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Review

BPM: Bullets Per Minute Review

Dance Dance Revolution with guns hits consoles

Given the sheer volume of games that have been released and the alarming rate at which they continue to do so, innovation is not exactly an easy thing to come by. But if you can’t innovate, why not smoosh a bunch of genres together until it feels good? BPM: Bullets Per Minute feels a lot like that, chucking a hard as balls first-person shooter in the blender with a heavy helping of roguelike, then an even heavier (in every sense of word) helping of rhythm matching gameplay on top and turning it up to maximum fury and seeing what pops out. It’s the sort of experimentation that could easily have turned into a big old mess, but BPM manages to cook up a veritable storm and bring its disparate elements together. Its baked-in difficulty means this one’s going to be an acquired taste, but if you’re up for a challenge and love metal then this one’s ready to hook straight into your veins.

You need this gun, and it needs you too

BPM features no actual narrative to speak of, so it’s kind of up to you to decide what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s got a distinct Norse mythological vibe, whereby you take control of an angel and do battle against rooms full of demons in places with names like Asgard and Vanaheim, but other than that it’s a bit of a blank canvas. But that’s all largely unimportant; you’ve got a gun in your hand, stuff to kill, and someone’s put on some absolutely slamming metal music in the background. Let’s get down to business.

The FPS gameplay would actually be incredibly plain, if it wasn’t for the unique hook that allows you to only shoot and reload in time with the music. You’ve got a fairly generously-sized reticle that you must hover over an enemy, then tap the trigger on the beat (or offbeat, or both!) to deliver a blow as long as you’re in range. There’s a very quick and fluid pace to the action (think DOOM or Quake and you’re basically there) and the up-tempo shredding of the soundtrack immediately sucked me in, with the sheer amount of adrenaline produced while playing possibly verging on dangerous. Each weapon has its own fire and reload pattern too, meaning the one in your hands will inform the way you use it with each track. Tracks are on repeat in specific environments but modulate in tone and feel dramatically over their runtime, and once you find your groove the symphony of destruction you can create is simply a thing of wonder.

Huggins knows where it’s at

My first successful run only took an hour, but if you factor in the eight or so hours prior to that where I almost began penning my resignation letter to WellPlayed several times, this game is not for the faint of heart

The rhythm-matching FPS gameplay is one thing, but as mentioned this is a roguelike, and a very difficult one at that. You start with a basic gun and must move from room to room on a given floor, clearing it of enemies, looting any keys and coins you find and then moving on. All levels are procedurally generated, and in addition to rooms requiring demon cleansing, floors can also feature an armoury selling better weapons, and a shop run by an adorable chocobo-esque creature named Huginn (or Huggins as I refer to him. Love you, Huggins). A floor is complete when you kill the boss in the area, and the game is complete when you tackle all seven floors (which feature steadily increasing difficulty) without dying. Bite the bullet (per minute) and it’s right back to the start with you.

It all sounds simple enough, and perhaps the default difficulty being called Easy might fool you, but it is anything but. My first successful run only took an hour, but if you factor in the eight or so hours prior to that where I almost began penning my resignation letter to WellPlayed several times, this game is not for the faint of heart. I know gaming journalists are infamous for being bad at video games, but I swear my FPS skills are up to snuff, and anyone who has seen me cutting rug at the New England Hotel before in my college days will know that my rhythm credentials are also not in question; this game is just brutal, and about as accessible as a collection of Mr Bungle B-sides.

When you start, your health pool is fairly meagre (four hits from anything and it’s goodnight, Irene), your gun isn’t exactly fantastic and it can feel like you’re dying a lot and ending up right back where you started having not really made any progress. I can see a fair chunk of people being turned off after a few hours of frustration, but while the game will absolutely not hand anything to you on a silver platter, each run can be used to give you knowledge, power and resources for future runs. The armoury and my boy Huginn for instance can have their wares upgraded if you shop with them more, with a wider variety of better quality items becoming available for sale. A bank also appears in some levels that allows you to deposit coins (the game’s main currency) that can be retrieved in future runs, but keep in mind that banks are ludicrously rare, and shouldn’t be relied on as a crutch for a successful run…ever.

Taking down a floor boss brings its own musical satisfaction

BPM’s glaring problem is not in its core gameplay design, but rather that RNGesus seems to have abandoned this place long ago, and some runs feel doomed almost from the start. If you can’t generate enough income in the first few levels to get a decent gun and maybe some HP upgrades then it only really gets harder. Vanaheim (which is the third floor) for instance features creatures called flies, which in some cases fill a room and create a bullet hell-type situations that can be enormously difficult to navigate. They’re small and nimble and hit pretty hard with tracking projectiles, and they also take two shots from the basic guns to die. Give me a thousand spider beasts or scorpion ladies in a room, but please, keep those godforsaken flies away from me. A decent shotgun or rocket launcher with splash damage makes these guys trivial, but you’ll have to rely on both there being an armoury with the desired weapon in the floors previous, and enough coins around to purchase it. For those willing to git gud the elation of flipping off the final boss is ecstasy, and as soon as you’ve done that you’ll want to go straight back and flip him off gain on Hard (wherefore art thou, Normal difficulty?). A lot of problems with accessibility could have been solved by toning down the difficulty for Easy to get players in the swing, then throwing in the challenge with a Normal mode. Criticising a title that is obviously designed to be hard for being hard is a dangerous game for a journalist, but it does feel like the developers have somewhat missed the mark on balance between runs.

Aside from the wondrous atmospheric metal soundtrack brimming with chunky riffage, menacing synths, face-melting leads and more pinched harmonics than you can poke a seven-string at, the game also features an interesting aesthetic that suits the vibe well. Floors are characterised by a threatening oversaturated colour palate that allows the environment and enemies to be framed clearly. Environmental detail is fairly basic, and doesn’t really tell much of a story, but it also doesn’t get in the way of the speed and fluidity of the gameplay that is paramount to the experience.

Final Thoughts

Sessions with BPM: Bullets Per Minute always left me with my hands aching, my heart racing and my ears filled with the glory of sweet, sweet metal. Initial runs were embarrassing and frustrating, but the gradual sense of discovery of the game’s systems and the increasing knowledge of enemies’ attack patterns and combinations made me feel like each run things were becoming a little easier. You’re at the mercy of lady luck to some extent, with certain factors in the early game going a hell of a long way to setting up the recipe for success, but if you’re up for a roguelike with a twist then Bullets Per Minute is a great time. At any rate, the gift of metal will be bestowed upon thee. Rejoice!

Reviewed on PS5 (PS4 version played) // Review code supplied by publisher

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BPM: Bullets Per Minute Review
This Is The Rhythm Of The Fight
BPM: Bullets Per Minute demands its pound of flesh in terms of initial difficulty, and many will find this off-putting. But persist and you'll be rewarded with a unique roguelike rhythm-based FPS with a metal soundtrack that slaps harder than the hand of God.
The Good
Soundtrack brings that metal goodness
Roguelike rhythm-based FPS genre mashup works
A significant but surmountable level of challenge gives a sense of achievement
The Bad
The game's accessibility barrier is immediately set quite high, Easy mode flies in the face of the definition of easy
Lack of balance in difficulty and wildly fluctuating resources between runs can be frustrating
Fly enemies can go die in a fire
8
Get around it
  • Awe Interactive
  • Playtonic Games
  • PS4 / Xbox One / PC
  • October 5, 2021 (console)

BPM: Bullets Per Minute Review
This Is The Rhythm Of The Fight
BPM: Bullets Per Minute demands its pound of flesh in terms of initial difficulty, and many will find this off-putting. But persist and you'll be rewarded with a unique roguelike rhythm-based FPS with a metal soundtrack that slaps harder than the hand of God.
The Good
Soundtrack brings that metal goodness
Roguelike rhythm-based FPS genre mashup works
A significant but surmountable level of challenge gives a sense of achievement
The Bad
The game's accessibility barrier is immediately set quite high, Easy mode flies in the face of the definition of easy
Lack of balance in difficulty and wildly fluctuating resources between runs can be frustrating
Fly enemies can go die in a fire
8
Get around it
Written By

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy

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