A dozen years later, Bulletstorm, somehow, endures.
You wouldn’t expect it for a game that, in hindsight, scans more as a Duke Nukem-esque guilty pleasure that came nowhere close to its sales expectations. Gratuitously violent and absurdly foul-mouthed (does anyone else remember “Hey, dick tits!”?), even if Bulletstorm drew laudatory reviews for its gameplay, particularly its ammunition economy, it hardly seems like a game that could be called “ahead of its time.”
But it is, insists Radomir Kucharski of Incuvo, the Polish virtual reality port shop that Bulletstorm maker People Can Fly acquired at the end of 2021.
“When we were searching for a next project, we looked at Bulletstorm and thought this game, with its mechanics, was actually, like, designed for VR,” Kucharski said. “Bulletstorm is so action-packed, so close to the action, and with such physical interaction, it just looked like it was designed for VR.”
At the time, Incuvo was independent and fresh from its VR adaptation of two of Bloober Team’s horror titles — Layers of Fear and Blair Witch, both for Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR. Incuvo had found success adapting established games on a work-for-hire basis, and Kucharski was looking for another hit to keep the studio’s momentum going. It also helped that People Can Fly, like Bloober Team, is a Poland-based developer.
More crucial, Kucharski said, was the cult-hit status Bulletstorm continues to enjoy. Electronic Arts and Epic Games practically abandoned the property after it fell far short of profit and sales expectations. People Can Fly, which Epic acquired in 2013 and then spun off in 2015, retained ownership of the franchise, and still had enough of an audience to warrant remastered releases for consoles in 2017 and 2019.
“I was big-time into first-person shooters,” said Kucharski, a developer who had worked on Medal of Honor and other military shooters in the decade preceding Bulletstorm’s launch. “I found Bulletstorm very unique; I thought the gameplay was very fresh, something that was groundbreaking at that point.”
The groundbreaking components, which seemed to take a back seat to all the cussing and the violence in the original marketing, were Bulletstorm’s “skillshot” gameplay loop; the use of the environment to creatively eliminate enemies; and the “energy leash” that hero Grayson Hunt uses to lasso foes, stun them, or fling them to their doom.
The leash, Kucharski said, is the most VR-ready feature of Bulletstorm’s original gameplay. Reloading a weapon, for example, is a more meaningful experience. The dual-wield nature, of a gun in one hand and the leash in another, is more easily expressed through a dedicated controller in each hand of the player, Kucharski reasoned. “This is something that was simply not possible using standard controllers, or a keyboard and mouse.”
Bulletstorm VR is definitely not a rail-shooter adaptation of the franchise, Kucharski emphasized. Players may freely roam the levels as they did in the original. The adaptation is also faithful to the original story, though Kucharski said the game is not a “one-to-one copy. I want to say it’s a new game, but it is the same original story.” Half of the levels are exactly the same as the original Bulletstorm, he said, “but there is new content,” even if that doesn’t mean narrative changes.
“We used a lot of assets from the original game,” Kucharski said. “We had to redo some of the stuff, obviously, we had to change the engine from the old Unreal 3 to, I believe, 4.27 is what we’re using right now. We had to recreate a lot of stuff, but the assets are based on the originals.”
Bulletstorm VR, announced at the beginning of June, will launch later in 2023 for Meta Quest and PlayStation VR 2. For all of his talk about Bulletstorm’s advanced gameplay, Kucharski said this one will still carry the same smirky tone of its forebear.
“Yeah, the game is still pretty violent,” he chortled. “It’s very over-the-top with the violence. It’s not serious; it’s fun.”