FBT loves Bulletstorm. But hates remasters. And modern Duke. This is going to get nasty.
When Gearbox became the new owners of Duke back in 2010, gamers sighed with relief. They made awesome Half-Life add-ons, the Brothers in Arms series, and of course, Borderlands. With that pedigree, Duke was in safe hands. But it’s as if Duke was a curse for Gearbox. Duke Nukem Forever was a despicable offence that destroyed Duke Nukem forever. They followed that with Aliens Colonial Marines, and didn’t that go well, and while Borderlands 2 was a bright spot, Battleborn tanked and Borderlands 3 was a beige of a game. But between those, Gearbox announced they’d snapped up the long-forgotten Bulletstorm for a remaster. Now with Duke replacing lead knucklehead Gray. What?
Question is, why? We can only assume that, in Gearbox’s mind, they were onto a winner here. Remaster a solid but flopped game, chuck in their golden goose to draw interest, and hey-presto - a rehabilitated Duke ready for action, and a newly rebooted franchise. Easy. The result? In Duke’s words, they tore off its head and shit down its neck.
The Bulletstorm plot centres around Dead Echo, a black ops team led by Gray, assassinating enemies of the state. Discovering they’re actually covering up government corruption, the team goes rogue, seeking revenge on their old CO, Sarrano. Crashing on a pleasure planet now overrun by mutants, Gray and pal Ishi team up with one of Sarrano’s troops, Trishka, to reach Sarrano before a rescue ship takes him off-planet and strands them. Along the way, Gray comes to terms with his acts as a killer, while killing thousands of mutated humans in the most spectacular ways possible.
The good news is Bulletstorm is still wicked fun. The weapons are great, the shootouts frenetic and the world – a rotting Butlins basically – is brilliant, and there’s a generous helping of epic set-pieces. It’s a great, breathless shooter, and the ‘instinct leash’ is still one of the best side-weapons of all time. Used to track soldiers and award them ammo if they’re good enough, the leash can lasso villains, then in slo-mo, boot them over ledges, into fans, live wires, exposed rebar, carnivorous plants, each other… that you’ll be completely overwhelmed and still pause to kick a flying mutant into a cactus is a testament to how much fun Bulletstorm is; until Gearbox got involved.
Because they only have the original audio to play with, Duke has to keep to the plot, speaking only when Gray did. Duke never much cared for plots, he was concerned only with babes and quips, most of which were stolen from 90s movies. Here he steals from himself, reheating lines from the 3D days or dropping groan-worthy oneliners; he makes a ‘hashtag’ joke as if this were still 2011. It’s Duke doing Dad jokes. At least DNF Duke was a misogynistic prick you could hate. This guy I just feel sorry for.
Duke starts with a few ‘why am I here’ observations but soon gives up and just joins in the plot as if he’s a concussed Gray, making barely coherent comments that semi-relate to whatever the others are saying. If it were a body-swap game, a shooter version of Big or have him still thinking it’s 1997 it could have worked - and it wouldn’t have taken much to create that narrative, but instead we’re supposed to just go along with the absurdity of it all, and it gets tiresome instantly. They don’t even have fun with him breaking the 4th wall, making jokes about DNF, some pithy thoughts on gaming, actually grow or be relevant; nothing. They’d be better off putting him in Battleborn, someone might have played it then.
If this was supposed to apologise for DNF then it failed, and if that’s not the point, what the hell is? Bulletstorm as a Duke-style game only makes sense if you know Bulletstorm from that hilarious Halo-inspired diorama teaser. Bulletstorm was an answer to the Duke n Doom era; Gray was a man who thinks his cocky scoundrel persona still charms when he’s actually a disliked sadsack, a macho, muscle-bound manchild whose attempts at heroism via blowing everything up just gets called out as stupid; but then we realise Gray is a man deeply tortured by his past, sorrowful and angry, more Martin Riggs than Duke Nukem, and he grows, changes – the one thing Duke can’t do. Putting Duke in Gray’s boots but not his journey actually makes Duke even more execrable.
One thing about Bulletstorm is Trishka, a female sidekick to whom no one makes any overtures and is not sexualised. She kicks ass and chews bubblegum. And Duke has no colour commentary on her, other than responding to Trishka’s famous line, “I’ll kill your dick” with ‘is that a come on?’ Witty. Any innuendo that does present itself has him going ‘not touching that!’; you mean, “can’t think of a clever line”.
Am I supposed to take this as Duke’s realised his behaviour is outdated and this is the new you? No, because on occasion he is crass; and others he's a kindly, supportive dude - they missed every opportunity to resuscitate old Duke or apologise for new Duke so he ends up cancelled out - Bulletstorm is more than just being rewarded for sniping a mutant in the ass, but Duke doesn’t even comment on that skill-shot. Duke missing an ass joke? I don’t even know you anymore.
This is worst idea since DNF. This is somehow worse than DNF; he’s a neutered and muted has-been; it’s completely cynical, redundant, and pointless. Duke could have aped Gray's narrative and come out of this a new hero. Even better, he could have replaced Ishi and commented on Grey's journey, have him start as DNF Duke and grow alongside Gray. Duke as a sidekick? Yeah, it worked brilliantly for Marcus Fenix in GoW4. Instead, avoid at all costs – I only paid 39 pence for it and I regret that. It would have been so much better to put Gray in DNF, have him revoice Duke and fix the mess that it was. That’s a remaster I’d play.
Most remasters are pointless, buggy messes which serve no purpose except to keep a dormant franchise in the Steam Top Sellers list. Best I can say about Bulletstorm Remastered is it never crashed. I suppose I should be thankful I can turn Duke off and enjoy a pristine Bulletstorm. We need a Bulletstorm II, what we don’t need is Duke. Let him go.