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Bullet Witch

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: April 25, 2018


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PC Review - 'Bullet Witch'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 31, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

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.

Released in Japan in the middle of 2006 and in North America in early 2007, Bullet Witch was an anomaly. It was a third-person shooter developed by a Japanese studio for the Xbox 360 and published by Atari to little fanfare. It was also one of the few Japanese games at the time that didn't get a port to the PS3 — and even the abysmal Vampire Rain got that. After the public greeted the game with apathy, it was largely forgotten and considered to be a cult game under the best of circumstances. More than a decade has passed, and without warning, the game is now out on Steam. No one knows why, and after playing this version of the game, it's hard to think of this as a pleasant surprise.

The year is 2013, and the apocalypse has finally arrived. A combination of diseases and war has completely decimated mankind, reducing the world's population to a sliver of where things stood at the turn of the century. On top of that, a rift in the world has introduced hordes of demons that threaten to eradicate humanity. You play the role of Alicia, a witch who has made it her task to save what's left of the human race.

As the title would suggest, your main methods of offense are split between magic and firearms. For the latter, you only have one gun, a massive chunk of ornate metal that can act as either a shotgun, machine gun, minigun, or sniper rifle, depending on your upgrades. Your ammunition is split up into clips, and reloading uses up some of your mana. However, your mana meter refills at a fast pace, essentially rendering your ammo limitless unless you fire your gun without pausing.

Shooting fans will be disappointed in how the different forms of your gun don't change the amount of damage you can dish out. Using your machine gun as a base, you'll notice that the shotgun's firepower is the same as the machine gun, but it has a wider range. The minigun fires the same bullets in a faster manner while the sniper rifle gets a better bead on your target. For the most part, these minute changes mean you'll be fine using the default gun from beginning to end.

Your magic, on the other hand, is much more useful and fun. Some of the stuff you can do is more defensive, like raising a small stone barrier to protect yourself from gunfire or unleashing a raven to temporarily immobilize an enemy. On the offense, you have the ability to throw debris at enemies or call down lightning from the heavens. Then there are massive attacks, like being able to call on a tornado or a shower of meteors to destroy everything around you. Big spells aren't used very often, since they come in much later in the campaign. The spells are nice, but the interface is quite clunky, since you have to pull up a radial wheel and shift up to three different circles before the ability can be selected, let alone cast the spell. Considering how all of the spells could have easily fit into one radial wheel, the cumbersome setup is unnecessary.

The abilities fit into a campaign that only lasts a few hours but can feel much longer due to a number of design issues. Alicia may have the firepower on her side, but her movement is cumbersome. Her jumps don't feel as acrobatic as they should be, and her regular running feels slow, while her melee attacks look flashy but do very little damage. She also takes some time to pull out her gun, so there's a delay when you want to hit something. The enemy variety isn't there, with dumb soldiers and floating brains taking up a bulk of the enemy roster. Their strategy is to stand in place and get shot at, but they deliver a high amount of damage unless you're playing on the easiest difficulty level. The feedback system is pretty broken; your crosshairs turn blue before turning red, so enemies look as friendlies for a split second. Even then, the crosshairs stay red when the enemy is dead, and the long animation times for each death mean you'll waste ammo on a long-dead corpse. Only the boss fights have any sort of excitement, but their low frequency means that the bouts of enjoyment are fleeting at best.

There's only one real saving grace: the amount of destruction you can unleash. While it isn't as plentiful as something like Red Faction, you can destroy a variety of things in each level. By proxy, exploding cars can destroy nearby buildings if the force is strong enough or if you're near something appropriately explosive, like a gas station. It may be impressive, but it is annoying how often the destructibility can work against you, with the loose physics often tossing debris your way, knocking you down, or severely hurting you in the process.

If you need proof of how bare-bones the port is, look no further than the configuration screen that appears when you boot up the game. There's hardly an explanation for what each option does, and its tacked-on nature before the game boots feels out of place when all of the other options are tucked away within the game. The controls may support both the Xbox 360 controller and the keyboard/mouse combo, but the explanation text used for each function assumed the controller is being used at all times. It makes no sense to ask the player to pull the left mouse button to fire the gun. The spell wheel doesn't have key overlays when you pull it up, so pulling off the right spell at the right time will initially take some guesswork. Finally, and more confusingly, the game seems to control much better with a keyboard and mouse, as the sensitivity of the Xbox analog sticks is squirrely, an oddity when you consider the platform on which the game was initially developed.

The biggest issue with the port is how poor the loading is in general. The first time we installed the game, we were stuck on the initial loading screen, an issue that also seems to have plagued other users. A reinstall of the game seemed to fix that problem, but then we noticed that the load times for both the title screen and each level load were longer than normal. In that respect, it feels like optimization was of no concern here.

At the very least, the presentation is improved thanks to the move to PC. Mainly, you have the ability to bump up the game's original 720p resolution all the way to a full 4K, and the frame rate can easily hold a solid 60fps. The animations are still quite jerky when it comes to Alicia's movements, while everyone else is stiff by comparison. The textures are very low-resolution, with visible seams all over the place. There's a ton of pop-up with objects all around the world, and while the destruction is impressive, the effects related to them are far from ideal. The sound is still mediocre, as the effects lack any sort of punch, and the voice work is laughable.

Perhaps the reason for the existence of Bullet Witch on Steam is for the sake of preservation. Unless you still have your Xbox 360 hooked up and a disc copy of the game — or Microsoft makes this backward compatible on the Xbox One — there's no other way to play the title on modern hardware. With that being said, the unpolished gameplay and bare-bones presentation do the game no favors in this day and age, and the general failure to launch issues cast Bullet Witch in a more negative light. Unless you have a strong sense of nostalgia, there's not much of a reason to pick up Bullet Witch.

Score: 4.5/10

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