Retro Review: Bulletstorm (2019 “Duke of Switch” Edition)

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshot by me. Taking in the view after a checkpoint.

Happy New Year! I picked up several games in the Nintendo eShop “Black Friday Sale.” One of those is the 2011 first-person shooter Bulletstorm, from Polish developer People Can Fly in collaboration with Epic Games. Bulletstorm is a wildly over-the-top sci-fi tale of a disgraced special forces team, who get stranded on an alien planet overrun with maniacs, while trying to pursue the general responsible for making them unknowingly do atrocious things. I got the game for less than $10 on my Switch, and there are remasters available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

The story is full of extremely crude humor and is weak overall. The plot is not what keeps you playing Bulletstorm. That would be the gameplay. To buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons at checkpoints, you will need to execute sophisticated and skilled kills on your enemies. You get points for doing things like killing two enemies in one pull of the trigger, headshots, kills while under the influence, all kinds of things. You can spend those points at shops.

This is an enormously satisfying gameplay loop. You are discovering new ways to kill all the way through the end of the game. After completing the main story you unlock “Overkill Mode,” where you can have all the guns from the beginning, instead of only three at a time and picking them up as you progress. I’m sure I will come back to this mode at some point and find even more ways to take out enemies.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. A segment from a first attempt at a brutal endgame sequence.

This game is not without its flaws. They are many and some troubling. In particular, for me, is the sniping. The sniper rifle is so jank, an absolute torture to use, and it seems like the developers realize this because it is the only gun that has sections where you are literally forced to use it. There are quite a bit of bugs, especially for a remaster. The lack of a jump button hurts more than you might think. You are often forced to scale obstacles, but the command, and point of interaction for these obstacles are often inconsistent. Some enemies are less fun to fight.

The Nintendo Switch, “Duke of Switch” edition is the same remaster with one fairly interesting bonus: you can swap out your character for Duke Nukem at anytime. Everything else in the game is the same except Duke Nukem is now swapped lives with Grayson Hunt and trying to get through the events of Bulletstorm, with unique and often hilarious voice lines performed by Jon St John. It may seem like a minor boon, but as I said the story and humor of the game itself is a bit stale, so being able to swap in Duke perks up the experience a bit.

This remaster looks wonderful. Environments are interesting, crisp and filled with lethal treasures. From giant cacti to kick enemies into, to grand waterfalls and cool sci-fi tech. The guns look cool, and there are a good amount of them that all do different things. I particularly enjoyed the pistol, which has an alternate fire that shoots a firework. Some animations were a bit odd, and levels do become a little repetitive. There is not much to be said for the soundtrack, battle and cinematic music is solid, just not particularly memorable.

I beat the campaign in slightly over ten hours. This felt like enough. I honestly believe it was dragging on by the end due to the nature of the story becoming tiresome. It was plenty of time to get satisfaction out of the combat. It gave me time to be creative, while also peppering in more scripted sequences. The more heavily scripted the sequence, however, the more hit or miss it tended to be. At times this felt more like a situation where I was being forced to endure the game, and less responsible for my own fate based on my skill and creativity. As I said before, the Overkill Mode does spice things up enough to make me interested in playing through this again, even if only somewhat.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. Early gameplay. You see the “leash” used here.

Throwing things around is a key mechanic in this game. Whether mega kicking enemies or explosives away, whipping them at yourself or in the air with the “leash,” or sliding endlessly until you hit an enemy and send them flying, shaking up the scene in Bulletstorm is the key to victory. The game insists you be ruthless. Your ability to maximize your score, while also balancing your own health and managing enemies will determine your triumph or defeat. I only really got stuck on a few parts, excluding the agonizing sniper sections. Movement is helpful, but cover is better and should be your first choice, unless you’re really feeling ace this battle.

Bulletstorm is a neat game that is worth playing. I just wouldn’t pay too much for the experience, as it is deeply flawed. I’m glad it got the remaster treatment, as I played this when it initially came out and enjoyed it then as well. I slogged through the low points then the same way I did now, by being so rewarded by the high points. It is campy, simple fun that gives you virtually everything you could want from an FPS. Even if just an average game overall. There are so many gameplay options, and they were smart to focus on the mechanics for a game of this type.

I would say if you like first-person shooters that don’t take themselves too seriously, try to find this one on sale. It will be a similar experience whichever platform you enjoy them on. I even liked the Switch version, which again, comes with the Duke Nukem mod. The remaster on other platforms is called the “Full Clip” edition. I know I was rather critical of this game, but don’t let that discourage you from finding Bulletstorm for a good price somewhere.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshots by me.

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