Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Does Bulletstorm Promote Rape?

BulletstormNo. What the hell is wrong with you, Dr. Carole?

It’s possible there’s a rational discussion to be had about the connection between video games and violence, but that wasn’t it. Apparently, not even Fox News is a sanctuary from sensationalism these days. *wink*

To be honest, I only half heard about this “controversy” before I started playing Bulletstorm. I nervously expected a game full of sexual assault. That wasn’t what I got.

What does Bulletstorm have to offer, then, if not a path to life imprisonment?

  • Above-average first-person shooter gameplay.
  • Skillshots, which can sometimes get you into trouble at work.
  • Gorgeous graphics.
  • Disappointingly linear levels.
  • Shakespearean dialogue: “Shut it, retard. I didn’t come down here for more excuses from your cockhole.”

The Story

Logan? That's not it, either...
In the game, you play Wolf Bulletstorm…or something like that. I can’t remember his name, but the dude totally looks like Wolverine. He leads a team of good-natured, wisecracking space marines/assassins who rebel against their boss, General Sarrano, when they discover he has been using them to kill off his personal enemies.

After years on the run, your spaceship accidentally runs across Sarrano’s ship, you ram it, and both plummet to the mutant-infested former resort planet of Stygia. Mayhem ensues.

Influences

Since Bulletstorm is an Epic game, I couldn’t help but compare it to Gears of War. You can feel Gears in the way your character moves, especially in the lumbering “roadie run” sprint. Even the set pieces are similar — here you’re on a train, trying desperately to outrun some impossibly huge thing that’s bent on crushing you, there you’ve fallen into a tunnel underground where you’re confronted by a different huge thing. And you better stay behind cover, brother!

Unfortunately, the game world is also linear like Gears. You can rarely backtrack, which contrasts with the game’s focus on creativity. The game feels very much “on rails.”

Where Bulletstorm veers away from its cousin, however, is in its tone. It keeps things light, even though it deals with some heavy themes of redemption and taking responsibility for your actions. It’s hard to maintain a somber tone in a game where you can shoot your enemy in the ass with an RPG and the words “Rear Entry +50” light up above the body.

In fact, the tone and especially the dialogue reminded me of Duke Nukem. How could it not? It was coarse, gross, and juvenile. I’ve never thought Duke Nukem was very funny or clever, and I don’t think most of what is said in Bulletstorm is either. But Grayson Hunt (see, I knew it all along) carries himself with a little more dignity than Duke and a lot more self-deprecation and confusion. That’s why I laughed at this exchange:



Or maybe it’s because I’m an arrested adolescent.

Skillshots

Skillshots up the fun factor and add replay value. Simply put, the more creative you are with your kills, the more the game rewards you with points that you can spend on ammo and weapon upgrades. There’s an in-game rationale for skillshots, but it doesn’t really make sense and it doesn’t much matter. They’re a hoot.

The game takes glee in the carnage you wreak, handing out often-gross skillshot names that were clearly written by a middle-schooler:  “Meat Fountain,” “Topless,” “Splatterpunk.” They are undoubtedly sadistic — the characters actually comment on this directly. But they add variety to what you were going to do anyway: kill every last mutant between you and rescue.

Once I found myself surrounded by ten explosive-butted rockmen (long story). I swigged a drink of whiskey because the game awards more points for kills you make while drunk. Did I mention this is not a game for children? After my drink, I slammed down the Thumper, which threw the enemies against the ceiling, where they all exploded simultaneously, not only saving my life by netting me an achievement. Now that may not be the crowning moment of Western Civilization, but I did leap up in my living room and punch the air.

Recommendation

Play it. Even beyond the skillshots, it’s a well-executed shooter with a lot going for it. It’s beautifully rendered — the vistas on Stygia are breathtaking, even if the characters are all types you’ve seen before. Be prepared for immature dialog and linear gameplay, too. But these are small flaws compared to the fun this game offers.

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Check out more Shame Pile reviews, if you're so inclined.

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