Destructoid News Contributor, 2D/3D artist and all around art nerd. Avid retro game and promotional items collector, and frequent practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Disclosure: I have worked on a few iOS and PC indie games, as well as am currently employed at a major North America videogame retailer. My previous and current employment does not and has not affected any of the pieces I have written, but it is something that you, as a reader, should know.
The first-person shooter genre has always stood out as a platform to showcase the newest developments in graphical technology. From the early days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, the first-person shooter genre has cemented itself at the forefront of graphical innovation. When Epic started to develop its Unreal Engine 3, many developers knew that this would usher in a new age of high definition models and textures, realistic lighting and real-time weather effects.
As it turns out, it did!....Sort of….What came out of this “new age” was a slew of grey and muddy shooters whose focus was on trying to stick to a more “realistic” look. It’s true that in the days of Doom or Wolfenstein 3D that graphics had to take a hit due to the limitations of what the developers had to work with. But even with that taken into consideration, the developers creativity came shining through and gave their games a distinctive look and feel all their own.
So what if Nazi’s never really used crazy teal-colored doors or had random placements of food in abandoned rooms; the games never ceased to be enjoyable just because the developers took some artistic license in creating these worlds. And that long preface is what leads into my main topic; how Bulletstorm, a typical first-person shooter helped give me faith that developers can make a great playing FPS, with amazing visuals and still not have to use the color palette from a recently expunged hairball.
First let’s get some background on the developer, People Can Fly. The studio was founded in 2002 by Adrian Chimielarz, a developer who has contributed much to the Polish game development scene. Adrian has worked on a number of titles such as Secret Statue and Teen Agent (which you can download for free from GoodOldGames.com). Their first game was Painkiller released on April 12 2004, a fast paced FPS set in a place in-between Heaven and Hell. You play the protagonist Daniel. After a car accident in which both you and your wife die, she gets sent to Heaven and Daniel is stuck in purgatory. Wanting to redeem himself, Daniel is tasked to defeat Lucifers 4 Generals, each leading him deeper and deeper into the pits of Hell itself. The game is available on PC and Xbox; Painkiller: Black Edition (which contains the “Back Out of Hell” expansion) can be purchased on Steam for $9.99. Painkiller can also be found on many other digital distributors and a free demo is available online. Painkiller garnered praise from many gaming publications such as PC Gamer, GamePro and 1UP; as well as created a dedicated fan base.
After their success with Painkiller, People Can Fly went on to create the PC port of Gears of War, which impressed Epic Games so much that on August 20, 2007 they had purchased the majority share of People Can Fly. There latest project, BulletStorm, has gained a lot of attention from gamers. For some, being know as “the game that comes with the Gears 3 Beta!” But was this game just another slapped together FPS created solely to generate more attention for Gears of War 3? Or did People Can Fly create another “diamond in the rough” that shines just brightly for its’ blood-soaked, foul-mouthed, bullet-riddled gameplay as it does for its’ little extra? I decided to find out for myself and I was rather surprised with the results.
My first impression after hearing about BulletStorm was that it was going to be another long boring Man-Shoot, but after watching the first few gameplay trailers its personality started to seep through. Its smooth transitions from Gunplay to Melee combat, the variety of death-dealing options given to the player and the ridiculousness of the names and executions of Skillshots; I could tell that I needed to keep my eye on it.
When I finally got BulletStorm, I started to pay extra attention to its level design and to the amazing vistas that they created. People Can Fly utilized a technique where, after the player completes a frantic or difficult section, they enter a new location and they frame the scene using geometry that is in close proximity, such as a doorway or cave entrance. It’s a very effective way to draw in the audience’s attention to the beauty of the mountains or a crumbling cityscape in the background; and it helps to push the scale of this world. These gigantic mountains may only exist in the distance, and you may never get a chance to explore them, but by just acknowledging that these mountains are there helps make this world feel huge and believable.
The variety of locations and color choices was astounding. From a tropical canyon by a river with clear pure water at midday, to a desolate and abandoned Hotel in the coastal city during a Lightning storm; People Can Fly worked extremely hard at making sure that each levels lighting and color enhanced the atmosphere it was creating. When you fight through a plaza covered in mutated plant overgrowth and Maneaters, you get a nice blend of greens and yellows; very earthy colors that help to push home the organic and feral nature of this place. Descending into the lair of the Creeps, the reds and oranges lighting up a dark and shadow consumes basement helps to stress the danger of the situation the player is in by tapping into this Hell/Underworld imagery to invoke those feelings.
The most memorable level for myself was traversing the Hotel during the Gamma Storm. With the scene that occurs prior to this, I feel this level truly mirrors what the player’s character is feeling. The character is stuck placing his faith into the hands of a man he knows he shouldn’t trust. He let down another by not acting quickly enough and now his only chance to redeem himself and save his friend is to partner with a devil. The character is conflicted, like a storm going through his mind; clouding his thoughts and making him indecisive. The use of a cooler blue/purple color palette and the sparse patches of light strung out in a few corners give this level a deep, cold and introspective atmosphere; to help the player reflect on the previous event.
These color palettes were specifically chosen to help enhance the atmosphere and mood for the player; to help the player care and grow attached to these places, to make them memorable and to be able to easily tell others about it. But more importantly, they didn’t stick to the old grey and brown palettes that have become the norm for many FPSs. Since this planet was a tropical resort at one time, they really pushed the over-commercialization in the cities. You saw the gently glowing neon purple and blue signs in front of stores; you had the ATMs with their scan-lined screens glowing back at you, waiting for who knows how long for a response from some life-form. The constant barrage of News being spewed from the less-than-informative Newsbots, until a well-placed kick or shot from your handy Screamer would release it from its task.
BulletStorm does not have had a deep and compelling narrative, nor does it have genre innovating mechanics. But what it does have is a well paced narrative, a solid Ranged/Melee combat system built around however you want to play, and some truly hilarious and odd-ball character dialogue and scripted event. Plus you get to control a giant mechanical dinosaur and crush your enemies. Who honestly hasn’t wanted to do that?! People Can Fly did a fantastic job on BulletStorm, from toe to dismembered and bullet-soaked head and I hope whatever title they work on next, they can make it stranger and more unique then BulletStorm.
If you’re on the fence about BulletStorm, I don’t blame you because I was there not too long ago. But, if you give it a shot, you’ll find a beautifully created world made just for you to stain and scar with the blood and bones of your enemies…just watch out for those Hekatons…