As regrettable as it is, the most adequate way to describe Bulletstorm is to use a tired, inane cliché that has no valid place in any piece of critical writing.
You'll either love Bulletstorm, or you'll hate it.
Fortunately, there's no guilt in trotting out such a terribly overused expression. After playing through Bulletstorm, I'm unable to care about such things. It's as if the overwhelming level of stupidity that bursts from the game has somehow tempered any lingering creative juices. A kind of moron osmosis effect prevails; certainly I've never felt quite as ready to do a keg-stand, tip over a sleeping cow or paint my face before attending a popular sporting event as I do right now.
There's so much profanity, bravado and grossly overacted male bonding on hand that my television now has morning sickness. And yet underpinning the entire campaign is a surprisingly robust shooter model that demonstrates just why co-developers Epic are regarded as one of the best in the business. You may have heard of another one of their titles, it's called "Gears of War" or something. Painkiller's People Can Fly form the other half of the development credits, giving Bulletstorm additional reputation points to uphold.
Protagonist Grayson Hunt is a man who isn't afraid to murder indiscriminately. Rogues, bounty hunters, the English language; all are valid targets along the campaign trail as he seeks vengeance upon his ex-employer, the duplicitous General Sarrano.
As it happens, instead of assassinating evildoers, Hunt's supposedly elite team of alcohol-fuelled cretins have forged a living by killing innocent citizens at Sarrano's behest. Having never opened a newspaper - presumably as none of them can actually read - this news comes as quite a shock, leading to a showdown whereby Hunt and Sarrano duke it out in space and eventually crash-land on the surprisingly violent world of Stygia.
Hunt's efforts to kill Sarrano and escape Stygia forms the structure of the campaign, and if that was the limit of the title it's unlikely a single damn would be given by gamers anywhere. Fortunately, shooting waves of enemies is made infinitely more enjoyable by the Skillshot system that tracks your particular level of murderous flair and assigns points to a running total.
Each kill you perform is classified by a number of characteristics. Shooting a foe at range without any sort of creativity is barely worth your while, it's far better to shoot their head off and receive additional points for your trouble. Using an electric leash to pitch the hapless enemy into a wall of spikes will earn even higher points, as will dozens of other creative methods of despatch found throughout the game.
Each Skillshot carries with it an apt, if often crude description, such as the "Gag Reflex" for shooting someone in the neck, or the "Gang Bang" for leashing an enemy towards another enemy and using an explosive device to kill them both. In addition, Skillshots are ranked by colour, giving you a quick visual clue as to how well you're performing. It's also crucial to keep up the pace to increase the score multiplier, which allows you to earn even more bonus points in a bewildering array of guns, gore and glory.
To assist you in achieving some of the more complicated routines, a slow-motion effect is introduced when leashing, booting or sliding into enemies. You can opt to target specific areas or manipulate the body into another position, which can be useful if you're trying to achieve the colourfully named "Rear Entry" Skillshot.
The points you obtain from these Skillshots, as well as other environmental achievements, can be spent on upgrading your considerable arsenal. The weapons on offer are as outrageous as you would expect, such as a bazooka that fires bouncing explosive shells, or an industrial device that shoots rocket-propelled drill bits. There's even a four-barrelled shotgun. Weapons, upgrades and ammunition are available from numerous dropkits scattered throughout the level, which also double as a portal to a Skillshot database and your player stats.
It's not only the dramatic deaths that set this shooter apart from its peers; the landscape of Stygia is presented in vivid detail, and moving between levels reveals a remarkable diversity in design. Weapons are modelled well, and the extra attention paid to the death animations are of particular note. Unfortunately it's somewhat offset by a slowdown in the introduction of new weapons later on in the campaign, and the final stages of the game aren't overly rewarding.
It's also important to note the level of linearity present, as you can't progress without kicking a particular door, or sliding down a particular slope as the game dictates. Also, as whichever squad AI you happen to be partnered with at the time are seldom effective in assisting you with kills, the game leaves you in no doubt that your actions are usually the only ones that matter.
The campaign itself may only be five or six hours long, but there's a relatively robust "Echoes" mode that allows you to compete for leaderboard positions by battling through short levels. You can choose a weapon loadout and attempt to gain as many points as possible, further unlocking new stages as you progress. Online multiplayer consists of a four-player co-op mode entitled "Anarchy", which resembles the Gears of War "Horde" mode, in that you're tasked with defeating wave upon wave of incoming attackers. It'll start well, but unless you're playing with friends or get particularly lucky with some communicative strangers, you'll probably get sick of getting wiped out on the same maps over and over.
The campaign is really where the bulk of the entertainment is to be had, despite the astonishing omission of any kind of co-operative play. It's just a shame the writers felt as if they needed to try to impress the audience with such B-grade subject matter. The intention is obviously that the excessive swearing and macho wordplay should be humorous in its own right, a kind of ridiculously over-the-top satire designed to poke fun at other first-person-shooters guilty of taking themselves far too seriously. Instead, it's grating at first, and positively annoying after a couple of hours. People pay a lot of money to hear Billy Connelly swear at them for two hours, but then, he's a comic genius and the lead writers on Bulletstorm are demonstratively not.
If you've ever purposely set fire to a couch in a public area, or if you have a stolen street sign on your bedroom wall, you'll love it.