Easy or Access? Bulletstorm Walks the Line in an Insular Genre

A death-dealing, results-driven, elite space mercenary who, to be honest, is a bit of a dick, Grayson Hunt doesn't look like a guy who deals in caring, sharing or hand-holding words like "accessible." But his game, Bulletstorm will.

Put down that ridiculously large weapon: Bulletstorm is still outlandishly violent, serving headshots and explosions galore to the accompaniment of smirking, mostly unsympathetic asides from Hunt. It's in the gameplay where Bulletstorm seeks to be a big-tent first-person shooter, for those whose combat skills haven't kept pace with one of video games' most demanding genres.

"The thing I've loved about Bulletstorm to begin with is it's very accessible," said Tanya Jessen, Bulletstorm's producer, now in her fourth year with Epic Games. "What it's all about is, rather than causing pain to the player, by repeatedly killing them, or forcing them to be strategic, to learn tactics and how to work with teammates, we've created a game that's much more about rewarding a player for doing cool stuff."

Cool stuff, in this case, will mean impaling some shambling mutant on the spines of a space cactus, or lassoing a guy, punting him backward and incinerating him with a hail of 100 concentrated rounds all at once. But Bulletstorm won't hand-hold you through it - a useful piece of the environment may be telegraphed by the level's presentation, but you still have to put it in play. The game will move the needle to your favor by other means, most notably by slowing down enemies in a kind of quasi bullet-time once they're sent flying through the air.

Easy or Access? Bulletstorm Walks the Line in an Insular Genre

The reaction Epic wants, Jessen says, is for players to sweep around a corner into an ambush and think "Oh, great! Enemies!" as opposed to "Oh, crap. Enemies." Opportunity, not obstacle. Both she and Epic creative director Cliff Bleszinski both invoked a catchphrase: "Putting the fun back in the FPS." Without getting into a debate on "fun," it doesn't mean such games aren't. But it definitely means Bulletstorm won't take itself as seriously, and so neither should its players.

"It's a blood symphony, where you're the conductor," Jessen cheerily said during the game's presentation in San Francisco last week.

Bulletstorm will be released within the first three months of 2011; another Epic title, big, burly, brooding Gears of of War 3 will hit in early April. Gears of course is a Microsoft exclusive, for Xbox 360 and PS3. Bulletstorm, to be published by Electronic Arts, adds the PlayStation 3.

I asked if Bulletstorm is meant to be an entry - a gateway shooter, so to speak - for those who'd figure they were too far behind either the story or the skill set to begin with the third title of a something as weighty as Gears or the other major names in shooters.

"I wouldn't say we are trying to target those people," Jessen said. "But we are trying to target people who maybe are thinking ‘I won't get it,' or the controls are too difficult, or who are thinking ‘I don't want to go online and get owned instantly."

Then she drops the C-word.

"It's a casual FPS," Jessen said. It's built to be an action-movie and not a combat training film. "Accessibility is something we're thinking about constantly. We're trying to get the controls finely tuned, we're working with different groups in focus testing, to get to the point where people who aren't hardcore shooter players will still get a lot out of it."