The name of the developer is People Can Fly - and in Bulletstorm, people both can and will. But these people won't be sitting in the economy section of a Boeing 747, nor will they be soaring through the air to the sound of Aled Jones' syrupy larynx. No, Bulletstorm's unwilling aviators will be propelled by explosive force, by electrical whips, and by good old fashioned kicks to the head. Are they ultimately flying to heaven, or is their final resting place simply determined by wherever their battered bodies eventually land? It's hard to say, but they're certainly very, very dead.
As most of us are well aware by now, Bulletstorm isn't overly concerned with subtlety. Spectacular murder is the order of the day here, with players taking apart their foes using over-the-top weapons in flashy, show-boating style. You don't just kill your enemies; you turn their execution into an interpretive ballet of blood, giblets and sliced-off limbs. It's a first-person shooter that declines to follow the current trend for bombastic, blockbuster narrative, choosing instead to focus on combos and score-based play. It's a gamer's game, and as such Bulletstorm is arguably closer to 2K's Borderlands than to the likes of Killzone or Call of Duty - though that's probably where the similarities end.
I've seen and heard quite a few promising things about this game over the past year or so - the presentation during EA's E3 conference was particularly appetising - but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I actually got to roll up my sleeves and dive in. The demo level went by the name of Echo: The Hideout and took the form of an expansive tropical landscape. Here metal shanty town-like structures sit high atop rocky outcrops, bathed in the light of a setting sun. It's a pretty sight, to be sure, but there's no time to pull out your iPhone for an obnoxious wish-you-were-here Tweet. This is a combat zone, and there's killin' to be done.
While there are a great many lethal toys to play with in Bulletstorm - and we'll cover some of the game's arsenal in just a moment - two of your most useful weapons are the Energy Leash and your own booted foot. On the Xbox 360 build, the LB button will cause you to throw out an electrified whip; anything (or anyone) it touches will then be tugged back towards you. Pressing B, meanwhile, will dish out a hard forward kick. By combing these two moves you can pull an enemy in and the then boot him wherever you like - over a cliff, into his mates, or perhaps into electrical generator (futuristic thugs tend to skimp on their Health and Safety checks). It's such a fun little mechanic that you'll immediately want to use it as often as possible, which is perhaps why I found myself repeatedly leashing and kicking the same enemy over and over again, turning them into a bashed-up human yo-yo.
There's a score reward for doing this, but then that's hardly surprising, as there's a reward for almost everything you can do in Bulletstorm, from basic kills in quick succession to the seemingly endless selection of weapon-based combos. Numbers and coloured notifiers pop-up in arcade style whenever you pull off one of these tricks (in other words, every few seconds or so), but I was so absorbed by the thought of my next kill that I barely paid attention to the words and digits flying above my victims.
It'll be interesting to see how this pans out in the long run, but on first inspection there seems to be an almost overwhelming number of ways to approach your battles. You’re only allowed to carry two weapons at a time, and that's probably just as well, as otherwise you'd be forever dawdling over which gun you wanted to use next. The weapons themselves are pleasingly inventive in their design, recalling the era of shooters when creations like Quake's Lightning Gun or Turok's Cerebral Bore were a regular treat, and with skilful play you'll earn the ability to overcharge them, resulting in a selection of brilliant alternate fire modes. Bulletstorm's shotgun, the Bone Duster, is a four-barrelled beast that has the power to melt people when overcharged. I have no idea how or why it can do this, but who cares when it's so much fun to use?
Even the game's mandatory assault rifle, the PMC, has the power to expend an entire clip in a single, glorious burst. Still, there's little doubt that it'll be the stranger armaments that will be catching people's attention when the game arrives next year. The Flail gun fires out a pair of bolas-like explosives on wires, and when overcharged these thin cables gain the power to slice people clean in half. Even better than that is the alt fire on the grenade launcher, which produces a floating yellow ball of mayhem that can be booted into a roomful of enemies, bouncing off the walls and utterly obliterating everyone nearby.
It's telling, perhaps, that I've spent so little time discussing the level itself, with its sheer drops, ramshackle cover and thin metal walkways; the truth of the matter is that I spent most of my time messing around and having a laugh. Bulletstorm is a game that first encourages you to play with its gadgets, and then to show off exactly what you can do with them - but underpinning both styles are tight controls and sensible, fluid mechanics. The FPS basics are handled very well, and this leaves you to comfortably enjoy the more zany antics that are built on top of them - things like your ability to leash enemy pilots from their flying machines, shoot them in the balls a few times, and then cut them in two with a slice of cheese wire. Along with the single-player campaign, the full release will offer a wave-based co-op mode supporting four people at once, so who knows what you'll be able to do with that many willing hands (and feet).
People Can Fly's previous shooter, 2002's Painkiller, already proved that the studio understands the FPS genre, and with the support of Epic Games - including a certain Cliff Bleszinski - there's every reason to be feeling optimistic about Bulletstorm. I certainly am, and with the game's release set for next February, it won’t be too long before we get our sticky paws on the finished article.
Bulletstorm will be released on February 22 2011 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.