My, What A Big Boomstick You Have: ‘Bullet Witch’ Hands-On Preview

Looking back at the history of witchcraft, I couldn’t exactly tell you where flying broomsticks came into play, but it definitely had an impact on what we expect to see when we hear the term “witch.” In reality, Wicca is focused more on the elements and nature than on turning your loved ones into frogs, which makes Atari’s upcoming Xbox 360 game “Bullet Witch” an interesting amalgam of technology and nature.

Bullet Witch’s main character walks around deserted streets filled with demons and zombies while carrying what many people would expect is a broomstick. In actuality, it’s a massive machine gun with unlimited ammunition, definitely an item for the technological crowd. For the Wicca (and role-playing) faithful, though, she’s also got a handful of magic spells, the most damaging of which are based on nature (summoning lightning or a tornado, for instance).

The premise of the game is a lot like “BloodRayne:” a supernatural, leather-clad vixen is charged with saving humanity from a demonic scourge. In fact, the preview build we’ve been playing even feels like “BloodRayne:” it’s linear, focused on action-packed gunplay and has some insane bosses (a floating brain with legs isn’t your run-of-the-mill enemy).

Yet in spite of the massive gun and commensurate gun-focused gameplay, there’s a definite role-playing element to “Bullet Witch.” For starters, an RPG staple, the magic meter, increases in length as players go through the game’s seven levels. The meter refills with each enemy our heroine shoots with her boomstick, and refilling is definitely something you’ll be interested in, not only because you’ll want to use the spells, but because reloading the gun when no enemies are around costs magic. Players also unlock new magical powers automatically, which can be upgraded at the end of each level via the points earned for their performance.

In some respects it feels as though Atari hopes “Bullet Witch” will span the divide between shooters and role-playing games, much like Sega tried to do with “Otogi.” The preview version we’ve been playing, though, doesn’t quite do that. The gunplay is too basic for today’s discerning shooter fans, and the levels are too linear for role-playing fans. Meanwhile, the magic spells are fun to use and see, but actually pulling them off is clunky, because you often need to cycle through the spell HUD while under real-time fire, which causes some frustrating and seemingly unavoidable deaths.

“Bullet Witch” is coming out soon, so while there’s time for Atari to improve some of these flaws before the game ships, its issues seem too substantial to overcome. Linear levels? That’s a design issue and hard to change. Basic gunplay? That’s core gameplay and not easy to fix. Maybe someone on the development team can conjure up a few quick-fix spells, but we’d put our money on seeing some flying monkeys before we put it on these issues getting ironed out.

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