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Balls (and Everything Else) To the Wall Action: A Bulletstorm Analysis

Bulletstorm is a rude,crude FPS. However,underneath all the blood and cursing, there are some great ideas present.

Josh Bycer, Blogger

June 29, 2011

5 Min Read

I consider myself a multi-faceted gamer, there are days that I want to play a complex, challenging title that has me pouring over stats and information to make every second count. Then there are days that I want to blast monsters with giant guns, while explosions go off in the background orchestrated to the music of Black Sabbath or Queen. Bulletstorm is for those latter moments and in many ways what I like (and don't like) about the game reminds me of Mad World.

There isn't much to talk about with the story in Bulletstorm. Expect to kill a lot of guys and hear every kind of dick joke you can think of. The writing is definitely low-brow but got a few chuckles out of me. You can tell that the voice actors were having fun reading some of the crazier lines in the game.

What Bulletstorm lacks in mature writing, it makes up with graphical prowess. The backgrounds and environments look amazing, with just about every scene looks like something off of a painting. Later levels that take place in destroyed areas have a sense of awe from seeing how much destruction happened. Chances are however, you won't be concentrating on how pretty everything is when the fighting starts.

The real meat of Bulletstorm's game-play comes from the "skill-shot" system. Skill-shots are creative ways of killing enemies, either using your weapons, or the environment. Why just blast an enemy with a shotgun, when you can blast an enemy with a shotgun that splits them in half and send the top half into a giant cactus. Performing skill-shots earns you points that can be used to buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons.

The weapon design in Bulletstorm is great, which comes as no surprise given People Can Fly's (the designers) track record with Pain Killer. Each weapon has an alternate fire that changes the dynamic of the weapon. For instance, the assault rifle gets a super shot that can obliterate enemies and can pass through them. The alternate fire requires the player to spend points on charges and is most likely going to be where the majority of your points go. The only real complaint I have with the weapon system, is that the player is limited to only holding three weapons at once

Chaining together multiple skill-shots requires practice and a lot more thinking that is normally required for these types of shooters. Helping out, is how maneuverable the player is. Besides running, you also have the option to slide across the area which not only knocks enemies in the air, but gives you time to regenerate your health. However besides sliding and skill-shots, the coolest mechanic in Bulletstorm would have to be the leash.

Basically, it is an electric whip that can pull enemies and objects to the player. While the enemy is floating in mid-air, this gives you the perfect opportunity to set up for the harder skill-shots. Later in the game, you can purchase the "thumper" upgrade that gives the leash the ability to blast all nearby enemies’ straight up into the air. When all these different factors come together, Bullet Storm can be a fun game, however, like a certain other ultra-violent game; I have some issues with the design.

Linear stages, while nice to look at, are not the best format for games like Bulletstorm or Mad World. The reason is that there is only so much you can do in a linear environment before it gets repetitive. Because of the linear layout, there isn't too much experimentation with the skill-shots. You can only do so much in each area and environmental deaths are the easiest to get a high score from. Every level is essentially a long corridor, with exception to a few turret sections. Due to the linearity, I could only play Bulletstorm for a few hours at a time before I had to put it down from being too repetitive. While the skill-shot system is fun, there isn't much to gain other then ammo for your weapons.

Besides the single-player story, the game offers score based challenges in the form of "echoes". In this mode, the player will replay sections of the single-player campaign to rack up as much points as possible. You are graded on how long it takes you to complete the section, along with how many different skill-shots you made. Distilling the levels down to score runs was a good idea and reminds me a little of The Club, that was released a few years back. However I think there is something better that can be done and it comes from the extreme sports genre.

One of the best design changes in my opinion from games like the Tony Hawk series, SSX and Skate, was transitioning to an open world environment. This is where skill-based games are at their best in my opinion, as it allows gamers to try out different things and see what they can do. You can still have linear events set up in the area, such as the races in SSX 3.

Now picture a game like Mad World or Bulletstorm, in an open world setting. The player is free to equip different weapons at their leisure and go around trying to perform the craziest attack combos they can think of. Points earned are used to open up new weapons and upgrades, along with boss events or linear sections.

Another way that this can help is making the combo system more fluid. In Bulletstorm, only the last few hits you do to an enemy count towards skill-shots, I would love to see the system transition into a more fluid combo system, allowing the player to rack up multiple skill-shots as long as they keep the body in air or not destroyed. In other words, give me Skate but replace skateboarding with guns, killing and explosions.

Lastly there is a multiplayer mode that has people working together to earn enough points to win. From descriptions it looks really fun; however like my time with Kane and Lynch 2, I couldn't find any friends to play with and did not try it out.

Bulletstorm is definitely not for everyone, from the crude writing to the simplified level design. However, there is a glimmer of greatness here that I would love to see them expand upon with a sequel.


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Josh Bycer


For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three. 

With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."

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