Dec 15, 2017 Last Updated 3:01 PM, Dec 14, 2017

Guns'n'Stories: Bulletproof VR Early Access Review

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Stand out from the pack

Guns ‘n’ Stories: Bulletproof VR  is yet another entry into the overcrowded wave shooter genre; but, thanks to its unique presentation and relatively high production value, developer Mirowin’s title stands out from the pack.

A drunken former gunslinger, known only as grandpa to the player, regales his grandson with the heroic tale about how he took on the scum that stole the love of his life. And like any good story, it’s unclear what percentage is delusion, lies, or truth — “Grandpa” is an unreliable narrator who frequently changes details midstory, often due to the grandchild pointing out a contradiction in the old man’s recounting. Amusingly enough, whenever the gunslinger changes his tune, the game follows suit, such as weapon type or level design adjusting to the whims of the narrator. This method of introducing new elements never fails to be entertaining; however, I can’t award it any points for originality as this idea was lifted wholesale from Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.

While Guns ’n’ Stories provides a narrative, something few wave shooters even attempt, this ain't War and Peace, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. Cutscenes do little more than explain why you’re at a new location and who you’ll be killing next, with grandpa’s narration during gameplay being almost entirely devoted to lame jokes. That being said, I have to respect any piece of media that lacks pretense and aims to be nothing more than goofy entertainment. In this way, the title succeeds. I’ll take something that’s cheesy but genuine over a slog that takes itself too seriously any day of the week.

Where Bulletproof VR’s narrative does not succeed is how it is presented and acted. While the old gunslinger does an acceptable job, the child actor delivers the type of performance you expect when you hear the words “child actor.” The enemies also lack believability in their screams and war cries. The biggest disappointment, however, comes from the cutscenes themselves, as they’re merely 2D animations projected onto a screen in front of you. It’s a waste of VR’s potential to tell stories as if it were a flat gaming experience. It seems the developers at least recognized this problem as they give players popcorn to virtually munch on during the cutscenes, and while it’s nice to have some interactivity, this isn’t enough to shake the feeling that these flat cartoons were a missed opportunity.

Taking on hordes of banditos using a dual pair of six-shooters, or whatever exotic steampunk weapon the devs thought up

At this point in the Early Access title’s development, there are six levels spread across two acts, with another act coming sometime in the future. In each level, you’re tasked with taking on hordes of banditos using a dual pair of six-shooters, or whatever exotic steampunk weapon the devs thought up. In fact, the “Guns” part of the title is appropriate as the design of these firearms are perhaps the VR shoot-em-up’s strongest feature. Not only is there a good variety of weapons featuring inspired aesthetics, but the attention to detail is second to none as well. For example, the one-handed machine gun sports a large exposed gear of sorts that houses bullets in between each tooth. As you fire, the “gear” revolves, feeding bullets into the machine gun and appropriately leaving an empty space once the bullet passes through the firearm. On top of this, a gauge on the butt of the SMG goes from full to empty as you deplete the ammo belt. This detail is easy to overlook, and it’s impressive whenever an indie developer goes above and beyond, as they did here.

Making up about half the arsenal are the two-handed weapons, and unfortunately these fair a bit worse. Due to the offhand motion controller being locked to the front of these two-handed guns, combined with the excessive amount of artificial weapon stabilization, aiming with these feels more like trying to point a delayed mouse cursor using motion controls and unsurprisingly, accuracy takes a hit. It’s a shame, too, because the attention to detail and creativity carries over to these guns as well, not to mention that each one has an alternate fire mode. A simple weapon stabilization slider option could unlock the potential of these tools of destruction, and hopefully, the developers add something of the sort at some point. On a final note about the weapons: any that are unlocked in the campaign can be freely selected on any level in arcade mode (a mode allowing the replaying of any stage, free from narration or story elements).

When it comes to the activity you’ll be doing the most, i.e., shooting, Guns’n’Stories nails it

Creativity doesn’t end with the weapons, as demonstrated by the unique ability to slap enemy projectiles away with your firearms. At first, the huge, white, slow-moving bullets flying towards you feels out of place and goofy, but a few minutes of smacking projectiles out of thin air, and you’ll be glad the devs went for fun over realism. It just feels satisfying and is an interesting, albeit slightly overpowered alternative to ducking and dodging. When it comes to the activity you’ll be doing the most, i.e., shooting, Guns’n’Stories nails it. On normal difficulty, enemies aren’t what I’d call bullet sponges — much to my delight, nor are they pushovers.

Each level lasts a relatively long amount of time, about 10 to 15 minutes, which is plenty for this type of game. I would have liked to have seen more visual variety in the levels of the second act, as they all are set in forested environments. Gameplay is what you’d expect with waves of bad guys either taking shots at you from long distance, or bezerker baddies rushing forward and trying to hit you with melee weapons at close range. But once again, it’s the slickness and production value that makes this title a cut above your typical wave shooter. The big, cartoony enemies react to being hit, and even have parts of their armor fly off upon bullet impact. Killing them sends them flopping over in a satisfying and goofy ragdoll animation. Considering there’s practically an ocean’s worth of indie shooters that fail to provide players with any feedback on successful shots, it’s undeniable the difference a little animation makes.

On the technical side, Mirowin’s VR joint comes out mostly spotless. I only experienced a single bug, where a drone never appeared, and though I could hear it’s mechanical buzzing, I couldn’t see it to kill it, halting progress. Restarting fixed this error. Something that may or may not be a bug, on the other hand, is the poor audio mixing, which has the voices of enemies being about four times louder than any other sound; and persists whether using headphones or speakers. There’s volume options for the music and the protagonist’s voice, but no slider that fixes this problem, unfortunately.

At default settings, the graphics are unusually blurry, however using the in-game option to change resolution scale to about 160% fixes the problem. Even at 200% resolution, I had no performance hit, and in general, the game runs flawlessly.

8

The Verdict: Excellent

If there’s one takeaway from Guns’n’Stories: Bulletproof VR, it’s that you don’t need to be a AAA studio to develop an entertaining wave-shooter with solid production values. Guns’n’Stories doesn’t have the largest amount of content, and its two-handed weapons could use some fine-tuning, but the quality and experience, especially for the price, makes this title easy to recommend.

Caleb Bailey

Caleb is a game reviewer who is way more of a nostalgic curmudgeon than any 25 year old has any right to be. He enjoys shooters, open world games and is a huge believer in virtual reality's potential. His guilty pleasure movie of choice is The Neverending Story which he still shamefully watches because it was his childhood favorite. He hopes to one day ride Falkor the Luckdragon in VR because that is what he means when he says virtual reality has potential.

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