If you’ve ever played MadWorld then you’ll understand that video game violence can sometimes be quite ridiculous. The upcoming Bulletstorm is taking a similar approach and is certain to give fans of pixel-based blood spillage something to chew on.
There’s a level of silliness to Bulletstorm that’ll grab your private bits, kick you in the face and headbutt you from the moment you begin playing. Indeed, subtlety isn’t its strong point but it’s unlikely the developers were ever intending it to be. Polish studio People Can Fly are responsible for manic hell-based shooter Painkiller, and you’ll undoubtedly know Epic Games as the makers of Gears of War, Unreal, Shadow Complex and Jazz Jackrabbit amongst others. Bearing the past products of these two studios in mind then, it’s no surprise the game’s looking like a psychotic and kooky affair.
At EA’s European showcase we learn very quickly that the game’s name isn’t an attempt at irony; there are no fluffy bunnies here, and there are certainly bullets. Playing Bulletstorm isn’t just about shooting your enemies though, it’s about executing them in the most creative way possible.
The game’s skillshot system is the core mechanic that allows for point-scoring via crazy and inventive killings. It’s a function the developers created in a pretty dynamic way as designer Adrian Chmielarz explains:
"Initially Bulletstorm started as a regular shooter, just with this People Can Fly/Painkiller vibe and flavor," he says.
"Once we started to get weapons like the Flay Gun, we realized you can kill in many different ways and it can get really creative on the battlefield. So we changed it into an actual gameplay mechanic, and rewarded players for that.
"We were playing creatively - toying with enemies, playing cat and mouse, being the hunter before we had the skillshot system. So we thought if that works, then it would work if we promoted it with the skill points and started calling each kill something funny, and I think that's the most unique thing about Bulletstorm."
The skillshot system allows for a gentle tinge of RPG to creep into the game, which it seems is becoming almost essential for developers in these days of genre-based mashup malarky. Rewards are given for higher scores along with a leveling system to give incentive to players to erase their enemies creatively. Skill points will also buy you stuff such as secondary attacks and ammunition.
The game runs on the Unreal 4 engine and is a colorful heavily stylized affair with a quirky sci-fi 26th century setting. Bulletstorm has you play a space pirate who crash lands on a holiday resort planet gone wrong. Stygia is infested with carnivorous man-eating plants, scary feral mutant tribes, criminals and gigantic monsters, not a good place to bring the kids anymore.
It doesn’t take long before we see a plethora of profanities bouncing onto the screen as a huge amount of the skillshots boast a double entendre or innuendo. We mainly see “Mercy”, which Chmielarz seems to be thoroughly enjoying. "I really like it! You shoot the guy in the family jewels, so he's on his knees, screaming in pain and then you have two options: either headshot him, or just kick him in the face. We have tons of Skillshots in the game, some are easier, some are harder. Some of these harder ones, once you get it, they're not only satisfying, but quite visually spectacular".
It isn’t just the skillshots that’ll upset your grandma though; the game’s protagonist and his companion are pretty foul-mouthed fellers who’ll often spurt out a cheesy quip as they blast an enemy to bits. There’s more than a hint of fun to this game and it’s evident right from the onset.
With such a juvenile approach to humor and a point system based on how ridiculous your killing is, you’d be forgiven for presuming the game’s storyline would practically be an afterthought. Chmielarz insists that there’s a "real drama with a certain amount of weight" and "a lot going on" in Bulletstorm.
"It's not an excuse for shootouts," Chmielarz says. "We really do have a big story that's integrated with the gameplay components in our game, but on the other hand you kick people in the ass. So how do you match the two? The serious drama that's going on with this crazy over-the-top gameplay?"
Well they did it by recruiting a writer named Rick Remender, who had impressed Chmielarz with his writing in graphic novel Fear Agent. The novel matched the goofy sci-fi theme so he clearly understood the style the developers were going for. "This guy just gets it. He's the magician there, he writes the dialogue that marries the two sides of Bulletstorm to the story to the crazy over-the-top gameplay."
Chmielarz wasn’t the only developer to spot Rememder’s potential in games though, as he’d previously been responsible for creating the main story of Dead Space. "So not only did I love Fear Agent, but I already knew he worked in games, which is really important in this business. I was ecstatic, and luckily we were right, because he's bringing us something special. Rick is a gamer, and when you have such a talented creator and writer who understands what games are, that's like a dream come true. He brought it up to another level."
Will there be sequels then? "I honestly don't think there's a developer in the world right now who just does the first part and goes, okay, that's it, I'm not interested in anything else," Chmielarz explained.
"The thing is here that we put a lot of work into creating a universe. The action takes place in the 26th Century, so we're like what's the energy source in the 26th Century? How do they travel? How do they communicate? We have this big universe, and there are 10,000 stories to tell - but under one condition: the game's successful.
"That's obvious, right? So, if the gamers love this universe, then we have many more stories to tell."