What Could Have Been: Bulletstorm
Coming off of the critically acclaimed Gears of War and the ever popular Unreal series, there were some that thought that developers Epic Games and its subsidiary, People Can Fly, was on the verge of finding the formula for the perfect action game. In 2010, when Game Informer made the official announcement for Epic Games’ next foray into the world of action, new and longtime fans of the successful developer felt nothing but anticipation for the company’s next project. When Bulletstorm finally released in February of 2011, despite fairly high reviews, its sales would prove disappointing when compared to its action brethren, Gears of War. Where did this tale of revenge and male genitalia go wrong? In our first segment of “What could have been…”, I focus on where Bulletstorm dropped the ball and why Epic Games wound up dropping any possibility of a future sequel.
The story of the disgraced captain that turns to unethical mercenary work as he hunts down / runs from those that caused his downfall is nothing new – see Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the much more likable Captain Malcolm Reynolds. It’s not the rehashed story that is Bulletstorm’s biggest flaw, though; it’s how it’s handled. Grayson Hunt leads his ragtag group of space pirates on an ill-fated mission – and nobody cares. Each character is so brash and completely unlikeable that no matter what happens to anybody, there’s nothing to get invested in. Epic may not be amongst the best of storytellers, but there was at least some form of outcry when (spoiler alert!) Dom Santiago bit the dust in Gears of War 3. This leads to Bulletstorms second big flaw: Dialogue.
The biggest complaint from one review to the next is the lack of dialogue that doesn’t involve some iteration of male genitalia. Granted, these characters may not be amongst the brightest in the universe, surely they have enough brainpower to form at least one intelligent sentence. The game’s script does not indicate this at all – not even the game’s antagonist, Star General “Stereotypical Bad Guy” Saranno, can quell his sudden tourettes. Again, Epic’s previous titles – Unreal and Gears of War – were not with their script flaws, but they were at least slightly intelligent when they needed to be. It’s hard to follow the Bulletstorm’s story, even as minuscule as it was, when you’re too busy learning all the different ways you can say “penis”.
Story, characters, and dialogue aside, Bulletstorm also suffered from a case of “underwhelm”. Each new gun Grayson picks up throughout the game offers a new means of destroying the enemy, but the complete loadout is somewhat disappointingly small and standard. From the standard assault rifle to a sniper rifle with a rather nifty secondary fire that allows you to determine the path of your bullet as its moving towards your foe, you won’t see anything all too surprising and out of the box.
Trumping even the disappointment of the weapon selection is the lack of exciting set pieces. Outside of an arial attack on the native, dinosaur-like Hekaton, Bulletstorm doesn’t do anything outside of the box or overly exciting. The game follows your standard run ‘n gun set-up and relies far too much on the clever ways that foes can be killed to drive the game’s short run. The addition of the “instinct leash” adds a slight depth to the straight forward firefights, but its main purpose was just to drive the “skillshot” reward system. Had it been given a few more uses, the whip could have been the difference between the “likable” title that Bulletstorm is to the “must play” experience that the game could have been.
Where Epic seemed to really drop the ball, though, was with the game’s marketing. Those that picked up the game seemed to enjoy its short, crass nature, but that number of players is quite small when compared to Epic’s other titles. Bulletstorm may not have been the perfect follow-up to Gears of War, but it does have plenty of character that could have made it a household shooter. Unfortunately, Epic Games president Mike Capps has gone on record to say that any potential sequel to Bulletstorm has been scrapped for another project (later confirmed to be Gears of War: Judgement), leaving no hope for a more fleshed out romp in the world of Bulletstorm.