is the writing, for better or worse. It’s an incredibly crass game; swearing and bodily functions run rampant. Though I did occasionally chuckle at the trying so hard to be edgy antics of the main characters, I could have done without the overwhelmingly immature tone of the dialogue. I’m all for immaturity when it’s handled properly (South Park FTW), but the tone grated a bit, especially given the otherwise mature technical execution of the game.
That being said, the performances are on point, with all of the VO actors grunting the often questionable dialogue with enthusiasm. Sounds like they are having fun recording the lines, and that goes a long way toward soothing the irritating dialogue.
The irreverent script is a strange match for the very graphic violence. Though it's too over the top and cartoony to be genuinely disturbing, it’s an odd fusion of graphic violence and adolescent humor that struggles to find its tonal place.
Graphics and Performance
Bulletstorm came out in 2011, so it’s a bit unfair to hold it up to modern shooters like Doom 2016 or Titanfall 2. The textures have been redone so it looks substantially better than it did in the previous generation, and it was a good looking game when it came out. Though it’s obviously a product of the last generation, it holds up relatively well.
The Last Of Us Remastered this is not, but it is far from an ugly game. A large part of that is due to the forward thinking of the level designers.
Ancient cities crumble, light pours through massive caves, and the sense of scale is remarkable. The biggest set pieces hold up very well; a massive razor coated industrial wheel of death as tall as building runs you down on a train, a giant godzilla sized creature smashing buildings around you as you try and get to the last boss, these stand out as well executed both creatively and technically.
Overall performance was solid, though I did get stuck on geometry more than once, and fell through floors into the great digital abyss more than once. It sucks reloading checkpoints when it isn’t your fault.
I expect these sorts of issues will be fixed with the inevitable post release patch.
After beating the story, there is always increased difficulty, as well as the tempting prospect of unlocking all the creative kills you missed with the first play through.
There’s also what’s called Echoes, essentially a time trial mode where you get through chunks of levels as quickly as possible. If that’s too dull for you there’s also Ultimate Echoes, which is the same idea, but with more limiting parameters (ie no using guns, only certain weapons allowed.)
There is also a multiplayer I was unable to test due to playing a pre-release build. If it’s super awesome we’ll revisit it.
When The Smoke Clears
What initially seems like an aging relic of a different time with a fresh coat of paint disguises a surprisingly inventive and creative labor of love. There’s no doubt that People Can Fly have a deep respect and understanding of the genre, and went to the well of greats that came before them for Bulletstorm, while adding their own uniquely creative flair.
At it’s best Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition plays like a simplistic, lighthearted Doom 2016, which is high praise indeed. At it’s worse it’s an excellent spiritual entry in the Duke Nukem franchise, and I’m all for that.
If you’re a fan of the original there’s no reason you shouldn’t own the definitive version, and if you haven’t played it before, it’s absolutely worth checking out as an amalgamation of some of the more creative ideas the FPS genre has developed over the last decade.
It ain’t perfect, but as Grayson would say, “F*$& it, let’s do this.”