Six years is an awful long time in the world of videogames, but it’s a surprisingly short amount of time for a game to make the transition from fresh triple-A release, to cult classic, to flashy remaster. For reference, Bulletstorm came out in the same year as Dark Souls. Don’t you get any ideas, FromSoftware, it’s not an old game. Hell, it’s still selling on Steam for $20, and when Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition goes on sale on 7 April, 2017 it’ll set customers back an eye-watering $50. It’s not getting heaps in the way of new content, you won’t get a concession if you own the original, and unless you’re willing to pre-order, you won’t even get to play through the campaign as Duke Nukem. It might be much prettier now, but I’m doubtful that anyone’s staved off buying the original because of graphical and audio fidelity alone. So then, why remaster it at all?
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“When Bulletstorm came out in 2011 it was really well-received critically,” explains Elliot Hamilton, associate producer at Gearbox Publishing. “It also gained a bit of a cult following, but it wasn’t a big commercial success and it kind of got lost among the other big games of the time. Since then there hasn’t really been another game that’s focussed on this type of skill-based gameplay. There simply hasn’t been another Bulletstorm or Bulletstorm-esque game.”
Problem is, there have been. Bethesda’s Wolfenstein and Doom reboots both conjure up the same sense of overpowered joy that Bulletstorm does, whether that’s gutting the foot soldiers of the Third Reich or snapping off a demon’s tooth and using it to gouge out its eye. Both of those games give the player an almighty arsenal of guns and have them charge down corridor after corridor in a frenzy of expletives and gibbing. Gore and gunplay are what makes Bulletstorm shine too, not the fact that you can rack up scores and multipliers by blowing off an enemy’s legs and kicking them into a cactus. It’s fun, but the fact that you’re increasing your score isn’t what keeps you playing into the early hours of the morning.
“In theory, People Can Fly would love to do a sequel,” says Hamilton, “but that’s a pretty expensive venture. So this [Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition] is sort of to test the waters and see if there is interest in a full sequel.” Understandably, Gearbox aren’t prepared to commit their resources to a sequel for a game that struggled commercially in the first place, but Hamilton maintains there’s reason to believe that Bulletstorm stands a better chance now than it did 2011. “With the way Twitch is now, there’s a stream for anything. But it seems that all the really popular ones are skill or score based, or just totally over the top. That describes us [Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition] pretty well. We think Bulletstorm will really resonate with the streaming community.”
Presumably, streamers aren’t the only new audience that Gearbox want to target with their Bulletstorm remaster, but with almost nothing new in terms of content it’s hard to see fans of the original parting way with their money once again for what’s nominally the same game they bought back in 2011. Duke Nukem’s presence as a pre-order bonus adds little value – you’ll get some new dialogue, you can see his gloves while you’re playing, and the Duke character model you’ll see in cutscenes looks suspiciously like the one from Duke Nukem Forever. Granted, you do get all previously released DLC as well as six new maps for the score-based Echo Mode. There’s also a new campaign setting that lets you take on the campaign without any restrictions on your arsenal. Again, that might appeal to hardcore fans of the first game, but it’s not particularly enticing given the $50 price tag.
All the value is in the graphical and audio overhaul. HD textures, increased polygon count, updated models, remastered audio, 4K resolution, a new rendering mode, a smoother framerate and a new lighting system all contribute to making Bulletstorm look like a game that was released in the last 12 months. It’s occasionally spectacular – particularly when you approach a vista – but in the middle of combat the old engine does appear to struggle and stutter when you send a crowd of crazies straight to Jesus by way of a chain explosion. A comparison between the remaster running on an Xbox One and the original running on an Xbox 360 confirmed a gulf in fidelity between the 2011 version and its upcoming counterpart. The fact that People Can Fly have spent nearly two years working on this remaster shows.
After 30 minutes of hands-on time with the Full Clip Edition you feel right at home again. Under the gorgeous new lighting system and vastly improved textures rests the same beast of a first-person shooter that encourages you to kick your enemies into a wall of razor wire rather than simply pop them in the head. It’s fast, frantic and all about turning simple gunplay into an art form. In just about any situation you find yourself posed with the difficult decision of cutting a foe in half with buckshot or whipping them into the air with your energy leash and kicking them into whatever environmental hazard looks most dastardly. There are always a few different options in any given firefight: plonk them in a pool of piranhas, launch them at a neon sign or impale them on something sharp.
The updated textures and lighting make each gorefest that bit more compelling. At one point in the demo I kicked a hot dog cart into a group of enemies before shooting it – the explosion lit up the whole screen, but instead of a garish glow I could make out each specific protrusion of light from the fiery mess before me, glinting off my minigun and bouncing off the walls. Through the dust and smoke flew a lopped off leg that dropped unceremoniously at my feet, accompanied by a pool of sticky crimson. All of this was in the original game, but the dull textures and lighting made it much harder to pick out such precise moments amidst the bombastic shootouts.
It’s impressive, but it’s still a remaster that’s incredibly hard to justify from the consumer’s point of view. There’s nothing genuinely new to sink your teeth into: no new campaign DLC, no new weapons to master and no new environmental elements to kick your enemies into or destroy. If you played Bulletstorm in 2011, this is that same game prettied up and repackaged.
It’s a non-committal way to go about testing the waters for a sequel, which is a shame, because it’s exactly the type of game that could benefit from a bold, brash and fully-fledged revival. The audience is certainly there for one too – just look at the success of Wolfenstein: The New Order and Doom, or even the upcoming throwback shooters like Strafe and Quake Champions. Bulletstorm is still an absolute blast to play, but getting people to give it another go after six years is a tough ask when you’re not offering them anything genuinely new. I’m probably being presumptive now, but it’s hard to imagine that many people will flock to pe-ordering an expensive remaster just so they can play it in 4K or with some Jon St. John voiceover jammed into campaign cutscenes and dialogue that haven’t been changed or manipulated to accommodate it.
Will you be picking up Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition when it comes out on 7 April? Let us know why in the comments below.