Regular readers will notice that the following article is a slight departure from our usual preview style. For gamescom 2010 we've adopted a streamlined structure, allowing us to cover as many games as possible while giving you the important juice and info. In many cases we'll be running longer, more detailed previews upon our return to the UK.
What is it?
Bulletstorm tells the story of a futuristic confederation protected by an elite band of mercenaries: Dead Echo. When Dead Echo members Grayson Hunt and Ishi Sato learn they've been working for the wrong side, they're betrayed by their commander and exiled to the far reaches of the galaxy. In Bulletstorm, Grayson and Ishi find themselves surrounded by hordes of mutants and flesh eating gangs in an abandoned paradise. They have two objectives: get off the planet alive, and exact revenge on the man who sent them there.
What was shown?
After a quick run-down of how to go about pulling off all manner of Skill Shots - elaborate ways of dealing death to earn points - A five minute demo in which Grayson and Trishka Novak - enemies forced to work together to survive - was put in my hands.
The short section of gameplay saw Grayson moving through an urban area overgrown with alien vegetation - kind of Gears of War meets Uncharted - despatching a range of enemy types on the way. It was the killing that took centre stage. I warmed into it with a few straight up shots to the face, but soon transitioned to more creative executions. The Mercy kill is a favourite, performed by shooting an enemy in the balls, forcing him to his knees. At this point you put him out of his misery with a bullet in the head.
At various locations through the stage were upgrade stations, allowing points earned from kills to be cashed in for improved weapon capabilities. The standard Peace Maker Carbine assault rifle can be overcharged so it fires 100 bullets in one go, instantly toasting any sorry mutant that gets in the way.
In addition to projectile weaponry, Grayson can use an electric leash to grab hold of enemies from a distance, pulling them in ready for a boot into the air or a head shot. Upgrade stations can also be used to beef up your leash. Using leash overdrive it's possible to send everything within a set radius flying into the air. Should this include an explosive canister then it's well worth blasting the can, sparking an explosion that forces the innards to be expelled from all the floating bodies within the blast range.
After clearing out all the bad guys the demo ended with a run-in with a giant Venus Flytrap, though the action faded to black before we could take on the meat-loving plant.
The action is very fast, and thankfully the controls - played on an Xbox 360 pad, though I couldn't actually see if I was playing on a PC or Xbox 360 - are up to the job. Everything is where shooter fans will expect it to be, so there are no concerns in this department. You've got your primary weapon on the right shoulder (trigger fire, bumper to charge) and the leash on the left shoulder.
It looks great, too. Clearly Unreal Engine 3, but the demo stage was filled with bright greens, oranges and yellows, and even when the action ramped up there was no sign of any slow down. Kills also offer just the right amount of gore to satisfy and the kill points which display above each victim work to encourage you to keep going.
It should have been expected really - coming from the same people who brought us the hugely enjoyable Painkiller titles - but Bulletstorm is amazing fun. I'm pretty sure it won't be winning accolades for story-telling, but its unique Skill Shot system makes dealing with grunts a chance to try out some cool new tricks, rather than a means to make it to the next stage. Whether or not this sense of discovery remains after a few hours with the game, we'll have to wait and see.
Bulletstorm is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on February 22, 2011.