Is Bulletstorm really a hardcore shooter?

Whenever an article uses a question as a title, it’s fair to assume that the author has an answer in mind, which they wish to spend some time (perhaps too long) explaining and justifying. Said answer is usually negative where possible. It’s human nature; for example, if you ask a friend ‘What does she think she looks like?’, the continuation of that thought will not be ‘Because I think she looks great‘. Indeed, my answer to the question at the top of the page is ‘no’. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I’m well aware that nothing I say is likely to change your mind. So why am I writing this? Good question. Consider it an act of catharsis if you like.

First of all, we need to establish what I mean by ‘hardcore shooter’. I don’t mean a shooter that sticks hard and fast to the core of what a typical FPS (or any shooter at all) does. Those elements are all present and correct in Bulletstorm; there are guns to shoot with, things to be shot, and a system in place to reward you for shooting those things with the weapons provided. It’s fair to say that describes the skeleton that holds together any game that can be described as a ‘shooter’, right? So no, that’s not what I mean.

By ‘hardcore shooter’, I mean ‘a shooter designed for hardcore gamers’. That certainly doesn’t seem to be a good description of Bulletstorm to me. No, the chances are that it won’t particularly appeal to the sort of person whose gaming consists of ten minutes on Wii Fit every two weeks. But just as there are many different types of ‘hardcore’ gamers, there are several types of ‘casual’ gamers too. Perhaps you’re thinking of pensioners who enjoy playing games with motion control, despite struggling to control the motions of their bowels. At the other end of this ageist stereotype spectrum, however, lurk the casual gamers who gobble up games like Bulletstorm.
PhotobucketI’m talking about affluent people in their late teens and early twenties – not to mention fourteen year olds who think they’re affluent people in their late teens and early twenties – who dip in and out of games between drinking sessions. They don’t know or care about games such as Okami, Limbo, Flower, Ico, et al. They do however know and care about fast cars, porn, dumb action movies with huge budgets, and looking cool. They’ll buy any game with the words ‘need for speed’ on the box without even thinking about checking the reviews. They’ll buy whichever sports title has the best advertising and most real-life players and licensing. They’ll also be drawn like moths to a flame to any game that looks violent and ‘cool’… like, say, Bulletstorm.

Take a look at the TV advert:

Pesky rules and regulations mean that the gore is kept to a minimum in the advert; but it’s there briefly, and is so ridiculously over the top it’s easy to infer that it plays a major part in the full game. At the beginning of the ad, it’s made clear that the game is aiming to be different from standard shooters (no bad thing at all). There then follows twenty seconds or so of shiny lights, pretty colours, fast moving footage, and even a huge monster – all accompanied by RAWK music (an admittedly clever choice; in case you didn’t know, it’s ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’ by Filter).

In all honesty, the commercial doesn’t make it look all that different from a hundred other sci fi shooters. The rhetorical question at the beginning plants a seed in the easily swayed mind however, and a certain type of person ends up thinking that Bulletstorm is an original, ‘cool’, interactive movie blockbuster.

Once the sale is made, this type of casual gamer (fellow Britons, think ‘chav’) will be very pleased with what they find, and no doubt word of mouth will lead to many similar consumers contributing to sales. Lots of blood and gore – wow! Lots of swearing – it’s for grown ups! On-screen sexual innuendo when you make an impressive kill – “Hur-hur-hur, it says ‘Gang Bang’ on my telly, hur-hur-hur”.

Fetch me a needle and thread, for I believe my sides have actually split.

As an aside, the attempt by Fox News to suggest Bulletstorm encourages rape was ridiculous, entirely unfounded, and farcical; in short, no different from a thousand other Fox News reports. If they had tried to get the game banned on the grounds it looked like it might be a bit crap, they’d have got a lot more sympathy for their cause.

The point is, Bulletstorm’s PR and fans can pretend all they like that the outrageously over-the-top violence, innuendo and swearing is self-aware and ironic. It is self-aware, but not in a ‘Wouldn’t it be daft if we were being serious’ way. More in a ‘This will seriously send sales through the roof’ way. How much pre-release hype would the game have garnered without these elements? Just how strong is the game underneath? To an extent, all People Can Fly have done is stolen the basic concept of The Club from Bizarre Creations (R.I.P.) and given it a sci fi lick of paint.

Name me one universally lauded game which goes to comparable extremes. If you think you have one, think carefully; does it really push cheap tricks as far, in any way, as Bulletstorm? People love Half-Life for the strong yet cutscene free storytelling, not to mention the clever puzzles and masterful atmosphere. Deus Ex is virtually worshipped; it combines an intelligent script (which covers philosophy, morality, sociology, and more) with impressive freedom of choice in both gameplay and character interaction. Not every FPS needs to have such intellectual aspirations; but none at all need to pander to sniggering schoolchildren.

I'm sure there must be one of these things in Bulletstorm somewhere.

That’s not to say that only brain-dead morons are capable of enjoying Bulletstorm. If you consider yourself to be a hardcore gamer and you’re enjoying EA’s latest title – good for you. I’m genuinely glad you don’t feel you’ve wasted the money you spent on a new release, and I’m sure I like many of the same games you do. I certainly hope you’re not entirely comfortable with the playground mentality of the script, though.

GoldenEye is more of a hardcore shooter than Bulletstorm. A remake of a game nearly fourteen years old (based on a film now almost sixteen years old) with relatively little advertising is not going to appeal to the same people. In fact, it’s not likely to appeal to very many ‘casual’ gamers at all, despite being exclusive to the Wii and DS (we can probably blame complicated legal wrangling for that; the original was an N64 exclusive published by Nintendo). It was a game that, ultimately, only got made due to demand from hardcore gamers – and games don’t get much more hardcore than that.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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