Great explosions and a pretty protagonist can’t dress up this dreadful shooter.
Atari’s Bullet Witch is the type of game we really don’t need more of on the Xbox 360 : a thin exercise in action for action’s sake that looks great in screenshots but creaks and groans with its every movement. The silly story is packed with grotesque but dull enemies and the mechanics are tuned with all the precision of a soapbox derby racer. But a couple of interesting game systems and the occasional great event kept us playing longer than the game really deserved.
Story of Bullet Witch
The concept is that in the not too distant future, a series of catastrophic events has wiped out four fifths of the world’s population. Skinless demons roam the streets, slowly eradicating the last humans, and a witch with a massive gun hunts the demons, bringing some sort of justice to humanity.
It’s a reasonable setup, we suppose, but we’re probably not supposed to ask why there are still urban centers after the broad death of humanity, or how there are apparently enough bullets around for the demons to fire all these years after the factories making them must have ceased. At least the lack of population explains why all the buildings are empty when you get the chance to peek into them.
The action follows a simple and over-predictable pattern: walk around, shoot some stuff, encounter a magical barrier, kill the massive floating brain or other boss powering the barrier, move on. The targeting is unassisted and slow, making even simple gunplay a bit of a chore. Over time you’ll earn upgrades to the game’s single weapon, but they don’t change things up very much.
Being a witch should make spellcasting a lot easier than it is here. To throw some lightning, you’ll first have to tap the left or right bumper, which fills the screen with one spell selection overlay, then keep tapping it until the overlay containing your spell comes up, then hit the corresponding face button. It’s like having to cycle through several pause menus every time you fight, as the spell wheel blocks the whole screen.
The most original aspect of Bullet Witch is the ammo system, which relies upon mana rather than randomly placed stockpiles of shells. Reloading costs mana in the same way that casting spells does; the trick is that your max mana amount changes dynamically based on your actions. Use several spells at once and the max might drop to 30% of the bar; riddle a bunch of enemies with bullets and it’ll rocket back up to 100%.This is a better than average way of forcing players to switch up tactics, and it allows some absurdly powerful spells to be doled out right at the beginning of the game. You’ll be able to use them, but not rely on them. The idea is that over time your tactical abilities will grow evenly, and it generally works.
So how about something nice to use it all on? Not here. The enemies are dumb as doorknobs. They substitute raw numbers and aggression for skill, and the game conspires to hide as many as possible in the shadows, so that you won’t see what’s coming until too late. Some will even spawn arbitrarily, or seem to. How else to explain the sudden presence of deadly soldiers that weren’t visible a second ago?
Even worse, both boss battles and routine encounters are full of the most tired of gaming tropes: one hit kills. Didn’t those go out of fashion at least a decade ago? But here’s Bullet Witch, ending your game with the toss of a car by one of the many massive floating brains. If it didn’t take so long to trudge back through the city to the point where you died it might not be so irritating, but your movement speed is so slow that it’s possible to knock off a couple chapters of War and Peace while retracing your steps.
The truly frustrating thing about Bullet Witch is the way the game will throw something magnificently cool your way just as the action is becoming irredeemably irritating. That might be something as simple as an exploding tanker truck full of gasoline that blows up just the right way to take out a bunch of the surrounding area. The environment really does blow up in an appealing way.
But then it’s back to trudging through the city, which is largely comprised of blocky, homogenous buildings. Highlights are too hot and shadows too deep, frequently making it difficult to see what’s nearby. The dynamic shadows look great as long as you’re standing still; otherwise they flicker in and out of sight, which is supremely distracting.
Typically, poor graphic performance is just a sideline to how a game performs, but here the lousy shadows and contrasty scenes detract from the action just as much as the dreadful AI and thin premise. As a result, Bullet Witch should be completely avoided; even players looking for a cheap thrill will find something to annoy them in this adventure that’s as poorly finished as it was conceived.