Try as I might to avoid the hype for games I haven’t yet played I still can’t help but notice when a game keeps repeatedly popping up in my feed reader. The first of these such games, which I had little idea about before I bought it, was Bayonetta. It seemed I couldn’t go 2 days without hearing something else about this new IP from the creator of the Devil May Cry series and after I heard it got a perfect 40/40 score from Famitsu I decided it was probably worth a play through. Of course I got all of 2 hours out of it before I couldn’t bear anymore so you can imagine my skepticism of when a game comes to me via a similar route. Still Bulletstorm managed to get the tick of approval from my friends (even the harshest amongst them) so I threw down the cash for a copy on steam and gave it a good old fashioned thrashing over the past week.
What got me first was just how rich and beautiful the environments were. Many times I caught myself just taking a couple seconds to stop and gawk at the scenery, something you didn’t get a whole lot of time for sometimes. Surprisingly enough too the game ran perfectly fine at maximum settings (apart from AA) on my 3 year old rig, even when the action on screen got particularly hectic. This is of course mostly due to the consolisation of the games industry which has both advantages and disadvantages. Being able to squeeze multiple years of life out of old hardware is one of these but there are a few things that suffer because of it.
Since the console market is by far the largest part of the current gaming market, approximately 95%, most games are optimized for the experience on the console first. Bulletstorm is no exception to this (although it is one of the better cross platform releases I’ve played) and there are some hangovers from its consolisation. Probably the most noticeable of this is the inclusion of Games for Windows Live client which has to be installed, even if you purchased the game through Steam. This extends to the menus throughout the game which don’t even let you use the mouse to select the items in them. Additionally many advanced configuration options are hidden in encrypted config files requiring quite a bit of wrangling to get at should you want to tweak the settings a bit. Individually these are all minor gripes but when summed up altogether they do serve to take away from the game experience on the PC, the platform I most often choose for my FPS binges.
You play as Grayson Hunt, a former black-ops agent who worked for the Confederation of Planets. You’ve since gone rogue after finding out that your commander, General Sarrano, was using you to suppress dissidents, telling you they were murderers and drug runners. You see the chance for revenge when your ship crosses paths with his and after a brief bout both you and your former commander end up ship wrecked on the planet Stygia. The rest of the game is dedicated to finding a way off planet, getting revenge on sarrano and dealing with the various creatures that inhabit this strange world who get in the way of your ultimate goal.
Whilst Bulletstorm takes many queues from current first and third person shooters (extensive use of cover and regenerative health) there are a couple novel mechanics thrown in to spice up an otherwise ordinary FPS. The first is the energy leash which looks like a serpentine bolt of lightning that enables you to pull enemies, items and bits of the environment towards you. The leash can also be upgraded to have a “thumper” ability allowing you to throw multiple enemies into the air at once which you can then pick off at your leisure. It comes in place of the usual melee weapon, like the crowbar in Half Life, allowing you to dispatch enemies even if you’re running low on ammo. Indeed the game encourages you to use the environment to your advantage as is shown by the next novel feature included in Bulletstorm.
Duty Calls, the “demo” for Bulletstorm, ridiculed the Call of Duty style games for their leveling systems in order to get upgrades. Instead Bulletstorm gives you a list of skillshots to acomplish awarding points each time you complete one of them. You can do them multiple times over (although they give more on the first attempt) and these points are then used to purchase upgrades and ammunition at the various drop boxes that have been scattered across Stygia. Each weapon has a unique upgrade that requires its own special ammunition that you can only buy at these drop boxes but is always quite powerful, usually one shotting even the most tough of enemies. The system works quite well as you learn how to maximize your return on each encounter and some of the skill shots are just plain fun to do.
The gameplay itself is very fast paced, action filled and smothered in gobs of low brow humor to keep your entertained along the way. Many of the scenes have you running your way through massive environments to make it to the next save point and nearly every one of them ends with you either destroying something huge or crash landing in some way. Whilst I didn’t find it as gripping as say Modern Warfare 2 it was still enough to keep me in my seat for the final 3 hours. The dialog is, to put it bluntly, crude and squarely aimed at the frat boy crowd that this game targets. It might sound snobbish of me since I’m a big fan of the expansive dialog trees Bioware is known for spoiling us with but the low brow humor fits Bulletstorm’s characters well, even if I found it a little tiresome towards the end.
Bulletstorm’s plot follows a similar vein, being enough to give the characters the proper motivations and an excuse for the ridiculous action but not serving much past that. The false end and subsequent last sequence that basically yells at you “Yes there’s going to be a sequel!” serves to cheapen what little depth it might have had. It’s similar to the false end in Red Dead Redemption, albeit without the emotional heart ache that plagued me for days afterwards.
Does that mean I think the game isn’t worth playing? Hell no! Whilst I was apprehensive shelling out the requisite dollars on a game that came to me in the same way as Bayonetta I still throughly enjoyed the Bulletstorm experience. There was nothing more satisfying than lining up hordes of burn-outs and laying waste to them with a single shotgun charge. Some of the skillshots take real skill to pull off and having the right weapon at the right time can mean the difference between breezing through and a gritty struggle for survival. Sure the plot might not be as deep and engrossing as other titles but I still enjoyed every moment of it.
Bulletstorm is one of the two low brow shooters (the other being the fabled vaporware title, Duke Nukem Forever) that delivers on its promises of over-the-top action, thrills and dirty language. Whilst the experience was somewhat hampered by the current trend of consolisation it still manages to deliver a great PC experience that I’m sure will be a favorite at LANs for a long time to come. If you’re amongst the teaming droves of those waiting anxiously for the release of Duke Nukem Forever you won’t go wrong by biding your time with Bulletstorm and even if you’re not it’s a satisfying game based on its single player alone.
Bulletstorm is available right now on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on Hard setting to completion on the single player campaign with approximately 8 hours of total game time.
OnLive and I have a very strange relationship. In the beginning I thought it was a potential money winner that would be hamstrung by the company’s desire to monetise their service from the get go. 9 months later I changed my tune somewhat when they announced that they’d be offering free trials to a decent handful of people and believed that the service could survive as a niche service for city dwelling casual gamers. I started to come around to the idea in its entirety when one of its competitors demoed World of Warcraft running on the iPad, something which I thought could easily be a common use case for their target market. With almost one and a half years separating my first post on them and today’s entry I have to say back then I didn’t expect them to come as far as they have today, nor for them to go in the direction they have.
My initial complaints about the service having a monthly fee were probably the biggest sticking point for many potential users. Having to pay US$15 per month to access the games (which you also have to buy) is something people just aren’t comfortable doing when digital distribution platforms like Steam do it for free. They won my approval when they offered quite a few people free trials that extended past a year which I believed would help get them that critical mass of users they needed in order to be attractive for their investors. In reality the opposite was true since free users won’t necessarily migrate to a paid product but paying customers are paying customers, ensuring that you not only have a viable product but also a viable market.
I really hadn’t heard anything more about the service until yesterday when I stumbled across one of their blog posts that detailed something quite extraordinary:
It’s official: There will be no base monthly fee for the OnLive Game Service going forward. WOOT!
Free Instant-play Demos, Free Massive Spectating, Free Brag Clip™ videos, messaging, friending.
No credit card needed, unless you decide to buy a 3-day, 5-day or Full PlayPass. And ongoing access with no monthly fee. Of course, we’ve had a promotion waiving the monthly fee for the first year, so this announcement is confirming what we had hoped—that we can continue without a monthly fee beyond the first year. Although we wish we could have confirmed no monthly fee from the get-go, pioneering a major new video game paradigm is hard: we had to first grow to a large base of regular users before we could understand usage patterns and operating costs. Now that we’ve reached that stage, we can confidently say a monthly fee is not needed, which deserves a double WOOT! WOOT!
I must say it really took me by surprise when I read that. Knowing that video streaming services are extremely bandwidth intensive and highly unprofitable (YouTube still isn’t profitable) I struggled to see how they could make a decent amount of money without charging monthly access fees. OnLive of course knows their finances better than anyone and it appears that the monthly fees were just a temporary measure to get them over that initial hump of users required to get them a steady stream of funding from their primary market: games sales. I hadn’t really looked into how they were doing this but having a quick look around their website I can see where the potential revenue is coming from.
For most games there’s 3 different purchase options. The 3 and 5 day play pass let’s you play the game in question for their amount of time from the day you purchase it. This isn’t game time mind you so it’s more like you’re renting that game for 3 or 5 days. The last option is the full play pass which allows you to play the game for as long as it is available on OnLive’s servers. They state in their support section that all games will be supported for at minimum 3 years from the point they’re first available so in essence even the full pass is still a rental, just one with an uncertain end date.
The 3 and 5 day passes seem to be reasonably priced with the most expensive of their being $6 and $9 respectively. For many throw away games that you’ll only ever play once this is a pretty reasonable price and would open up quite a few games to those who’d traditionally shy away from them because of the price. It’s akin to Netflix’s idea of taking the pain out of renting rentals by letting you conduct the entire process from your home. In my opinion this is where OnLive will draw most of its sales as that’s the area where the service shines. The full play pass however is riddled with problems.
For starters the cost of full play passes aren’t universally cheaper than their digital download counter parts with many of them being the same price or higher, for example:
This also doesn’t take into account any multi-pack sales that Steam is famous for.
Sure I can understand the point that you’re paying for the ability to play a game anywhere and thus the costs aren’t really comparable but for anyone with a machine less than 3 years old (my current one is 2) you could easily play any of these games without needing OnLive anyway. This is due solely to the consolisation of PC games and won’t be changing for anytime in the foreseeable future. Thus whilst you do gain flexibility from buying these games in OnLive you can only guarantee them to be there for 3 years and once they decide to stop supporting it you’re sweet out of luck. There’s no way to download your purchase once they’ve decided to flip the kill switch, effectively ending your ability to use your purchase forever.
This is the one aspect of OnLive that I absolutely detest, it’s the ultimate DRM that games publishing companies have been salivating over for years. Users of OnLive can’t trade their games with friends nor sell them to a used game shop in order to buy additional games. Effectively this turns all game “purchases” in OnLive into rentals under the control of the games publishers and the OnLive service, stripping away any freedom the end user might have once had. It is purely based on this fact that I will never, ever buy a full play pass from OnLive and will be extremely hesitant to use it for anything save reviewing the service itself as I can not condone this kind of behaviour from any corporation.
OnLive at its heart is a brilliant idea to bring gaming to those who can’t afford the time or monetary investment to stay on the cutting edge of gaming but still have a desire to. However every time I find something to love about the service I find yet another thing to hate about it and as it stands today I can not recommend it for anything past renting a throwaway game. The core ideas are solid and should OnLive make an effort to improve their service through say letting you download full purchases through their client then I’d have no trouble recommending them. For now though I’ll have to abstain from what is the worst form of DRM I’ve ever encountered and hope that everyone else will do the same.