Games with style are back. Previously restricted to brawlers and hack-and-slash titles, incorporating ‘style' into gameplay was an afterthought. But thanks to a few ex-Capcom employees starting their own studio, we had a couple of great games last year in the form of hack-and-slasher Bayonetta and shooter Vanquish. The developer in question here is, of course, Platinum games formed by Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami and Atsushi Inaba, the creative forces behind games such as Okami, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe and some of the great Resident Evil titles, including Resident Evil 4.
Their intent was very clear right from the release of Bayonetta. A convoluted, confusing story was fortunately backed up by a complex fighting system and bucket-loads of style. The game would be ruthless to players who were not ‘stylish' by its standards. Get hit and you would lose ‘style' points, use healing items and you would lose even more points, die and you were almost guaranteed the game's ‘stone' award for the level (with Platinum being its highest honour). Bayonetta was only moderately successful commercially but it did have a hardcore base of fans that were in love with its fighting system and sexy protagonist.
Platinum Games followed it up with one of the most underrated shooters of last year, Vanquish. Despite its short length and lack of multiplayer, Vanquish showed us that there were third-person shooters beyond Gears of War. It also showed that you could never have too much ‘style' in a game. Everything from the bullet-time slow-mo sections to the terribly addictive ‘slide' mechanic and uber-brutal melee attacks oozed style. And once again, it was backed up by solid shooting mechanics, huge boss fights and epic battles.
Epic Games and People Can Fly's latest multi-platform first-person shooter Bulletstorm, attempts to show the world that Western developers can do style just as well as anyone else, and boy, have they succeeded. Bulletstorm rewards players for ‘skillshots' which can be achieved by dispatching enemies in creative ways, and the more unusual the method of killing is, the larger the rewards. Reward points can then be used to purchase guns and weapon upgrades at ‘dropkits' which are scattered around the game-world. Weapons range from pistols to sniper rifles (whose bullets can be controlled after being fired) and a gun that suspends grenades to an enemy, causing them to explode. As mentioned above, all the guns can be upgraded with an alternative fire mode (referred to as a ‘charge shot'), with ammo clip upgrades also an option. Apart from the usual (and unusual) arsenal of weapons, Bulletstorm throws a few interesting mechanics into the mix. Kicking enemies is an integral part of gameplay as it throws them into a sort of stasis, following which the player can get creative. Want to go for the ‘vertigo' skillshot? Just kick the enemy off a ledge. Or what about ‘shocker'? Kick him into an electric fence. The game also lets the player ‘slide' into enemies, throwing them up in the air and features an electric leash which can be used to pull enemies towards the player or when upgraded, cause ‘area of effect'/splash damage. Now imagine being able to do all of that to other players in the game's online modes.
A word of warning, though. Bulletstorm is crude, violent, overtly over-the-top and is targeted at a mature audience, so if you're not old enough or lack the stomach to play it, please steer clear.