The Kill With Skill Debate

Or “Why Wolfenstein – The New Order is better than Bulletstorm in making players do things a bit differently (Except, maybe, driving a dinosaur into combat)”.

What’s the deal with that headline?

One of the tag lines for the 2011 Bulletstorm was “Kill with Skill”. It was a core mechanic of the game. It’s something that garnered a lot of praise for the game. And it was one of the things that annoyed me the most about it.

No, I meant, what the hell does it mean?

Oh. In Bulletstorm, you get points for killing fashionably. When you shoot a guy in the face, that’s a couple of points. If you pull him towards you, kick him back, blast him in half with the shotgun and then shoot the pieces with the rocket launcher. That’s a heck of a lot of points. And these points are your currency in the game.

Ok… What’s the problem with that? It sounds cool.

It sounds cool. And that’s about where it ends. In Bulletstorm, ammo and health drops are scarce. You get most of your boosts from some sort of recharge station you find all around and they only accept those points. Otherwise, you can’t get ammo. And that’s annoying.

So, what’s the big problem? Just kill the stuff the way the game says.

It gets tedious. Extremely tedious, extremely fast. You know how when everything is special, nothing is? Well, when every kill needs to be fancy, then no kill is. And some times I don’t want to pull, push, shred and blast someone, I just want a clean bullet in the head.

Ok. I can grok that. So how does Wolfenstein do it better?

The New Order has a perk system. It works by rewarding you for your preferred playstyle. And you can play however you like and get bonuses for that. And you can mix and match and get all the bonuses or not. So, let’s say you like to go stealthy? No problem, perform X amount of thrown knives kills to get an extra knife slot. You like to go guns blazing? Sure, get Y kills in 10 seconds with a hand held turret for more battery on all laser weapons. You like making things ‘splode? Get enemies to drop grenades and die from it for extra grenade slots. And so on. You can do these things for minor “Perks” but you don’t really have to. They don’t hamper the game if you don’t. So they become interesting tidbits you can seek out for pleasure or for a little extra edge, but you don’t feel bad or, especially, crippled if you don’t.

I can see where you’re going with this.

Yes. I did one complete playthrough and unlocked about two thirds of the perks. Then I did another with a bonus mode so no perks but I could have gotten up to about three quarters. Just for the fun of it. Killing commanders with grenades is just plain hilarious. Getting enemies to drop their grenades and kill themselves is too much work. So I did what ever I wanted and nothing more. And it was great to get a speed boost for stealthy movement or an armor bonus every dual wield kill but it was nothing world changing. Much better than Bulletstorm’s “Do it like that, or else…”

I’m just a disembodied voice in your head. You can make me say whatever you want.

Yay. So, I win!

By the way, what’s the deal with the dinosaur?

Bulletstorm lacks on mechanics and gameplay but the story is great, the acting matches, the music is awesome and at one point you get a remote controlled dinosaur. So it might be worth your trouble, anyway.

Posted in Gaming, Practice, Thinking Out Loud by with 4 comments.


  • yaron says:

    Again I disagree with your point – in example I bring you ONI
    great game that was all about the awesome kills

    These games (Bullet storm vs the new order) are clearly directed at different audiences, much in the same way that a final fantasy game is directed at a different audience then skyrim, and skyrim is for a different audience then morrowind

    They are different, that does not make one problematic and the other better
    It means you liked one more then the other because it better matched up to your prefered play styles
    As Amit noted he didn’t ever get stuck or felt he was low on ammo or health in bullet storm because he enjoyed killing all the enemies in the awesome way and kept doing it, he never thought “i’ll just shoot him in the head”, he even asked you “why would you want to?”

    If the game is not for you it doesn’t make it inferior
    that would be like saying that regular pasta suace is inferior to chuncky pasta sauce
    it is a personal preference

    Hell, while I finished neither, my roommate finished bulletstorm and even has a planed … re-play-through.. of it, and while he praised the new order he didn’t bother finishing it and told me he never will

    Doesn’t mean new order is worse, just means it’s not his type of spicy pasta sauce

    and yes – punishing the player for not trying to do great combos is a design choice, not a flaw
    just like certain racing games don’t let you “pass” the level unless you preform it in a certain speed

    • Eran says:

      This is a discussion of a game mechanic and its implementation. I’m saying that Bulletstorm does it badly and The New Order does it well.

      And the comparison between me and Amit is a wrong one because we are different players. It’s entirely possible that a game mechanic is bad, enough to annoy me and not enough to bother him. I’ll give you a counter example: Master of Orion. We both love it to bits. Amit is very good at it. I suck at it. I’m not saying it’s badly designed. The opposite. It’s just that Amit is better than me at these sorts of things.

      And Bulletstorm and The New Order are different games but they have a similar mechanic which Bulletstorm does one way and The New Order does another in a way that allows Wolfenstein to accommodate more player types while Bulletstorm is more restrictive. When I’m trying to enjoy the forest, Wolfenstein tells me I’ll get a nice little trinket if I touch certain trees and a different trinket if I touch others while Bulletstorm says, fuck the forest, you must tag every tree.

      I haven’t really noticed until Firefall but “The Shooting” is not same in every shooter. I can’t tell you exactly why and how (it probably has to do with weapon balance and level design and all that) but some games do it better than others. And while Wolfenstein allows you to enjoy the shooting which it does very well, Bulletstorm tacks on this mechanic hard and so the shooting changes and is a different beast that some players might like. But I don’t.

      And I think ‘combo’ is a great choice for the word describing this. A combo should be rewarded. It shouldn’t be required. Like I can beat an opponent in a fighting game by playing tactically and not just by hammering him 44 times in a row without missing.

      • Yaron says:

        Again I take Oni as the closer example – the kill mechanic there is the main joy of the game – yes the story also rocks but it’s the joy of killing in ever elaborate ways that was fun – which is reinforced as you progress enemies become immune to simple take-downs.
        If bullet storm made it impossible to kill certain enemies without elaborate uninterrupted take-downs would not make it better – that would restrict you.
        Bullet storm says : you want to kill them with only shooting them in the face? no problem
        there are 3 enemies, you have 3 bullets. DON’T. MISS.

        I said preference of play, not skill at play
        you can love a game you suck at (Roman, strange synergy). Bullet storm is not for every audience
        no game is, they made a short, tight game targeted at a narrower audience.
        I do not see this as a flaw – hell, too many movies are include a potential romance between characters regardless of genere to make them have a potential broader appeal.

        Some games do not want you to to play stealth, others don’t let you be an action hero.
        Bullet Storm wants you to kill the enemies in elaborate fashion.

        World of Goo demands a certain number of goo to reach the end to pass a level, why can’t I just use 1 and decide for myself how many extra I want to get?
        Because it’s not that kind of game.

        • Eran says:

          Like always, it’s all about what we expect.
          Both Bulletstorm and The New Order are shooters. But one was publicised as a wild, adventurous, almost run & gun shooter while another was publicised as a slow and dark, foreboding shooter.

          The New Order was sold just on that but then, when you started playing, it said “Oh, and you can do that and you can do that and you can do that, if you want…”. While Bulletstorm sold on the “You can kill enemies with elaborate sequences and we’ll give you points for that.” Only after did it mention that those points are not just a measure of skill but a necessary game system.

          And maybe I need to play Oni again but I remember still shooting and simply beating up enemies all the way to the later levels. As for World of Goo or Lemmings or whatever, it’s a puzzle game. Puzzles have solutions, they are not about skills. If you couldn’t get enough goo across, it’s not that you’re not good enough, you just haven’t figured it out yet. The Kill With Skill system is about not just knowing what to do but being able to perform it well.

          I’ve played the Witcher and Dark Souls is on my list. Both of them pride themselves and publicise themselves on elaborate and intricate combat mechanics that require preparation, orchestration and execution. It is also clear that Dark Souls margin for error is slim at best and it requires you to do things in a very specific way to win, almost like a puzzle (but it’s a puzzle like Super Meat Boy is a puzzle). The Witcher’s margin is bigger and it allows more room for playstyles and experimentation. So, I enjoyed the Witcher because I could play it my way and I did. I might not enjoy Dark Souls. And that’s fine. But Bulletstorm didn’t advertise as “Tight, precise shooter and noobs may not apply”. If it did, that’s a different thing. It advertised as a basic adventure shooter with an interesting mechanic. Wolfenstein didn’t even advertise that mechanic.

          It’s a clash of expectations. I didn’t expect Portal to let me just walk to the exit. I didn’t expect Spec Ops: The Line to be a run & gun bullet sponge. I did expect Bulletstorm, from the data given, to be a fun shooter where I _CAN_ do some cool things.