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Bulletstorm: The pinball shooter

Bulletstorm has been touted as a departure from the typical cookie cutter first-person-shooter. Does it achieve that distinction or sink to the bottom?

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Bulletstorm

Among the sea of trite and unimaginative first-person-shooters is Bulletstorm, the latest offering from developers Epic Games and People Can Fly, some of the fine folks who brought us the Gears of War franchise.

Bulletstorm has been touted as a departure from the typical cookie cutter first-person-shooter. Does it achieve that distinction or sink to the bottom?

In the weeks leading up to its release, the marketing minds behind Bulletstorm sent shockwaves through the gaming world by attempting to attract gamers who were sick of the same old shooter experience. To reinforce the campaign further, a parody game called "Duty Calls: The Calm Before the Storm" was developed to poke fun at modern shooters and their redundancies, clearly singling out the Call of Duty franchise as major culprits.

Now that we've actually had some time with the game, we're pleased to report that Bulletstorm does in fact separate itself from the monotony of the average shooter. In playing and reviewing Bulletstorm, a new genre popped into mind; we're calling the game a pinball shooter.

Why a "pinball shooter?" Well, certainly there are no metal balls or flippers in Bulletstorm, but the way scoring is calculated made us think of the strategy involved when playing a pinball machine. After a while, one of the game's main mechanics--the leash--even started to feel like a pinball table's plunger.

Bulletstorm encourages the player to get creative in the way enemies are disposed of, using combinations of melee attacks, weapons, and the environment. Each skillshot is awarded a value in skillpoints which can be tethered to others to form multipliers. The only thing missing is multiball.


These skillpoints are used as the game's currency, which can be cashed in at conveniently located checkpoints that offer new weapons, ammo, and upgrades. There's enough diversity through the game's chapters and acts that keep up the flow and prevents things from ever going stale. The environmentally based opportunities continually change, so we never got bored having to do the same skillshot over and over.

While Bulletstorm's story isn't anything to write home about, it's abundantly clear the game doesn't take itself very seriously. This is also conveyed through the title's goofy skillshot naming and the lighthearted attitude of the main characters.

Whenever a game can make us rethink of a way to define it, it's something we believe deserves attention. Bulletstorm doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's certainly made us believe that there's still innovation left in an otherwise played-out genre.

For a first look at the game's action, check out this week's episode of preGame for an in-studio demo!


For a consumer product pitched mainly as an ultraviolent adolescent fantasy, Bulletstorm is a surprisingly competent gameplay experience--well-polished, with excellent production values, and some really killer (no pun intended) set pieces. So much so, that it's a shame the plot, characters, dialog, and storytelling are so blazingly stupid.

Don't get me wrong, the game has clearly been deliberately designed and sold as an ode to retched visceral excess, but here's a bit of marketing savvy from your old uncle Dan. The more a game (or movie, television program, etc.) trumpets itself over and over (and over) again as "outrageous," or "over the top," the less so it's actually likely to be.

Any attempt at this kind of subversive Grand Guignol requires crossing lines with a sly wink at the audience (think Duke Nukem at its best)--instead Bulletstorm comes off more like a frat boy focus group come to life.

And yet, if somehow you can get past that, you may find (as I did) that Bulletstorm is surprisingly hard to put down, at least for a few hours. There's a solid sense of connection between controller and character, and, in perhaps the single bit of higher brain activity connected with the it, there's even a reasonable in-game explanation for the game's obsessive score-keeping, keeping the kill-combo mechanics from feeling too tacked on.