Setting is important. Rapture was a representation of Andrew Ryan’s failed objectivist ideology; Pandora’s wastelands showed greed corrupting the world at every corner; and now Bulletstorm’s Elysium is a detailed expression of how awesome a world would be if it were the destructive playground of a swaggering muscle man with enough brute power to kick a dude thirty feet.
Over the course of a gory presentation at EA’s spring showcase earlier this week, People Can Fly’s Creative Director, Adrian Chmielarz, put game hero Grayson Hunt through a murderous boot camp of unfettered testosterone so intense it was a miracle he left the stage without beating his chest and grunting a rendition of The Village People’s Macho Man.
A generous pinch of hyperbole was to be expected, of course. People Can Fly’s previous game, Painkiller, had you playing as a gruff dude pruning the forces of hell with a gun that fired stakes and another which shot both shruikens and lightning. Bulletstorm, the developer’s new game produced in partnership with Epic Games, has you playing a gruff dude blasting away grumpy fauna and unlikable mercenary mooks whilst coming on to your sexy female sidekick.
The two exchange pleasantries and blast away henchmen as foreplay. After a few exchanges of suggestive dialog, the sexual tension becomes so thick you could cut it with a knife and spread it on toast as an aphrodisiac. At one point the female sidekick quips that our hero will never find out what her tongue can do. Later on, Hunt can’t resist a juvenile remark after she observes how “man-eaters love tight spots.”
Eye rolling dialog, perhaps, but the whole idea is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously: the modus operandi being to have a bit of fun blasting away guilt-free meat puppets in a world of bright colours and juvenile comebacks. It’s gratuitous, gaudy, and goes completely against the grain of current shooter trends, with the only shades of murky brown you’d ever be likely to see being the colour of an enemy’s pants after you whip them in the air and then kick their head clean off.
We’re promised an ‘epic’ story, penned by comic scribe Rick Remender, but I get the distinct impression even Chmielarz doesn’t believe what he’s saying. The real meat of the game is surly one-liners and an innuendo-tinged over the top point scoring mechanism.
Shoot a guy and you get ten points. Stick a grenade to a trolley, kick it over into a pack of enemies behind cover, grab the ones that aren’t killed in the explosion with your energy whip and kick a guy in the meat and two veg and you’ll bag a few hundred.
People Can Fly is calling it the Skillshot system, where more points mean more extravagant caches of impossibly destructive guns and outlandish acrobatics down the line. Levels are co-ordinated around potential high-scoring death-dealing capabilities, with much of the environment being more than happy to lend a hand.
The skillshot that stands out the most at the moment is “Mercy”, which starts by shooting someone in his reproductive organs and then dispatching him with a shot to the head whilst he groans and looks thoroughly upset. That’s 100 points in the bank, then.
There are plenty of guns to play with, but Hunt’s most powerful weapon seems to be his lower torso. He’s got more leg strength than GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp after three months solid training with a thighmaster, and he’s able to easily kick a guy into gibs after effortlessly sliding across the ground for fifteen seconds.
Hunt also sports a dapper energy whip which he can use to pull his foes towards him and also suspend them in a slow-mo bubble for a few seconds. It works as the middleman between skillshot conception and execution, allowing him to position foes and also shoot them in the right bits for maximum carnage and/or score.
These tricks might be fancy, but there’s still a hefty chunk of traditional gun firing. The demo showed off a couple of weapons; the first, a standard assault rifle – because you’ve got to, don’t you? Then there’s a grenade launcher that ties two grenades together with a chain, and can wrap itself around both live targets and static objects. Wrap up a target and kick him into his colleagues? That’ll dish out a good few points. Chmielarz promises the finished game will have a bevy of weapons that are as equally bombastic.
Elysium is also chock full of dangerous man-eating fauna, and the demo ends with Hunt fighting off a giant plant that could probably swallow something from Lost Planet 2 whole. The smaller plants also provide plenty of murderous opportunity: ones with spiky bits can be used to impale your foes, and the bigger, moodier cousins of the Venus Flytrap can happily chomp a guy to death.
While I imagine it would be a hoot in co-op, Bulletstorm is being billed firmly as a single-player experience, although I’d wager some online leaderboards will help collate who can rack up the most elaborate killing sprees.
The dialog might have left me feeling a bit cold, but Bulletstorm looks set to conjure up a style of gameplay that’s becoming increasingly forgotten: travelling to exotic new worlds and having fun as you kill everything you meet when you get there.
Bulletstorm is slated for a 2011 release.