Finally pressing the start button causes a momentary break in Bulletstorm’s grand illusion, though, as you’re pretty much forced to set up an EA Online Pass. These, for people not familiar with them, require you to register your game using a code supplied in the box, which becomes a license to play online. The trick is that if you’ve bought the game second hand and the person who previously owned the game got an EA Online Pass for it, you’ll have to purchase another code. In other words, EA is determined that it wants a slice of the huge second-hand game market.
We won’t comment on the principal of this here; how you take it will depend on how much you believe a game publisher deserves to get something when its games get sold on. The only thing we will say is that having to plod through this actually quite time-consuming process of cold, hard commerce before starting the game does dent your anticipation levels quite heavily.
Perhaps because of this, the first minute or two of gameplay don’t feel very promising. The growling voices and gung-ho macho bullshit dialogue feels initially cliched, raising real concerns that you’re about to play a brain-dead game equivalent of some rubbish Steven Seagal movie.
Thankfully, though, this initial disconnect is simply a (very) short-lived side effect of Bulletstorm hitting its astoundingly aggressive stride right away, with no namby-pamby, time-wasting attempts to break you in gently.
The open prologue sequence also introduces a solid if not exceptional appreciation of narrative. But more importantly, it additionally reveals that a) you can kick people with gobsmacking or, more appropriately, ball-breaking force, and b) Bulletstorm’s makers have the imagination, appreciation of spectacle and technical ability to turn an action shooter up to 11.
How many other games can you think of, for instance, kick off their action with you exchanging manly banter while walking down the side wall of a huge skyscraper looking down on to a vast, Bladerunner-esque cityscape below?
The sense of OTT set-piece spectacle established by Bulletstorm’s prologue isn’t just a special early effort to reel you in, either. For in fact the entire game turns out to be a giddy romp through one astounding set-piece after another, with scarcely a pause for breath.
Pretty much all FPS games follow a set-piece pattern, of course. But precious few deliver the thrills so thick and fast, and with such panache, as Bulletstorm. Obviously Gears of War fits the bill, especially the second one, as do the best couple of titles in the Call of Duty series. Though where Call of Duty comparisons are concerned, it has to be said that Bulletstorm’s use of a futuristic, alien environment gives it the scope to deliver a dazzling scale of threat – including mutated enemies and dangerous machinery the size of skyscrapers – that COD’s earth-bound scenarios clearly could never match.
In fact, some sequences – giant wheel chasing you, a collapsing dam, the awesome Hekaton beast – are so crazily spectacular that they’re genuine water-cooler moments. Sequences that any serious gamer needs to have seen for themselves if they want to have opinions worth having about gaming circa 2011.
At which point we need to stress that Bulletstorm most certainly is not a case of all mouth and no trousers. It doesn’t only rely on mere spectacle to deliver its thrills. For a start, no matter how enormous an event you’re involved in, you never feel out of control, or as if the action is just going on around you. You’re right in the middle of it.