Other aspects of Bulletstorm are more run-of-the-mill. Debris always falls in such a way as to force you down a very linear path, as it so often does in first-person shooters. This linearity is emphasized by the game's wholly contextual jumping. (You can leap over objects only when the game gives you the button prompt.) It can also lead to overcrowded battles in which your companion (or later in the game, two companions) has a tendency to get in your way when you want to perform a particular skillshot, or just stay in control of the action. Bulletstorm's most disappointing moments come near the end, in the form of an easy not-quite-a-boss-fight, followed by a passable shooting sequence that never reaches a proper climax. Then there's the post-credits epilogue, which is so cliched and predictable, it's almost indistinguishable from Killzone 3's own sequel tease.
Some of the views are absolutely breathtaking.
Fortunately, other missions do a better job of ramping up the excitement. In an early on-rails sequence, you fire a minigun at gyrocopters and speeding carriers--par for the course for many modern shooters, but made thrilling by the gargantuan, menacing wheel of death barreling across your view. Another entertaining mission has you remotely controlling a giant monster in a fun park, just after a shoot-out in a miniature replica city that serves as Bulletstorm's most clever locale. Other attempts to increase the stakes are pleasingly cinematic in their visual excess, but are mostly bark without bite. For example, a battle versus a Venus flytrap with an attitude is nice to watch, but requires almost no skill. After all, a boss has little impact when you don't fear its power. The game's minibosses are standard for sci-fi shooters: shoot the glowing object on the hulk's back, and attack him when he's down. (You might have already fought carbon copies of these bosses in numerous other games.) Your great arsenal gives you enough ways to destroy these muscular freaks to make it fun to take them on. Nevertheless, Bulletstorm is at its best when it sticks to its basic premise, letting you fling your whip around and fire the weapon of your choice, all while you charge through its outstanding environments.
Those inviting environments provide much of Bulletstorm's appeal. Skulking through the dark interior of a space vessel or an industrial warehouse doesn't reveal many visual delights, but the majority of the game takes place on the Stygian surface, which is gorgeous to look at. Under a beautiful blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, ivy grows across arching overhangs and domed gazebos. In a later level, a dazzling lightning storm makes an intense battle all the more fearful. Most outdoor environments are saturated with greens and blues, which contrasts with some of the grotesque enemy designs, giving this planet the look of a paradise lost. The soundtrack isn't as noteworthy as the art design, though the subtle, satisfying musical cue that ends each battle is an effective pat on the back for another well-fought battle. More notable are the bloodcurdling wails emitted by the savages you exterminate--another way Bulletstorm makes you feel like an unstoppable murder machine.
That's gotta hurt.
Finishing the campaign doesn't mean the Bulletstorm experience must come to a close. You can also take part in its lone multiplayer mode, which is fun for a while, but limited in scope. The mode is called Anarchy, and it has you fending off waves of enemies with up to three other players. This is a common cooperative setup (think Horde mode in Gears of War 2, or Halo 3: ODST's Firefight), but the cool weapons and energy leash give Anarchy a dash of flavor. More important to the online experience are the team skillshots, in which players must cooperate to earn the most points. The game often indicates that killing a particular enemy with a specific team skillshot will shower you with extra points, but this requires cooperation. Each round requires the team to earn enough points to pass, and in between rounds, you spend points on new weapons and on upgrades to stats like speed and defense. This reliance on teamwork can be both rewarding and frustrating. On one hand, pulling off a last-minute rally by completing a team skillshot on your final remaining grunt is exciting. On the other, a lone wolf can ruin everything with a single errant shot. If you want the best Anarchy experience, it's best to play with friends rather than strangers, lest you get stuck taking on the same wave time and time again.
Anarchy is fun, but the joy is relatively short-lived. It's enjoyable to kick an enemy into an energy cyclone or over a ledge, but after you do it several dozen times on the disappointingly small maps, it loses its newness, and you will long for more variety. (The repetitive, obscene goading of the announcer doesn't help matters.) You may also encounter some technical troubles. Even on a lightning-fast connection, lag can sometimes be a problem, and on occasion you might be unable to progress to the next round because the game insists that there are more enemies left to kill, though none can be found. Bulletstorm's lasting value comes instead from Echoes mode, in which you repeat short sections of the single-player campaign. This is where you can see how skilled you truly are. Each Echoes map comes with a par time, and you earn points not just for pulling off incredible skillshots, but for doing it as fast as you can. These bite-size levels are addictive, encouraging you to shave off precious seconds and best your previous score, all while chasing friends and strangers on the online leaderboards.
Basking in the aftermath .
Bulletstorm is a fun, breezy, and puerile romp. If you play games for the fun of it all, this shooter delivers, giving you some neat weapons and mechanics, and rewarding you for your topflight technique. Unspectacular online play, an abundance of shooter cliches, and forced vulgarity keep it from joining the shooter elite. But the creativity of the skillshot system paired with the engrossing nature of moving up the Echoes leaderboards gives Bulletstorm some muscle and will inspire a dedicated following of talented players eager to show off their incredible mastery of its gratifying mechanics.