I suspected this might happen. After downloading the newly released Bulletstorm PC demo (only two months behind the consoles!) I concluded, after about half an hour’s play, that it’s not a very nice game.
We can all agree that, in the safe, consequence-free virtual worlds of games, shooting stuff is fun. Additionally, blowing things up is fun. Thus, combinations of the two in ever-more elaborate forms are, mathematically speaking, even more fun. Thus again, Bulletstorm is a fun game. I found messing about with the weapons to be a laugh; I obliged the level designers by booting baddies down conspicuously large holes; I tried to beat my previous scores on the demo’s solitary, all-of-ten-minutes-long level.
I still don’t like it. That fun (and I use the word in its most banal sense) felt anaesthetised, fed to the player by regular injections of mutants and goons running straight down the barrel of whatever weapon you happen to be pointing at them; fun by rote, fun by repetition. This is cool, this is awesome, therefore you will enjoy it. It’s an odd, detached way of playing a game, since I never felt I was playing it, as such: I was merely watching action that, in some disengaged manner, my fingers and thumbs were dictating.
In the end, this isn’t what bothers me about Bulletstorm. I know that Epic specialise in burly, square-jawed types and I know that People Can Fly are all about ridiculously overblown gameplay, but this game is so engorged on tawdry machismo and a testosterone-fuelled idea of what is ‘badass’ that it becomes a bit sickening to play. Listening to the gurning, thuggish protagonist, space pirate Grayson, cackle ‘Murder Time!’ at the sight of a new wave of baddies rushing in, or hearing a female comrade (aged 18, naturally, and already with four years’ military experience according to a profile) comment on the ‘circus of death’ that you’ve just created with a grenade launcher, or looking at shiny notifications that you scored an ‘Intoxicated’ bonus for killing mutants whilst your accuracy is blurred from alcohol – all these things made me feel that bit more guilty for finding it fun. Bulletstorm is meant to be a joke and its characters are meant to be entirely one-dimensional, but that doesn’t excuse it from being a nasty, repugnant thing.