About a year and a half ago, Pandemic Studios – you may remember them for Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries and Star Wars: Battlefront – was shuttered by Electronic Arts, which bought the studio in 2007. Four developers who were pink-slipped formed Downsized Games, and BulleTrain, released late last year for iOS devices and updated recently, is their first project, and an ode to their predicament.
In the game’s continuity, you’ll be carrying out revenge against an evil robber baron from a futuristic railroad industry, the cowboy-hatted J.R. – who is clearly John Riccitiello, the real-life CEO of Electronic Arts. “Elaborate Acquisitions”, the train operator in your gunsights, has run your small company out of business. There are sly references to other actors in the Pandemic closing – Playfish, notably, acquired around the time EA started closing Pandemic and other outfits.
BulleTrain has one control: Tap to shoot. You’ll advance through a series of set pieces as your raiders pull alongside EA’s target train, and your objectives will be presented shooting-gallery style. There’s no limit to ammo and your health is very robust. Multitouch allows you to fire with more than one finger, if you want to do a finger-drum solo and spray lead everywhere (it wasn’t that effective for me).
It still took about three playthroughs to fully process BulleTrain’s instructions to me: Through each stage, you’ll be given a series of icons in the upper right – targets you are supposed to shoot a certain number of times each to advance to the next round. BulleTrain’s problem is they are so damn small, you completely miss their importance at first, and the numbers indicating the amount of kills you have left are completely illegible on an iPhone. I do agree that after I started looking for these cues, rather than mindlessly shooting everything on the screen, the game became a lot less frustrating. But then I got to the “Performance Review” stage and couldn’t figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing, all over again.
Your shooting isn’t terribly accurate; enemies respawn relentlessly, so shooting ones who don’t count toward your mission total seems to have no point. When you die, you start from scratch, including through the game’s brief tutorial stages. There’s no means of saving your advancement nor a real sense of how far along you are or how much there is left, beyond the achievements you may earn through the game’s Open Feint compatiblity.
As someone who has written a public middle finger to management on the way out the door, I think I understand BulleTrain. To those who wrote it, BulleTrain’s point is simple, the bad guys are clear, and the whole thing makes sense. To those without an emotional investment in the dismissal, it’s a noisy spectacle that loses its impact rather quickly.
Buy it if you want to support artists who were fired for no fault of their own, other than being collateral damage. That’s fine. As a game, BulletTrain is rather like the managers it pillories. It’s vague about its expectations, offers a tedious, repetitive task, and at critical points leaves you feeling set up to fail.