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Bullet Witch

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: AQ Interactive
Developer: Cavia


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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Bullet Witch'

by Alicia on Feb. 22, 2007 @ 6:02 a.m. PST

Bullet Witch is an action adventure taking place in the exceedingly bleak near future of 2013. Civilization is on the brink of extinction after demons begin appearing on the earth, and the player wades into the fray as a witch named Alicia.

Genre: Run 'n Gun Shooter
Publisher: Atari
Developer: cavia, inc
Release Date: February 27, 2007

Bullet Witch has gone gold, and so a complete build got into WorthPlaying's hands from Atari a little bit early. Right now it's shaping up to be a game not quite like anything else currently on the Xbox 360. Bullet Witch has been the subject of intense fan interest since it initially saw release in Japan, since it's one of the few 360 titles developed with the Japanese market in mind. It only recently got snapped up for localization after a slew of curious import fans bought it anyway (and in some cases, R2 360s to go with it). It's not hard to see why; Bullet Witch is a flamboyant game with a dynamite premise and stylish, if very light, run n' gun gameplay.

Bullet Witch's premise is, well, inherent in the title: it's after a series of apocalypses have brought about the fall of civilization, and undead soldiers called Geist roam the earth freely, killing every living thing. Seemingly out of nowhere, a woman appears with an enchanted gun, magical powers, and a mysterious past. She starts using her powers to mow down Geist and find survivors, all while pursuing some mysterious personal mission. An unknown voice in her head speaks to her, offering advice and directing her toward that unknown goal. That woman is Alicia, the Bullet Witch, and you follow her through the game's relatively short course of missions.

Alicia has a promising array of powers to use while killing Geist. First there's her gun, which you fire and target using the typical 360 shooter controls. Bullet Witch is a third-person shooter, but you can opt to enter a “sharpshooting” mode that zooms Alicia's cross hairs in on the action at the price of making her move more slowly. Even when not zoomed in, Alicia isn't a speedy heroine (maybe it's the high heels). For evading enemy fire, you have to rely on careful use of Alicia's spells and dodging actions. You dodge by holding down the left trigger button and moving the left analog stick in any direction. This makes Alicia execute a quick jump, either to the front or to the side, that is usually all you need to evade high-damage projectiles like missiles or thrown cars.

If enemies get into melee range, you can execute a move where Alicia twirls her gun around her body. This is enough to eliminate most Geist with a single blow, although ideally you should never be in a situation where you'd have to use it. Alicia can also crouch, to make better use of cover, but unfortunately doesn't have any stealth-friendly moves like a wall hug. She also can't jump aside from the dodge move, so Bullet Witch levels tend to be very flat and don't feature any sort of platforming or climbing. This can lead to frustration, as areas are often presented as inaccessible when most ordinary people, let alone video game characters, could find a way in.

As a trade off for mundane leaping, though, Alicia gets to use magic powers. She has a healthy variety of different spells to use, some which are given to you automatically by the plot, others which must be purchased. Generally anything you truly need to advance is unlocked for you by the plot. Each spell is keyed to one of Alicia's three 'spell dials', and you can switch from dial to dial by repeatedly clicking the right button. Each dial maps a different set of spells to the face buttons. This arrangement can get a little bit awkward when trying to call spells up in combat situations, but there is a certain method to the madness. Spells most useful in heavy fire situations appear on the first dial, ones that call for a little bit more cover on the second, and the most powerful (and time-consuming) on the third.

The main first-dial spells the plot gives you are Ancient Wall, a simple barrier for stopping incoming fire; and, Willpower, which lets Alicia push objects like cars away from her, but doesn't affect enemies. The second-dial spell the plot hands you is Sacrifice, which lets Alicia heal wounded bystanders (which in turn can help you regain health more quickly). On the third dial you immediately gain access to Lightning, the game's one-hit, one-kill spell. Using it in the right situation is often the only way to survive, while its slow start-up time and high MP cost can make trying to use it in the wrong situation absolutely deadly. Most of the game's other spells must be purchased with Skill Points, which are gained based on Alicia's performance during a given level and awarded after finishing. Skill Points can be spent to purchase new guns and to increase the damage ratio on weapons and spells already possessed in addition to obtaining new spells. There are about six purchasable spells in addition to the story-unlocked ones, most of which can be used for direct attack or to make groups enemies easier to deal with.

Finally, there's Alicia's gun, called the gunrod in the game. In the game she begins with the default model, a machine gun that's excellent for taking on groups of Geist from a save distance. You can purchase more types of gun with Skill Points, up to about four in total. The most immediately useful, and easiest to obtain, are a Sniper Rifle that's good for picking off sniping enemies and a Shotgun version that's perfect for picking off Geist who've gotten too close for comfort, or Geist who fire powerful weapons like rockets or grenades and so need to be killed quickly. All guns can have their damage per bullet increased twice, which comes in handy since the ammo per clip for each gun model is limited. While Alicia has an unlimited store of reloads, she has to stand still while reloading, and this makes her very vulnerable to enemy fire during that moment. The variety of gun types is genuinely useful in gameplay, and the Sniper Rifle in particular is indispensable for dealing with far-distant enemies who need to be killed quickly, but from a safe distance.

One of Bullet Witch's weaknesses is its actual level and enemy design. The actual enemy models look good, and levels are absolutely spectacular as recreations of a post-apocalyptic, broken-down cityscape. The problem is that there is little variety when it comes to the game's enemy types. Geist all look essentially the same, like zombie soldiers. Some have different vests, some move quickly or issue commands, and the enormous floating Walnut Heads have psychic powers that can make them dangerous if you don't kill them quickly. The uncomfortable sensation of killing the same guy over and over again still sets in uncomfortably quickly, even though Bullet Witch is otherwise a relatively short game.

There are admirable attempts to try and fill the enormous level layouts with life, such as friendly NPCs the Geist will attack, and tons of physics objects for Alicia to interact with. Some interactions can trigger truly spectacular chain reactions, such as a gas station in the first level that can be blown up if you move a particular vehicle near the bumps, and then cause it to explode by filling it full of machine gun bullets. Alicia herself, of course, is beautiful, and fans are likely to be very interested in downloading the optional Costume packs that let you change up her fighting outfit. You can also download “concept missions” that extend the gameplay. Her default costume appears to have some issues with clipping that can grow troublesome, and the game overall makes some strange choices regarding textures. These are somewhat forgivable in light of the cutscene sequences, which are far more cinematic and compelling than the usual 360 game's story sequence. The game is almost worth playing through for the cutscenes alone.

Probably the best single element of Bullet Witch is the localization, which is just an amazingly good effort from Atari. The script for the most part makes some incredibly melodramatic lines sound somewhat natural, and the voice acting is enjoyable and earnest without taking itself too seriously. The voice for Alicia herself is especially good, the right blend of sexiness and mystery, and with no voice clips that are repeated so frequently that they become annoying. Atari isn't frequently thought of as a major localizing company, despite the work it's done with countless DBZ titles, but with Bullet Witch Atari proves that they could be a force to be reckoned with if they choose to continue localizing titles of this type.

Bullet Witch is an unusual title, and one that may not click with all 360 gamers. It is an unusual sort of game for the 360, though, and one of the few true 3D run and gun shooters available on any system. That alone makes it interesting, although the final package may not quite live up to the high hopes many expectant fans developed for this title. Considered as an indy game developed on a shoestring budget for high-end hardware, though, Bullet Witch is interesting enough to warrant a look.

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