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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Bulletstorm, the combined effort from the two developers who brought us Painkiller and Gears of War.

Transcript Edit

About fifteen years ago, the biggest problem in shooters was a brazen lack of realism. "Look at the Doom Marine," gamers would yell, "he glides around at something approximating the land speed record. It's so unrealistic! My immersion is melting down and dribbling out of my ears. And he can carry fifteen heavy weapons on his person without herniating his entire spine - it's so unrealistic! And he has perfect aim without having to ram the butt of his gun up his fucking nostrils - it's so unrealistic! And it's fun - it's so unrealistic in this joyless, painful nightmare existence we share. Thank Christ for companies like Epic, for games like Gears of War that popularize fat space marines trundling between chest-high walls like they're in wheelchairs."

But in 2004, a company called People Can Fly shirked modern trends to create Painkiller, a fast, frantic, and shamingly fun evocation of the bygone age and one of my favorite shooters of all time. "Wow," said Epic, "you really showed us how it's done, People Can Fly. Why don't you step over here for a second? Come on, don't be shy, we're not going to hurt you - Now! Drop the net! Hit them with sticks! Phew, nipped that one in the bud." So now that People Can Fly have been roundly whipped into line, they and Epic Games can bring you Bulletstorm, a game about fat space marines.

A small shipful of the chunky bastards are out seeking revenge on the military leader who betrayed them and succeed in downing both him and themselves onto some future equivalent of Butlins that's been taken over by marauding gangs and mutants, and the challenge when analyzing the story of Bulletstorm is figuring out just how many liters of piss it's taking.

At times, the central space marines are strongly reminiscent of the Republican Space Rangers from GTA IV, all overtly bursting with homoerotic tension and deploying the word "dick" at every opportunity in a rather Freudian way. And the token matchstick-thin improbably strong, skimpy vest-wearing female character who lactates a steady stream of penis envy is probably meant to be a joke - or at least I fucking hope so. But at other times, the protagonist's unresolved guilt for the misfortunes of the men under his command is played oddly straight. It makes me wonder how deep the irony hole really goes and how many of the people involved in development were in on the joke.

Bulletstorm is best summarized as the spirit of classic psychotic fun shooters pushed through the filter of modern-style action gaming, which is like forcing a quick and sprightly fox to queue up with the sleepy badgers. So gameplay is a linear series of battlegrounds inspired by the architectural school of Sir Wally McChesthigh and health regenerates if you suck your thumb behind a tree for a few seconds. But the game creates an air of forced jollity with a lengthy library of fun novelty kills that you can execute to get points for buying guns and ammo. It's rather akwardly tire-ironed into the plot; you're using a stolen military thing that resupplies soldiers based on their performance in the field, which doesn't explain why it give you points for killing insects, blowing up advertising robots, and getting drunk (unless the military organization was sponsored by Bacardi). It's not a complaint, but I do wonder why it feels the need to explain it, and I wonder if that isn't part of the problem, that we can't just cock around without feeling the need to give our cocks backstories.

If you cast your mind back to the middle portion of the last sentence, you'll note my use of the phrase "part of the problem," and a problem there certainly is. It stems from the game being torn like a flighty broad in a romance novel between the penniless but exciting, motorbike-riding Painkiller and the dull, suit-wearing accountant with guaranteed income Gears of War.

Like Painkiller, the weapons have all been rather gratifyingly designed to be basically viscerally fun to use. The shotgun sounds like God slamming his car door and is powerful enough to seperate a follow from his entire joy department, sniper rifle bullets can be carefully guided in slo-mo bullet-o-vision directly into an enemy's taint then exploded, there's a gun that basically attaches remotely-detonated suicide bomber vests to people, and you're armed with a lasso and a mighty boot to hurl enemies around the battlefield, into spikes, onto fires, and off cliffs. If you can convince yourself that the basic human enemies all resemble your co-workers, in-laws, and probation officers, then you have everything you need to stave off your workplace shooting rampage for another few, grim, tortuous days.

But the problem with Bulletstorm 's spree-killer activity playset is that it seems to have been designed for a different game, one more in line with the fast gameplay shooters had before they ate all the pies. The effectiveness of many of the weapons' specific special attacks rely on enemies being grouped closely together, but they never do that; they spread out and hide among cover the moment they arrive on the scene. In Painkiller, I would have circle-strafed around to wrangle them together, like a heavily-armed border collie, but as with every bloody-mindedly realistic shooter, stepping out from cover just results in getting handfuls of strawberry jam smeared all over your eyes.

There's one weapon that drops a bouncing bomb that explodes each time it lands, and you're supposed to run up and kick it at people, but how your lumbering thunder thighs are supposed to achieve that without a drastic sinus clearing is beyond me. There are some melee enemies that run towards you out of cover, and if you're lucky they'll form up into a nice convenient queue so that they can all be tidily relived of their top halves, but some spunkchump thought it would be a great idea to have to press the right shoulder button to activate the special attack, then right trigger to fire it. I cannot for the life of me think of a good reason why you couldn't just fire it by pressing the right shoulder button, because it adds another second or two of thinking time and that's exactly what you don't have when axe-wielding wazzocks are running up with designs on your man-salad.

Bulletstorm does make the effort to be cathartic. A couple of the dialogue lines made me laugh, and the environments look nice - or rather, the skyboxes look nice while the actual environments you play in are chest-high clutter. It is, at the end of the day, fun to kick your ex's new boyfriend into exposed wiring, but I don't think it's all on the same page. It's trying to have its cake and eat it, which might explain why all the space marines got so fat.

A concept for a good, fast-paced, runaroundy, chaotic shooter lies in here somewhere tantalizingly from beneath the infuriating chains and straightjackets of compromise with today's AAA conveyer-belt system. Perhaps I overidealize the old ways over the space marine angst brigade, but all I can say is I don't remember ever asking for this. I don't remember playing Doom and thinking "this game would be perfect if only I was wearing a fucking dust bin!"

AddendaEdit

More of a bullet drizzle really: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

Yes I know the Doom character was technically a space marine but at least he kept his mouth shut

I lost my heart and various other things to a starship trooper


ScreenshotsEdit

Bulletstorm 1

It's so unrealistic!

Bulletstorm 2

Torn like a flighty broad in a romance novel between the penniless but exciting, motorbike-riding Painkiller and the dull, suit-wearing accountant with guaranteed income Gears of War

Bulletstorm 3

It is, at the end of the day, fun to kick your ex's new boyfriend into exposed wiring

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata

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