Bulletstorm takes place in the 26th century, where the universe is run by the Confederation of Planets. Grayson Hunt (Steven Blum) is the leader of Dead Echo, a black ops team under command of Star General Sarrano. Following Sarrano's orders and assassinating alleged criminals, Dead Echo kills a man known as Bryce Novak. Immediately after, they discover Novak was a civilian reporter, documenting civilian deaths caused by Dead Echo. Realizing they have been tricked by Sarrano, Grayson and his team desert and become space pirates on the run from Sarrano's forces.
Ten years later, Grayson commands a ship with his old teammates, Ishi Sato (Andrew Kishino), Rell (Chris Cox), and Doc Oliver (Robin Atkin Downes). He spots Sarrano's battlecruiser, the Ulysses near the planet of Stygia. In a drunken rage, he attacks and rams the Ulysses. The ships collide and crash land on the surface of Stygia, critically wounding Ishi.
To save Ishi, Grayson and Rell leave the ship to find an energy cell for the ship's medical equipment. On the planet, a former popular tropical-like resort, the population has mutated into feral tribes and carnivorous plants. Grayson reaches one of the Ulysses escape pods, and retrieves the pod's energy cell, and a device called an "instinct leash." The leash provides him with strange tactile information, such as points for each enemy he kills. Grayson and Rell return with the energy cell, and Doc begins replacing several of Ishi's body parts with cybernetics, including an AI processor for parts of his brain. In the middle of the operation, the mutants attack their ship, killing Doc, Rell, and leaving Ishi a disfigured cyborg.
Grayson and Ishi decide to work together to get off the planet, despite Ishi's disapproval of Grayson's thirst for revenge. Throughout the game, the AI processor in Ishi's brain takes over several times, fueled by his anger at Grayson's selfish and reckless actions which killed their teammates and put them in danger.
The instinct leash leads Grayson to another escape pod, where they find Trishka (Jennifer Hale), a Final Echo soldier. She agrees to work with Grayson and Ishi under the condition that they rescue Sarrano. As they battle through the ravaged city, Trishka explains that Stygia has been used by Final Echo as a training ground. The instinct leash is a means of ranking the user. Only by scoring kills can the soldier get more ammunition and supplies to survive. Upon learning that Trishka was Novak's daughter, Grayson tells her that Sarrano was responsible for her father's death, but lies about his involvement.
The three fight their way to Sarrano's escape pod, which landed on a skyscraper. Trishka accuses Sarrano of her father's death, but he pushes her off the building. Sarrano then warns Grayson and Ishi of an armed "DNA bomb" on the Ulysses that will wipe out all life on the planet. He urges them to disarm it as his rescue ship will not arrive in time.
As they travel to the Ulysses, Sarrano explains that prison convicts were used as the labor force to maintain the planet. They rebelled when toxic byproducts, created by the planet's solar radiation shields, were dumped in the underground prison. The convicts destroyed the shields, exposing the entire population to mutating radiation. Aboard the Ulysses, Sarrano tricks Grayson and Ishi into arming what was actually an inert bomb, and leaves. As fire breaks out aboard the fallen ship, the two are saved by Trishka, who survived the fall.
The three race to Sarrano's rescue ship and get on board. They fight through Sarrano's elite troops and eventually confront him. Trishka demands to know who killed her father, and Sarrano reveals Grayson's squad carried out the order. As the heroes argue, Sarrano hijacks Ishi's computer systems and forces Ishi to turn on his friends. Grayson manages to break Sarrano's control, and Ishi sacrifices himself to save his teammate. Enraged, Grayson impales Sarrano on the debris on the wall. Sarrano, still alive, ejects Grayson and Trishka out of the rescue ship.
Grayson and Trishka race back to the Ulysses and board an unused escape pod. They launch it into low orbit, then the explosion of the DNA bomb propels the pod into space. Inside the pod, the two talk about Grayson's revenge, the loss of his team, and Sarrano's escape. Trishka asks Grayson what he is going to do about Sarrano escaping, and the screen fades to black.
In a post-credits scene, it is revealed that Sarrano was revived as a cyborg. Ishi also survives and is now taken over by the AI processor.
As a first-person shooter, Bulletstorm focuses on combat. There are a variety of fictional firearms available, each with distinct behavior, from a pistol to a cannon that shoots a bolas weighted by grenades. Each weapon has an "alternate fire" mode which uses "charges"; for example, the assault rifle's "charge shot" is a single volley of bullets that destroy almost everything in its path.
Much of the story and gameplay puts focus on the "energy leash", a rope of energy projected from a device on Grayson's left hand. The leash allows him to pull enemies towards him, activate certain devices and traps, and slam down a ball of energy that launches all nearby enemies into the air. The player can also kick enemies or run and slide into them. If an enemy is launched into the air from the whip or by being kicked/slid into, he goes into slow motion, allowing players to perform skillshots.
"Skillshot" is one of the game's unique features. It which rewards the player for killing opponents in the most creative and destructive ways possible. Points are rewarded by various actions, such as killing enemies in midair, making use of environmental hazards or utilizing a weapon's distinct feature. The more complicated or unusual the skillshot, the more points players acquire. Points are used as currency at "dropkits" scattered across the planet to purchase firearms, ammunition and upgrades. The dropkits include a shop, a skillshot checklist, and gameplay statistics.
The player can carry up to three firearms, the assault rifle is the default one and is always carried. Bulletstorm uses a recharging health system, in which damage to the player is reflected by the screen turning red, and the player quickly returns to full health when not taking damage.
Development began in June 2007. In 2008, Electronic Arts announced that it would be publishing a new IP from independent game developer Epic Games. A trademark for the name "Bulletstorm" was revealed when game developer People Can Fly filed a trademark for the name in December 2009. Epic Games designer Cliff Bleszinski was originally scheduled to announce the game alongside Gears of War 3 during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on April 8, 2010. However, his appearance was delayed to April 12, 2010 after his slot was taken by pop singer Justin Bieber. Soon after Bleszinski announced on social networking website Twitter that he would be announcing two games on the show on April 12, 2010. However, the game was revealed before the scheduled appearance when gaming magazine Game Informer released its May 2010 issue which revealed the game on its cover.
On December 17, 2010, two months prior to its release, Epic Games announced that there would be a limited edition for Bulletstorm exclusively for Xbox 360 known as the Epic Edition. The Epic Edition includes bonus in-game content for Bulletstorm when playing online, including 25,000 experience points, visual upgrades for the leash, Peace Maker Carbine, boots and armor as well as access to the multiplayer beta of Gears of War 3.
On January 14, 2011, Electronic Arts announced that a demo of the game would be available on January 25, 2011 for the Xbox 360 and on January 26, 2011 for the PlayStation 3. No demo was announced to be planned for the PC, which was described as odd by some reviewers, especially for an unproven video game franchise. It was remarked that Mark Rein, vice president and co-founder of Epic Games, previously described Bulletstorm as "a full-blown, oh-my-god amazing PC game". Following this announcement, Cliff Bleszinski, producer for the game, wrote a tweet on January 14, 2011 about how the demo was only for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which was considered by game reviewers as a way of making fun of PC players. Both Mark Rein and the official developer blog later stated that a PC demo would still happen. The PC demo was finally released on April 4 on Steam and Games for Windows – Live, and featured the same level as the console versions.
On January 30, 2011, Destructoid discovered that the Electronic Arts disclosure page for the game announced that a permanent internet connection was required to play. Adrian Chmielarz, a designer at People Can Fly, denied it on his Twitter page.
Materials provided by Microsoft to the press ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2016 in June of that year included images that were claimed by the press of Bulletstorm with improved graphics, though Microsoft declined to comment, nor was any announcement of the game made at that time. According to Eurogamer, a reliable Brazilian retailer has included a listing for a remastered version of Bulletstorm to be released on Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in 2017; Gearbox Software is set to publish the title. The remastered version was revealed during The Game Awards 2016 in December. Entitled the "Full Clip Edition" and being published by Gearbox Software, the remastered version is set for release on April 7, 2017 for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The remastered version will increase texture resolution and include support for 4K resolutions on Windows and the PlayStation 4 Pro, and will include additional content created by People Can Fly. This includes the Overkill Campaign Mode, which starts the players with access to all the game's weapons, and six new Echo maps. Those that preorder the game get access to the Duke Nukem’s Bulletstorm Tour downloadable content, allowing players to play as Duke Nukem with a re-recorded script and new voice lines recorded by Jon St. John. Gearbox' Randy Pitchford explained that the remastered version will not be a free update for those that already own the game on the Windows platform, as the license is still held with Electronic Arts and they only secured the rights to help People Can Fly create the remaster, in addition to issues in transitioning from the now-defunct Games for Windows Live platform.
In January 2011, a viral video for Bulletstorm was released, parodying the Halo 3 "Believe" diorama. Television advertisements were aired on major networks and blocks such as Spike TV and Adult Swim. This was followed up in February with the release of Duty Calls, a free downloadable PC game that parodies the Call of Duty series, as well as general first-person shooter clichés. Film director John Stalberg, Jr. was hired to shoot two short films and four 30 second commercial spots that aired on the game's launch program on G4 network. The short films star R. Lee Ermey and comedian Brian Posehn.
On February 22, 2011, Electronic Arts announced Gun Sonata, the first downloadable content (DLC) for Bulletstorm. The DLC was released on April 14, 2011 on PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace, and on May 19, 2011 on Games for Windows Marketplace. The content includes three "Anarchy" maps, two "Echo" missions and two "Leash" colors and adds five achievements/trophies (on Games for Windows – Live/Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, respectively).
Blood Symphony was released on June 10, 2011 on Games for Windows Marketplace and Xbox Live Marketplace, and in July 2011 on the PlayStation Store. The content includes two "Echoes" maps, three "Anarchy" maps, a new mode called "The Ultimate Echoes" and five additional achievements/trophies.
Bulletstorm has received positive reviews from critics. The game scored 9.1/10 from CVG, 8/10 from IGN, 9/10 from Eurogamer, 9.25/10 from Game Informer, 10/10 from GamesRadar. and 8/10 from Jeuxvideo.fr.
Game Informer's Tim Turi gave Bulletstorm a 9.25/10, praising the game's degree of character control, which he compared to Mirror's Edge. He also praised the game's darkly humorous storyline, calling it a "goofy sci-fi romp that doesn't deserve to have its cut-scenes skipped", and also liked Bulletstorm's complex Skillshot-based combat and weapons system, praising them as very creative. However, he criticized the game's lack of multiplayer maps and the final hours of the campaign, calling it "stale". Eurogamer synthesis of the game was that it was "an astonishingly clever game folded up inside an exquisitely stupid one".
However, several reviewers criticized the game design. For example, 1UP.com and The Escapist judged that the plot was overly serious considering the focus put by the designers on the gameplay, "dragging the game down." Others considered that the multiplayer part of the game was limited and "gets tiresome". NoFrag found the plot fairly conventional and the dialogues not really funny, and the end of the solo campaign "sugary" contrary to the developers which said that the game was not taking itself too seriously. The game was also using too many quick time and scripted events for their liking, often breaking the flow of the gameplay.
As of July 25, 2011, Epic Games declared that they had failed to turn a profit on the game. Bulletstorm sold just under one million copies. A sequel was planned but was later cancelled.
While the final sales numbers were disappointing to both EA and Epic Games, the game has garnered a cult following in the years after its release. Video game podcast site RageSelect declared it "One of the most underappreciated games of the last five years."
On February 8, 2011, the game came under scrutiny by Fox News through an article on their website by John Brandon and later on February 20, 2011 through their televised broadcast and another article. Alongside the panel of Fox News was psychologist Carole Lieberman, who claimed "The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games." To support this claim, Lieberman referred to eight sources, one of them being Bulletstorm. Gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun analysed Lieberman's claims, and found only one of eight sources she provided had anything to do with the subject at hand.