Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bulletstorm Review: Variety is the Spice of Death

Score: 8.5/10

PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: People Can Fly/Epic Games
Publisher: EA
Release Date: 2/22/2011

  • Unique take on an FPS
  • Incredibly satisfying Skill Shots
  • Encouragement to mix up weapons and approach
  • Weapon upgrades and collectibles warrant multiple playthroughs
  • Surprisingly stunning vistas and overlooks
  • Foul-mouth dialogue begins to annoy more than entertain
  • Friendly AI gets in the way more often than not
  • Multiplayer maps feel far too cramped
  • Lackluster ending
Bulletstorm has tossed the gauntlet at other popular shooters in its recent ad campaign. The Halo diaorama was mocked with a more humorous take, and an entire game was created to mock the Call of Duty franchise over the typical shooter formula. Needless to say, Bulletstorm was aiming to change the typical FPS and were making sure everyone knew their goal. Though not perfect, Bulletstorm does deliver a fresh take on the first person shooter genre.

Full Metal Jacket in Space?

Bulletstorm tells the story of Dead Echo, a former elite military group who are on the run after discovering their targets have all been innocents trying to expose government corruption. Grayson Hunt leads his team in downing a war vessel carrying General Serrano, the very general he has been after all these years. With his last remaining crewmates, he seeks to exact his revenge while surviving the alien planet, Stygia. Along the way he encounters Trishka Novak, another foul-mouthed Echo assigned to protect the general. Putting differences aside they must work together to survive the terrors the planet holds, and uncover the truth behind the colony and Serrano's true motives.

For those big on story, Bulletstorm offers little. The character design is FAR too similar to Gears of War, despite the impressive voice actors on board. Grayson and his crew spit out quirky one-liners and head-scratching cuss words every five minutes. While being called dicktits the first time is entertaining, the important dialogue is soon drowned in f-bombs. I am a guy that laughs at fart jokes, and even I had to admit it was getting stale around Act 4.

The characters do have some appeal to them, as everyone loves a good anti-hero protagonist, and Grayson is just what the game needed. The most appealing character ended up being his partner Ishi, who after some emergency cybernetic enhancements, constantly struggles to maintain his humanity with a persistent AI switching him to reason by logic. The cast lacked any real emotional investment, and became just another rag tag group of bullet wielding warriors in a predictable outcome. That is not the say their personalities are not entertaining, just not as unique as they could have been. 

Kill with Skill!

Bulletstorm does have a uniqueness in its gameplay with the addition of a rating depending on how you handle each combat scenario. Each kill nets you a certain amount of skillpoints. The goal is using everything at your disposal to clear out a room of baddies in the most unique, stylish way possible. The more you mix it up, the more points you are awarded. This is alleviated in the slo-mo break you get everytime you kick an enemy or use the leash to pull him your way.

Blazing through the game shooting enemy after enemy in the usual fashion will only net you about +10 skillpoints for each baddie. If you leash an enemy, kick him away, then pop off a headshot you are looking at about +50 skillpoints. Using the thumper to send them into the air and blowing them up with an explosive barrel will be about +500 per enemy. Did you do it drunk? Tack on another +50 for each. This constant ability to increase your score makes it less like a FPS, and more like a puzzle game...a really violent bloody puzzle game.

You will find yourself constantly planning what you need to do next and how you can mix up your kills further. Repeating the same moves over and over will net fewer points than before, so you are encouraged to experiment and play around with the options. Once you get the hang of things and start clearing rooms with single shots, the game becomes much more satisfying. There is still the occasional need for pausing to look up exactly what is required to obtain a certain skillshot, but you eventually commit it to memory and doll out pain and points at each room. 

This Ain't a Scene...

The main campaign uses the score based system to upgrade your equipment, further encouraging your variety in combat. Besides upgrading ammo capacity, you can include a "charge shot" for each weapon; and every weapon becomes more satisfying than the last. There are your standard weapons; shotguns, machine guns, pistols. It's the upgrades for these guns that really make them fun. The charged shot for the pistol can send the enemy rocketing into their friends setting them ablaze for an Afterburner bonus. The shotgun instantly vaporizes any targets hit. Personal favorites include the Sniper Rifle, in which you actually steer the bullet into an enemy, and if charged, can use them as a ticking time bomb.

You are not limited to kills for skillpoints. Viewing an important event by pulling the Left Trigger awards points, pressing the appropriate response for each QTE quickly, and collecting/destroying the various collectibles in the game can also boost you further. In this game ammo is precious and costly, so saving up skillpoints becomes a necessity.

There are a few drawbacks to the campaign. Your AI partners do little more than provide dialogue and take the occasional bullet. They will bash enemies when close, but are basically useless and actually blocked a few of my shots. This feels like a missed opportunity for some assisted skillpoints. The actual campaign itself has a few high moments, but ends with a disappointing boss fight and even more disappointing cliffhanger ending. The Campaign only clocks in at around 6 hours, but the various scenarios and desire to unlock all the skillshots possible will have you coming back for another round. That or you could jump to the Echoes mode, which has you play sections of the campaign and get ranked the appropriate amount of stars based on performance on a worldwide leaderboard.


In addition to the Campaign there is a co-operative multiplayer. Four players are thrown into an arena with wave after wave of enemies, and a goal score to achieve. You must work together to take out baddies in a combined, stylish effort. Achieve the max points and the next wave occurs, increasing in difficulty...yes, I know this sounds familiar. Every now and then a "Team Challenge" will pop up, requesting a specific skillpoint. If you perform it as intended, expect a huge boost in your score.

The key to this mode is teamwork. Earning stylish points on your own nets you a few skillpoints, but having two people team up to take out a baddie does much more. Let your buddie leash a bad guy and you kick him into the cactus for even more points than if you did it alone. As each wave demands more points you really have to mix it up and work together.

This can become frustrating as one terrible partner can essentially ruin the experience. If one guy is failing to use a new skillshot or ruining your Team Challenges again and again, there is little you can do but retry. This cannot really be helped and I put no blame on the developer for it, it is just one of those unfortunate side effects.There is also the fact that each map is surprisingly cramped. I understand emphasizing teamwork, but that shouldn't mean I need to be stuffed into this cramped closet, as each stage is usually an oval or a square with a few hazards in-between.


If you can overlook a few smaller troubles, Bulletstorm is an incredibly satisfying shooter. The added point system and skillshots make the game one-of-kind, and a great start for new IPs this year. It's brutal, fast, and satisfying.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Little Big Planet 2 Review - So Adorable it Hurts

Score 8.5/10

Little Big Planet 2
Playstation 3
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: January 18th, 2010

  • Limitless potential for level creation
  • Simple, yet addictive side scrolling
  • Variety of customization makes Sackboy your own
  • A clean, enjoyable break from the hardcore titles
  • Simple pick up and play
  • The more you collect, the bigger hassle it is to find in the menu
  • Platforming at times can feel slower and sluggish
  • Attempted story falls flat
  • Joining another player's session can be more trouble than it is worth

Little Big Planet was much more than a simple platformer, it was practically a game developer giving you his giant package of code before exclaiming; "Have fun!" as he skipped away. A nice breather from the super competitive slew of titles we typically get, LBP was a love letter to fans of platformers as each world offered challenging physics puzzles to overcome. LBP 2 takes the tools of the first and perfects them, offering more customization, more options in level design, and fun that brings you back to your childhood.

A Vacation to your Imagination

Little Big Planet 2 attempts a story this time around, with your Sackboy at the helm. You must assist the Alliance in taking down an evil being known as the Negitivitron, an oversized space vacuum cleaner, from sucking up everything in Craftworld. Despite the colorful cast of characters, it isn't a story that will make much of an impact.

The real gem of Little Big Planet 2 is simply escaping the typical. From the look, to the gameplay; in its simplest form this is a game about fun. In a time where kill/death ratio reigns king and achievements are a must, it is nice to have something simple. Anyone can pick up and play, lives are unimportant for most stages, and teamwork is encouraged.

Side-Scrolling Satisfaction

The basic idea of Little Big Planet is essentially a platformer with style. You and your friends navigate your way through various worlds, toppling physics puzzles, dodging electrical hazards, and battling towering bosses along the way. The Campaign itself has a decent set of levels at your disposal, each providing a unique element to overcome. These range from using the grappling gun with jump pads to sling yourself to a platform, to obtaining a gun that shoots cupcakes to aid in platforming or pulling down bridges.

In addition to new levels are new features and equipment. This time around there are "vehicles" you can procure that mix up the platforming further. These can shift the gameplay from side-scrolling to a top-down arcade. There are also AI bots, which add unique escort missions to single player but truly open possibilites in level creation. The addition of new equipment is always welcome, as the grappling hook provides fun for all ages, allowing you to swing from platform to platform.

Infinite Possibilities

The biggest appeal of Little Big Planet 2 is the user created content that is continually churned out for your entertainment. Even after the main game is finished, users can access the online mode that will let you play through anyone's created level for even more fun.

The amount of content to explore is insane. They range from unique side scrolling levels, to reprised classics, to actual old arcade titles re-made with a Little Big Planet twist. A personal favorite of mine was a remake of the Old NES Legend of Zelda dungeon. Down to the teeth, this guy had made it work and provided the same enjoyment the classic game held. The addition of AI bots in the game has allowed you to create anything. There are mini-golf games, first-person shooters, 2D fighters, basketball; the list goes on.

If you don't find something that strikes you as entertaining, you can simply create your own. The level designer comes with a pretty good tutorial to give you a good start. Your level can be as simple or as complicated as you desire, but expect to invest a lot of research and time into the more complicated levels. 


While the new additions are nice, there are enough small irritating elements that I still wish would have been improved. The platforming can be, for all intents and purposes, slow. When I jump, I feel like I have twice the weight as a usual. Even the grappling hook just doesn't feel right. Small tweaks would make platforming much less troublesome.

To my surprise, attempting to hop into player sessions became more trouble than it was worth. You request to join people, and if you are really lucky, get the OK. You are then faced with a loading screen that on chance, can fluctuate for some weird reason. Once in a game, you must hope the player you join isn't focused on a "perfect run" restarting the level over and over. A simple lobby system or drop-in, drop-out might have alleviated this.


Despite the few flaws, this game is just blatant fun. The levels are enjoyable, the atmosphere is jubilant, and there is more content than you could possibly explore. It is a game that you put down and walk away happy from every time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guitar Hero Hangs up its Strings

In "about time" news, Activision Blizzard Inc. announced Wednesday it will cease publishing the Guitar Hero franchise at the end of this year.

Let's face facts, it has been a long time coming. The original Guitar Hero was released in November 2005, and slowly built up a following. The notion of instant gratification when hitting a note and hearing it play out became addictive, with stringing together a song becoming a personal goal. It was simple to pick up and play, increased in difficulty, and became the forerunner of music-based gaming.

Guitar Hero has obviously inspired much of the music/rhythm games we play at home today; Rock Band, Dance Central, DJ Hero, and even karaoke titles like Singstar. You have to appreciate a game that can have such an impact on not only the gaming community, but pop culture as well. This inspired non-avid gamers to take part in the action, and become a fan as well.

Personally, I felt the franchise peaked at Guitar Hero III. Controls were seamless, the music library was impressive, and the online battles were intense. The downhill slide came when they attempted to branch to specific bands, add a story mode, and churn out a title every 3-4 months. There was no drastic new changes or alterations to how the game was played and interest declined as Rock Band and DJ Hero brought on the new touches to their games.

So here is to Guitar Hero, which has made so many other titles possible and so many plastic guitars occupy homes. Now we have to learn to play the real guitar....

Source: CNN - Guitar Hero Gone

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Releases: Spreading Love One Bullet at a Time

February 8th

Two Worlds II
PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Reality Pump
Publisher: Topware Interactive

Two Worlds II is a an action RPG. The game looks visually stunning, and the fights intruiging. I could always use another RPG to suck even more hours out of my life!

February 15th

Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Marvel vs Capcom has established itself as one of the best fighting games in the market, and a third installment in the series is well overdue. The unique art style and nonstop action look to be a winner in anyone's eyes. With new characters, new features, and a more newbie-accessible format; this will be one game you cannot pass up.

February 22nd

Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: People Can Fly; EPIC Games
Publisher: EA

Bulletstorm looks to be one of the more unique IPs to grace us this year. It is a first-person shooter that grades you on how you take out enemies. The more skillful you are, the more points awarded. Keep it unique and changing and you can expect even more. It's fast, gruesome, and loads of fun from what I experienced in the demo.

Killzone 3
Playstation 3
Developer: Guerilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Killzone has been the shooter title to own for PS3. The third installment looks like another fine addition, complete with more weapons, jetpacks, and Helghast killing combat. The revamped melee system and ability to string combos together coupled with a new co-op campaign makes this a must-have for PS3 owners.