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.
I’m pretty indiscriminate when it comes to my gaming platforms. I’ve got every current generation console in my house including one of each of the hand helds. So when I want to play a game that’s got a cross platform release I’ll usually take a look at how each of them are reviewing and choose the highest rated platform. Dragon Age: Origins was a great example of this as the reviews of the console versions were a lot worse than its PC counter part and I can only imagine how the problems I encountered on the PC would be magnified by running it on a console. Still there’s one platform that I’ve always considered second rate when compare to any of the other consoles I have; my iPhone. I’ve still got quite a collection of games on there but apart from Plants vs Zombies none of them could be classed above a simple time waster. That is until I bought Infinity Blade.
Infinity Blade has garnered quite a lot of press since its initial release 3 months ago as it’s the first game ever on iOS to make use of the Unreal 3 engine. The teaser screenshots released by EPIC and Chair showed that the Unreal engine had the potential to deliver much better graphics to the iOS platform, bringing the iPhone’s capabilities up to the level of dedicated gaming systems. Since all the 3D games I had tried thus far on my iPhone had been rather poor I was keen to see how Infinity Blade faired, and I wasn’t disappointed.
You play as the son of an unnamed warrior who has been killed by one of the Deathless, an immortal race of beings that appear to hold control over parts of the mortal world. Your mission is to fight your way through the various enemies that guard the Deathless’ castle so you can avenge your father. Of course you’ll probably not succeed the first time through and you will fall to the Deathless again, leaving your son to avenge you and starting the cycle anew. Over the course of the game you’ll find gold, items and health potions that will help your character along the way and these will be passed down the bloodline to successive characters.
The game doesn’t fail to impress from the get go with the gorgeous graphics filling the screen. The voice acting of the characters is done in much the same way as the Sims, being some incomprehensible gibberish that allows them to just put sub-titles on everything to make regionalization easy, but that doesn’t stop them from being adequately emotive. In-between bouts of combat you’re allowed to look around for items, chests and bags of gold that have been left lying around. You’re not able to walk freely around in Infinity Blade with travel being done by clicking on a pulsing circle to progress to the next area.
Combat in Infinity Blade is probably the most satisfying aspect of the game. Upon encountering an enemy you’re left standing in front of them until you hit the pulsing blue circle to engage with them. Upon doing so you’ll be greeted with a short cut-scene where the enemy shows off how tough they are. You’re then playing a game of dodging, parrying or blocking their incoming swings whilst attempting to hit back with swings of your own. As combat progresses you’ll move around the area you’re in, ensuring that no fight is completely static. You’re also equipped with 2 special abilities, a “super move” which will stun your enemy temporarily and a magic move which can be one of a number of spells which are granted to you through rings.
Like any good RPG the game also has a basic stat system along with a good variety of loot to augment your character with. Initially I thought it was going to be your typical dungeon crawler with all loot gathered from mobs and chests however there’s an in-game store where you can buy new weapons and armor using gold. You’ll want to do this often because as you defeat enemies you gain experience points which are attributed to your weapons and eventually you’ll master them after which they won’t grant you any more experience points. Still I found myself sticking with a few core items well after I had mastered them simply because they made the game so easy, but its quite obvious that the game would prefer you gradually upgrade rather than jump the gun like I did.
After a while however the limited variety in game play does tend to drag a bit, especially when the only challenging enemy is the Deathless and the next upgrade costs half a million gold to buy. You can get around this drag by buying a sack of gold in the store for real money, but that will only stave off the boredom until the shininess wears off your new gear. That’s not to say the game isn’t worth playing at all however as I was truly captivated for the first 5 bloodlines as I attempted to slay the Deathless that had killed my great-great-great grandfather. After that however it’s just an elaborate game of digital Barbie, looking for new items to dress up my character with.
Infinity Blade is pretty good with its execution too with the only problems I encountered being things they could not fix. Initially I couldn’t get the game past the first few loading screens but after rebooting my iPhone it went along without a hitch. Additionally I found the game’s recognition of touches and gestures to be a bit wonky at times, however this is probably more due to my notorious sweaty hands than any fault of the game developers. The iPhone can get extremely warm after a 10 minute bout in Infinity Blade so I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing this, but there’s little any developer could do to alleviate it.
Overall I was very satisfied with Infinity Blade and the experience it created. Whilst it’s still a far cry from the games I’ve been enamored with on other mobile platforms Infinity Blade demonstrates that smart phones and tablets are quite capable of being used as a portable gaming console, something which I didn’t quite believe it was capable of. Whilst I don’t believe we’ll see any titles that can hold a candle to the releases on a fully fledged console or PC there’s still a ton of potential to be unlocked in this space and Infinity Blade has shown it can be quite profitable even for more traditional game development studios.
Infinity Blade is available on most iOS devices right now at the special price of $2.99 for the Deathless Kings upade. Game was played on an iPhone 3GS with approximately 7 hours played.