Free2Play Spotlight: Bullet Run

Bullet Run is a brand new first-person shooter from ACONY Games and published by Sony Online Entertainment.

Honestly, I almost thought I wasn’t going to be able to review this game; the install process was distinctly nontrivial. Between installing punkbuster, patching and setting up an additional Sony Station account to be able to play it took far longer than strictly necessary. And then the launcher helpfully puts an animated bar next to the Play button that looks akin to a loading bar at a casual glance. I waited at the launcher for about half an hour before I realised patching was complete. Oh well, you live and learn, I suppose. It worked eventually.

So what is Bullet Run? Bullet Run is a modern shooter set in the near future where you are a contestant in the hottest new reality TV deathsport. Stop me if that sounds familiar. To be fair these have been doing the rounds for years, after all that was the fundamental premise of Unreal Tournament some thirteen years ago. Unfortunately at some point since UT, someone decided if we’re doing reality TV, we need commentators. This works fine if you’re Uber Entertainment and your writers are fantastic and you have enough dialogue that it rarely repeats itself. ACONY hired two painfully American voices to do a handful of corny lines which get spouted over and over dozens of times per game. It starts to grate, if I’m honest.

The gameplay is in the same vein as Battlefield and CoD, going for gritty realism and high lethality. From this you’d automatically assume I’d hate it, being a staunch opponent of the two, but I don’t. It borrows enough elements of other games as well that it’s more interesting. For starters Battlefield and CoD punish accuracy of weapons while not looking down the sights so harshly that you may as well not be shooting, whereas Bullet Run’s weaponry is still reasonably effective firing from the hip. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but as an old-school shooter fan, the ability to fight without needing to crawl around on my belly staring down a scope works for me. Fulfilling the ‘near future’ part of the description is a bonus array of gadgets to play with to spice up the combat. You get 4 gadget options with a choice of two in each slot. The basic one is a minor healing device or an adrenaline boost for minor combat performance (okay, I don’t know what that is, I couldn’t tell what it did). You unlock the remaining three over the course of a match by performing well. These include a small explosive or stunning drone, pretty much guaranteeing a single free kill if you get the jump on someone, sentry guns and gatling guns among others. By their limited nature you won’t see a lot of these, but they add a little extra flavour to the old ‘run and gun’ from time to time. Another feature lifted straight from a popular modern title is that of the ‘Active Reload’ from Gears of War. Pressing reload will begin a progress bar with a little notch on it. If you right-click just when the bar reaches the notch you’ll get a fast reload, but if you miss you’ll jam your weapon. This can make a or break a heated firefight and once again, manages to mix things up just enough so that things aren’t always boring.

Progression within the game is on similar system to that of Cod or Battlefield wherein you start with basic gear and unlock better stuff as you level up. It mixes this with a typical free-to-play system too, though and you don’t get to play with your new toys until you buy them with in-game currency. So without further staving off the inevitable…

How free is it?

Here we have the same old, same old. The two currency system of ordinary credits earned by playing and ‘Station Cash’ primarily earned through real money transactions. Station Cash is a currency used universally among all SOE’s free-to-play games, so if you also play Everquest or Pirates of the Burning Sea or DC Universe or anything else by SOE then the currency is cross-compatible. Probably of minimal use to a majority of players but nice to have as an option nonetheless. In terms of credits you start with 10,000 and earn about 500 per match. Low level guns will run you about 14,000 credits and high-end guns are nearly 80,000, so prepare to grind a bit for those if you’re playing for free. Cosmetic items run you anywhere from 3000 to 15,000 (and one silly viking hat for 50k) with a lot of items frequently on sale, so you should be able to earn these reasonably easily. The game incentivizes you to buy cosmetics with a ‘style’ system. For every item you buy you earn style points which correspond directly to a percentage multiplier to your experience and credit rewards, with a cap of 50%. Style decreases by 1% per day (as your wardrobe gets stale, I suppose) so you’ll need to keep buying new items to keep your multiplier up. In real money terms, weapons cost anywhere from £1.60 to £16 and cosmetics cost from about £0.80 to £4, which at least as far as the vanity items go is much fairer than some games on the market. Whether you think a single in-game gun is worth £16 though is more debatable.

On top of all this is a $15/month or $90/year subscription plan offer. Providing a huge array of perks including but not limited to credit boosts, store discounts, bonus station cash and no level restrictions. This is presumably the domain of the person that really, really loves Bullet Run. That’s not me.

That’s not to say I don’t like it. It takes a lot of the successful aspects of other games and makes a really solid product out of it. But equally, it doesn’t have a lot terribly original about it feeling like a bizarre Frankenstein of Battlefield, Unreal, Gears of War and APB. It’s entertaining but has very little merit of its own, unfortunately.

Bullet Run, by ACONY games is available on Steam or from Sony Online Entertainment.

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