Oof, but this is going to be a divisive one. Almost as divisive as Bulletstorm itself, I suspect, which – when first released in 2011 – had some people proclaiming it as a hilarious and creative shooter which provided (and encouraged) a multitude of ways to mutilate your foes; while others found it overly linear, uneven, unfunny, and even a little controversial.
For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the former camp. I can totally understand the latter arguments, but this game brought creativity to brutality and I found its semi-serious plot to work quite well with its over-the-top everything else. Also, dick jokes. It’s probably fitting that Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is being published by Gearbox, considering that tonal comparisons can be drawn to their own Borderlands.
For the sake of this tech review, I actually installed both Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition and the original Bulletstorm, and tried the best I could to actually compare the two. Considering Bulletstorm uses Games for Windows LIVE (long may we praise its demise) I’m faintly amazed that the original still worked, but there you go.
As ever, I’m playing these bullet ballets on an i7-3820 with 16GB RAM and a GeForce GTX 970. So, with both games downloaded, let’s get into the guts of this thing and really rip and tear.
According to the general PR blurbs, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition does two things: adds in some new features, and jazzes up the graphics. “Updated models, environments, animations, and a new rendering mode, all running at a smoother frame rate than ever before – with 4K resolution support on PS4 Pro and PC – and lavishly remastered audio effects,” to quote the official website. That aside, you’re getting all of the original game’s DLC (mostly challenge maps), six new challenge maps, and an Overkill campaign mode. This is essentially New Game+, unlocking after an initial completion of the campaign, and giving you access to all weapons and whatnot throughout the entire campaign instead of waiting to unlock them.
Also, if you pre-order it, you can replace the protagonist with Duke Nukem. While this is a pre-order bonus (which will presumably be for sale later, although; I have no idea of any pricing strategy) I’m going to devote a little time to talking about that too.
Finally, there’s no Games for Windows LIVE, long may it fester in its unmarked grave.
Firstly, the download size is larger than the original, but still pretty svelte for this day and age. Bulletstorm took up about 7GB of space, while Full Clip Edition is sitting at about 10GB; neither are big downloads.
Options-wise, there are improvements and, uh, some deteriorations. Here’s a look at Full Clip Edition‘s graphics menu:
By pretty much any definition, that’s bloody terrible. The funny thing is, it’s arguably worse than the graphical options offered up by the original, and it still has no Borderless Windowed mode:
For the hell of it, here’s the game on its highest and lowest settings. Oh, and those settings have a grand total of three options each: High, Medium, and Low. The difference largely appears to be texture quality, insofar as things like the digital readouts are unreadable on Low and the environment textures are nicer, but it doesn’t really look hugely different either way.
I’d say “at least Full Clip Edition supports higher resolutions”, but I don’t think it actually does. The original Bulletstorm appears to support up to 5120×2880, and… so does Full Clip Edition? So I’m guessing the whole “4K resolution support” thing is actually only new on the PS4 Pro version. As the blurb promises, it’s supported on PC, but then it looks like it always was.
The one change that is extremely welcome is tucked away in the gameplay settings, and that’s an FOV slider. The game defaults to a setting of 85, which is mostly fine, but I appreciate the ability to whack it up to 100. Here’s a close-up of a grumpy space raider pirate man in both of these FOVs. It also goes a little lower, but I neglected to check exactly how low, probably because I’ve very rarely heard someone say “man, I wish they’d included an FOV slider, I can see too much and it’s not nearly as close-in and myopic as I’d like.” At a guess, I’d say 65 or 70, as 85 was in the centre.
However, the claims of updated graphics and whatnot aren’t bullshit. The settings might be bullshit, but the rest is not. Foremost is the framerate. I think that Bulletstorm was capped at 60 FPS – Steam reads it as 62 FPS, but that’s possibly just coincidental and it’s an uncapped framerate. Either way, it didn’t go higher than that.
Full Clip Edition, on the other hand, runs at full clip. And by full clip I mean 144FPS.
Full Clip Edition also seems to be far better optimised. With everything turned up to full at 2560×1440 resolution, playing through the first of the game’s Echo missions on Bulletstorm gave me mostly 60 FPS, but with semi-regular drops lower. Switch over to Full Clip Edition on full settings, and while the drops were more frequent, they were far less noticeable because of the highest framerate. 144 FPS occasionally hit 110 FPS, but despite being a bigger drop, I find that way less noticeable than 60 FPS to 45 FPS (and occasionally lower).
That said, I can’t say for sure that your computer will run Full Clip Edition much better than it did Bulletstorm. It’s true for me, but regular readers will know that my computer is apparently powered by fell necromancy. I suspect that if you could run Bulletstorm fine then you can run Full Clip Edition even better, but depending on whether or not it’s doing any clever graphical card trickery, it might suffer badly on lower-end cards.
Also, quick note: the first time I ran Full Clip Edition I did actually have framerate issues. I lowered the settings and it was fine. I raised the settings again, and it was fine. I restarted the game, and it was fine. I have no idea what caused this and I really hope it was a one-off.
Whether or not Full Clip Edition looks better or worse than Bulletstorm is, I think, up for debate. To my mind, it’s better, but I also think that it doesn’t come across too well in stills, where it… looks a bit worse, albeit better blended and less grey? Maybe the motion blur has something to do with it. Still! A few comparison shots. Considering I’m playing two entirely different games, please bear in mind it’s a bit tricky to get exact match-ups, but I think most manage okay.
Some of the close-up texture work has been improved, though a lot of things – the environments, the little textures on clothing – are still low-res. Not bad enough that it’s any sort of problem unless you’re actually dropping the settings down to Low, though, or taking screenshots and analysing pixels. Also, original Bulletstorm had some weird grain effects in dark areas and towards the edges of the screen, for reasons that are entirely beyond me.
To me, the biggest difference is in the lighting. I feel weird saying this because I remember Bulletstorm being bright and vibrant, but in the comparison screenshots, the original game looks washed out and grey. Full Clip Edition, conversely, is bright and shiny. Some of that’s possibly down to effects like bloom, and this is why I say it’s probably going to be a bit divisive and a little bit down to what you like. Again, though, I’ll say that to my mind it looks a lot better in motion than still pics.
The controls are, as you’d expect, fine. I appreciate the options to turn off things like aim assists and the snap-to when aiming down sights, but the controls for Bulletstorm were great anyway, and pretty perfectly optimised to mouse and keyboard. A mouse smoothing checkbox is also there, although I didn’t experience any issues with this within an hour of play (possibly due to wrestling with the sensitivity every five minutes, as is my norm). I’m a little miffed that the skillshot menu (detailing the myriad ways you can kill opponents for points) isn’t navigable by mouse, and I’d maybe have liked sprint and slide to be mappable to different keys rather than one being a double-tap of the other, but… no big deal. It’s fast, it’s fluid, it’s easy to take careful aim and fire.
And, of course, you have Steam instead of Games for Windows Live (may it be poked in the buttocks by Satan’s little helpers until it accepts just how evil it was and repents).
Finally, let’s address the Duke Nukem character replacement thing, which… I actually think is kind of brilliant. I haven’t played far enough to meet Trishka, which is when it could really start to derail into poorly written misogynistic horror, but in the game’s opening sections the fish-out-of-water nature of it all works surprisingly well. Only Duke’s lines have changed, so much to his confusion, everyone still refers to him as “Gray” and treats him as the outlaw commander. Fourth-wall breaking is regular: just check out the comparison screenshot featuring him complaining he’s not even meant to be in that flashback. I’m not sure it quite goes far enough with this silliness as a few of the lines are definitely pretty close to the originals while some clever writing would’ve allowed for complete changes of meaning, and it’s not something you’d want to do for a first playthrough simply to preserve the plot, but it’s a fun little bonus. Whether or not it’s worth paying for post-launch (assuming it’s going to be a paid bit of DLC) is another matter.
In fact, “whether or not it’s worth paying for” is the big problem here. On pure technical merits I’m finding it hard to fault Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition much at all, with the obvious exception of the dismal graphic tweakables. It looks good – better than the original, to my mind, which honestly still holds up pretty well – and runs at a frankly ludicrous framerate on my mid-range system. It controls just fine on mouse and keyboard. I can’t test the co-op as this is pre-launch, but it’s not using Games for Windows Live (may it stub its toe in the car door of eternity). In short, it’s been fully divorced from the shackles that held it back before, and this gloriously silly, brutal, and frenetic shooter is sillier, more brutal, and more frenetic than it was before. Superb.
Except that it’s £30 – or £25.49 if you pre-order it. And as far as I can tell, there’s no discount for people who already own Bulletstorm.
As far as HD re-releases go (or 4K re-releases or whatever the hell we’re calling them now that HD is standard) that’s bordering on lunacy. Most of the time, games that get an update like this will either be done as a free patch, a full re-release at a budget price with a huge discount for those who own the base version, or as part of a collection with other games. Some examples:
The Metro Redux games, one of which was a remastered and updated version of a game about a year old, offered a 50% discount to those who owned them – and considering Last Light was still relatively new, the discount being so small caused a furore. The newly released Kingdom Hearts collection on the consoles offers up seven huge and highly acclaimed games for a £40 RRP (which, being console games, really means about £30 if you shop around) and those have been largely been shunted from 480p to HD. Capcom’s releases of the Resident Evil HD remasters tend to be priced at around £15, which isn’t bad for genuine classics that have been reworked from the ground up – although I can still understand casual Resi fans or those new to the games waiting for a sale.
With those in mind, £30 for a game that was released in 2011 and hasn’t exactly received revolutionary changes (unless that 5120×2880 resolution has been patched into the base game recently, somehow) seems mildly insane. Price parity with the versions on the consoles? Maybe, but it’s a seriously bitter pill to swallow if you still have Bulletstorm on Steam.
Of course, I can’t decide for you whether it’s worth £30. Considering how poorly the original game sold, I strongly hope that a new audience will pick this up and the game will actually get the acclaim it deserves, because it’s really good. Those who already own and have played Bulletstorm, though, may find this too high an asking price for too little change. Hopefully, I’ve helped you make up your mind one way or the other.
The PC version of Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition? Splendid, to my mind, although elements like the graphics will doubtless prove divisive. But the price? I think we can all agree that’s less a Bulletstorm and more a shitstorm waiting to happen.