Free-to-play often turns into pay-to-win in the gratis games that have been popping up for the PC of late, and Bullet Run is no exception to this rapidly emerging rule. Acony Games has crafted a speedy multiplayer shooter with loads of frenzied shooting and a promising if cliched gladiatorial game-show premise, but the whole thing collapses around the price required to properly play the game. The basic freebie is little more than a demo with few options to customize your look or loadout. If you want anything else, you've got to dig out the plastic and pay for every little accoutrement, from powerhouse automatic weapons to crowd-pleasing stuff like face paint and new ways to taunt enemies. In the end, this free game can easily wind up costing you considerably more than a full-priced shooter.
Shooting can be really satisfying in Bullet Run. Spending, not so much.
Like so many other games, books, and movies, Bullet Run is set in a vaguely apocalyptic future where boredom with sitcoms has caused the networks to stage gladiatorial games where synthetic humans kill each other on live TV. This old chestnut goes back to at least that Star Trek episode where Spock and Bones were forced to fight each other with tridents and swords in front of the cameras in a modern Roman Empire, so it's not exactly the freshest backdrop for a shooter. But story was never going to be the strong point of a game like this, and the game-show vibe adds to the atmosphere, with booth jockeys hooting and hollering during every match.
There aren't any Damon Killian-styled barbs here, though, and the commentary is repetitive (you soon get very tired of hearing about ticket sales for Frag Fest and that you were nothing more than a speed bump after a kill), but the lines still add to the sense that you're in a digital take on The Running Man. Fans earned for match successes work as experience points, allowing you to level up. You also accumulate credits for kills and match victories that can be used to buy items (more on this below). Style is a huge part of the game. Play as the showman who wears groovy outfits, kills with flair, and then taunts the dead, and you gain fans and earn more loot.
If you want to succeed at Bullet Run, don't work on your shooting; work on memorizing your credit card number.
The shooting action is respectably fluid. Running and gunning are engaging and draw you in, even while you recognize that the gameplay is about as innovative as the gladiator game-show setting. Still, this is an old-fashioned shooter done right. Weapons deliver a satisfying oomph, although some of the early weapons like the default MP5 are wimpy and inaccurate. Experienced first-person shooter gamers will settle right in to putting bullets in brains. Mouse movement for running, jumping, and targeting is slick and smooth. Match options are limited to Team Deathmatch and a control-point game called Dominion--standard options that offer fast-paced mayhem.
There isn't any originality in the half-dozen or so postapocalyptic settings, which include a ruined shantytown, a burning industrial zone, a run-down oil rig, an abandoned movie lot, and a crate-strewn warehouse, but they are smartly laid out. They come with nooks and crannies and choke points that reward those who think before they shoot, but the landscapes are packed tightly enough together that the fighting is always fast and furious. Everything looks pretty good, too, even if the fine detail is nowhere near what the Unreal engine used here is capable of producing today. The only serious issue with the maps is that there aren't enough of them. You can get bored after no more than a few hours of play because you're running over the same old ground, in the same old modes, again and again.
The slow trickle of in-game currency will have you reaching for your credit card in short order.
The lack of options in other areas is also more than a little bit frustrating. The free version of Bullet Run comes with precious few choices. You can barely customize your initial character's appearance, being allowed to make just a few free tweaks to hairstyle, shirt color, and the like. As a result, matches tend to look like battles of clones, with everyone in the same hair, face, and outfit. Taglines above characters make it easy to tell who's who, thankfully, although you can easily rip off a bunch of rounds at an ally in the same T-shirt and ponytail as about half of your enemies.