Three hours. This game is three hours long. Without the aid of a strategy guide, cheat codes, or any other manner of gaming aid, I managed to get all the way through Bullet Witch in just three hours. This puts me in a bit of a bind because, while it's a very fun game to play, Bullet Witch is just inexcusably short. Hell, I rented the game and I didn't feel like I got my money's worth, so how can I possibly recommend that anyone purchase it?
A third-person shooter, Bullet Witch plays a lot like Devil May Cry without all the fruity jumping around. Or depth. Or content. The premise is simple enough—it's the year 2013, and the human population of earth has been whittled down to just a few hundred thousand. It seems that in an attempt to raise his daughter from the dead, a man accidentally unleashed demons into the world, and after five years of plagues, war, and natural disasters, the armies of hell have gotten bored and started just walking around and shooting the remaining humans. Into this context strides the witch named Alicia who carries around four broom-themed guns that she uses to blast apart every monster she comes across. In addition to these she has access to a variety of magical powers at her disposal. Firing these guns and using these spells is all the content the game has to offer, so, in a way, it's actually good that the game is just three hours long.
Modest in scope, Bullet Witch feels like only half or perhaps a third of a game. Across its six levels, each of which can be completed in under half an hour, there are only two bosses, and a fairly small variety of enemies. Although few in number, the enemies are exceptionally well-designed, ranging from the standard hell soldier (a rotting corpse dressed in an army uniform) through the big brains (giant telekinetic brains with atrophied corpses hanging off them), all the way down to the screamers (bloated tumorous creatures that transform human survivors into jabbering, bloody monstrosities). All of the monsters are truly disturbing in concept and execution. They're such horrific abominations that killing them feels as much like a public service as anything else.
The manner of killing these enemies manages to remain fairly fresh across the length of the game, as well. While the guns may be a little on the limited side, they're always fun to shoot, and watching demons jitter and dance as bullets slam into them is always good for a few laughs. The real fun comes from the spells, though. The designers have managed to whip up powers that are both visually arresting and entirely useful. The greatest of these is a form of telekinesis, which is the Star Wars "Force Push" used better than it's ever been in another game. Each level of the game is littered with cars, rocks, and fallen trees, and with the simple push of a button, they're all sent flying straight ahead, crushing anything in their path. It's amazingly fun to do, and just as useful as it is entertaining. Frankly, it was so satisfying and visually interesting that I'd often find myself going out of my way to smash a column of stone into someone that I could have just as easily shot.
Another nice touch is the presence of both survivors and helpful soldiers in every level. They're not too good at protecting themselves or helping in a gunfight, but they're not really meant to be, either. No, the other humans are just there to be saved, which is a refreshing change for such a fast-paced action game. In each new area Alicia will find a group of people being menaced by demons, and it's up to her to rescue them by killing all the monsters as quickly as possible. If the survivors are injured they don't die immediately, and Alicia can heal them through the oddly disturbing process of slitting her wrist and showering her opponent in her own blood. In addition to being a fun and satisfying element that just doesn't show up enough in games, the survivors actually reveal another mechanic that seems to have been removed at some point during development. After being rescued, most survivors will thank Alicia and offer her a piece of food. I can only imagine that at some point in the development process this food would have restored Alicia's health, before being discarded for the new industry standard of constantly regenerating health.
While genuinely fun and entertaining the first time through, Bullet Witch doesn't really hold up on repeated playthroughs. Changing the difficulty level only increases enemy health and damage; each level always has the same number of enemies in the same place, and their behavior remains unchanged. The game's real problem is that although there's no reason to play it a second time, the game is structured so that players will be forced to. Apparently fearing that their game was too short, the developers instituted a mechanic that would force players to repeat the game over and over. Improved powers are purchased between levels using points given based on performance in the level, and when the game is completed, players can restart the game using their partially powered-up character. Amazingly, it takes three entire plays through the game to acquire the really fun powers, so by the time players get to a point where they're able to really enjoy themselves, hurling buses at opponents and impaling them on rings of silver spears, they'll already be so familiar with the layout of the levels that any entertainment will be troublesome to mine from the wall of overwhelming boredom.
Worse still, the game doesn't have any extras available to stretch out length. No extra costumes, art galleries, time attack modes, nothing at all. Atari has announced its desire to release downloadable content at some point in the indeterminate future, but in this day and age, shouldn't extra costumes at least be included in a game out of the box? Actually, I did a little research on the internet, and it turns out they are. That's right—there are additional missions and costumes already on the disc, just unavailable to the people who purchased the game. No, even though players have already (theoretically) paid fifty dollars for three hours' worth of game, they're going to be expected to pay more in the future just to bring it up to standard game length? That's just inexcusable behavior.
It's a little strange to say, but Bullet Witch is so short that it never managed to become repetitive or wear out its welcome. As I trekked Alicia through the lengthy but entirely linear levels, it occurred to me that Bullet Witch really could represent a new model for game design. It gets in, makes its point, and gets out. At fifteen or twenty dollars this would be the ideal impulse-buy game that I could recommend to everyone without reservation—and if I had to pay a few more dollars for additional levels somewhere down the line, so be it. At fifty dollars, and with significant locked away on the disc from the people who paid for it, it's the biggest rip-off since Crackdown, and shouldn't be purchased by anyone for any reason.