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October 2021

BPM: Bullets Per Minute

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Awe Interactive
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2020

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PC Review - 'BPM: Bullets Per Minute'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 20, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a rhythm-action, FPS, rogue-like game where you must shoot, jump and dodge to the beat of an epic rock soundtrack.

We have seen roguelites up and down the full range of genres: shooters, platformers, and even rhythm games. It's an oversaturated market where sticking out is entirely dependent on an intriguing concept. BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a rhythm-based shooter roguelike, so it's a mix of elements from The Binding of Isaac, Doom, and a rhythm game combined into an experience that is equal parts fun and engaging at best — but also mediocre and unbalanced at the worst of times.

BPM released on PC in September with a console release planned for the future. In it, we control a Valkyrie who's clearing out an Asgard that's been overrun by monsters. Like a true roguelike, each of the seven stages is randomized each time you start the game, and every death sends you back to square one. The stars of the show are the gameplay and soundtrack. It controls like a regular FPS, but every action taken in BPM has to be performed to the beat of the music. The crosshair on the screen signals beats and half-beats on which we can execute actions like dodging, jumping, reloading, and shooting. Everything done in between beats is ignored, although there are settings to ease or tighten the required timing.

It's an intriguing concept that works very well from the start. Overall, it's fun, simple, and requires some skillful nuance. As soon as we enter a room, every creature creeps toward us as we circle the room and try to shoot on the beat to clear the room as quickly as possible. It's a fun gameplay mechanic that had me glued to my screen for several hours as I started the adventure, and it made the game fun for the first few runs. The grooving metal soundtrack pushes you through the first few runs as you complement the beat with every shot and reload on your way to victory. Reloading or dodging on the beat is something to get used to, and these mechanics change depending on which weapon you use. The first weapon is relatively simple: six bullets and a two-part reload sequence over two beats. The shotgun, however, is a different beast where loading the next shell has to be performed on the beat between shots. Other guns may even have to reload every single bullet, such as the revolver. There isn't a stark difference between weapons, but they can throw off your muscle memory very quickly when they are too different from what you had previously used.

Essentially, you clear every room, open chests for goodies and coins, buy and find equipment, and beat the final boss of the area to advance. There are seven areas and as many bosses — with a few sub-bosses tossed in for good measure — and eventually, you'll reach the end of the game. Simple, right? Well, almost.

Every death is permanent, and there is little progression outside of individual runs. There are ways to carry over some currency and to unlock additional characters with slightly different stats and weapon abilities, but overall, it's all or nothing each run. It's similar to the roguelite blueprint that so many other titles have used, with a ton of randomly connected rooms that provide you with something to address the combat.

There are also special rooms, such as a bank; locked chests that require keys; gift rooms with free gear; and shops, which carry other weapons with different shooting mechanisms, reload steps, and damage output. Without sounding like I'm bashing BPM, if there's a genre trope you can connect with roguelites, it's likely present here. That isn't bad per se, but it accurately represents one of the title's shortcomings: There aren't many surprises or well-thought-out level designs.

As you rhythmically shoot your way through the creepy creatures, you also acquire new gear. There are four gear slots where armor can be equipped for a variety of benefits, but you likely won't know what they all do. Each item has a short description, but they are sometimes so cryptic that it's unclear what they are supposed to do. There were plenty of moments when equipping a piece of gear had no perceivable benefit, so it may forever remain a mystery. In a roguelite where these stats are a factor in whether you reach the end in one piece, it's not a great experience. When the information is clear, the armor can certainly provide distinct advantages, such as auto-aim, multiple shots, stat increases, and so on.

Armor isn't everything. If you encounter the weaponsmith during your run, he usually has a good selection of firearms, such as rocket launchers and miniguns. They're all a blast to play with as long as you come to terms with their behavior as it relates to the rhythm, but they can also fundamentally break the game, depending on their benefits and damage output.

Herein lies the crux of BPM's main issues. It's inconsistent, unbalanced, and very repetitive. It may sound like a cheap shot to call a roguelite repetitive, but bear with me. BPM's visuals are not great; everything is tinted in highly saturated colors, predominantly red, and environments repeat from your first run onward, so the level design quickly gets old. Even when environments differ, room layouts are often very similar or only showcase minor alterations. The enemy selection is more varied but still leaves a bit to be desired. Prepare to battle through repeating hordes of similar-looking creatures that exhibit similar behaviors over and over again, with minor additions to the combat mechanics and encounters over time.

There's a lot to see and do in BPM, but everything is randomized, causing many runs to be completely unbalanced. Some rooms have hidden areas that can only be reached by double-jumping (rhythmically timed, of course), and you can level up your abilities at shrines (ability, damage, luck, precision, range and speed). Due to the randomization, there were runs when I didn't get anything useful for ages, basically sealing my fate early on. Other times, I found several damage power-ups within the first area, basically making me an unstoppable killing machine until the very late stages of the game. Being unstoppable in the late game is doubly shameful, since bosses are some of the most fun and diverse challenges in BPM. This happens regardless of difficulty and can sometimes throw off the whole game. BPM's difficulty compared to other roguelikes is much lower, further complicating this matter. The randomization doesn't consistently break the game, but it has the potential to do so on more than one occasion.

Let's not forget the audio. One very important pillar of the gameplay in BPM is the music. I was very fond of the soundtrack in my first three hours with the game, but there's only one real track per stage, so the overall selection is rather slim. Since you'll have to repeat levels constantly, even the solid metal epics are likely to become tiresome. All of the songs are of the same speed and genre, so they start to blend together over time, making them less appealing on repeat runs. If you're unsure about this aspect, BPM's soundtrack is on Spotify, so give it a listen if the song variety is concerning. Outside of the music, the audio is solid but unremarkable — but that doesn't get in the way of the enjoyment of the game.

Where does this leave BPM: Bullets Per Minute? As it stands, BPM is a solid idea that's well executed, but it's wrapped in some mediocre game design that ultimately drags down the experience. This may sound like a harsh deconstruction of the title, but I would still recommend it to the right person. If you're very much into rhythm games or intrigued by the title, give it a shot. Its gameplay is promisingly solid, but the rest of the experience feels either underwhelming or too repetitive to appreciate over time. I would have loved to see some more drastic gameplay variations, skill-based additions, or maybe a change of pace or music to mix things up.

Score: 6.5/10

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