Opinion Piece: Is Bullet Time Overused In Games Today?

With Max Payne 3 now released, and boasting very impressive sales figures, it would seem the gaming public has lapped up Max Payne’s.. pain and thrown themselves full throttle into the bullet time mechanic that was essentially made popular by the arrival of the Matrix films and the first in the Max Payne series.

MP3 puts bullet time to great use, adding a very cinematic feel to the game whilst giving gamers a slight ego boost when Max dives, kills 3 goons and is then treated to a bullet camera close-up to see what damage you have done.  MP3 makes amazing use of bullet time, hence the hugely popular reception it has received. Yet the popularity of this illustrates a double edged sword as bullet time, or excessive use of slow motion for effect/ player advantage, moves into genres where it perhaps isn’t necessary at all.

3rd person shooters are where bullet time is most prevalent with the general trend being that they add atmosphere and tend to work as a gaming mechanic. Wanted: Weapons of Fate, the Matrix games, Stranglehold and Wet, despite all having shortcomings in their own right, use bullet time to a good and necessary effect. Wanted and the Matrix games already had the basis for the use of bullet time, the selling point of both games was almost entirely based on this, and it never feels out of place. The standard slow mo dive and a basis on which to earn this , is a tried and tested technique in making the player feel more entertained whilst not confusing your TV into thinking its playing a 15 year old VCR. Stranglehold adds speciality abilities for each tier of bullet time you gain whilst Wet uses a much more arcade point system, as well as a grindhouse theme, to make itself individual.  When bullet time is done well, and the genre that it is being used in actually works well with it, than it is a more than welcome addition.

This, however doesn’t necessarily work: Fallout 3 im looking at you. With the arrival of the VATS system into Bethesda’s powerhouse game came the use of a slow mo camera that saw your character pepper your enemies with bullets. Whether they hit or do any damage whatsoever is irrelevant. Bullet time is meant to make a gamer either feel like a badass or, at the very least, that they feel are doing a huge amount of damage; the combination of buggy enemy models and some lacklustre weaponry means that it only seems to work around 50% of the time. The same can be said for Skyrim; when the death scenes work they work well and the slow mo adds atmosphere. Other times it is just plain unnecessary as the element of bullet time/ slow mo doesn’t work in the genre very well. The kudos and the thrill , and the emphasis of both of these, should be placed somewhere else. You are killing dragons in Skyrim and walking around a radiated Washington DC in Fallout, why add a slow mo feature that doesn’t really need to be added?

FPS are more difficult to judge. F.E.A.R has essentially made a genre out of using bullet time in FPS and it has worked well despite feeling vaguely inorganic.  Timeshift attempted a similar feature and got very middling reviews whilst Bulletstorm used bullet time in a new direction and got reasonably good reviews except no one bought it. Bullet time is supposed to help the player in a room full of bad guys. F.E.A.R does this, and does it well, yet it is also supposed to be scary. Resident Evil, at least when it first game out, wouldn’t have been scary if you slowed down time and casually lined up a shot against a zombie; the same applies to F.E.A.R. Almost all of the Call of Duty’s since Modern Warfare have used it to ramp up tension in its controllable cut scene which works but, after playing all of the Call Of Duty series after the first Modern Warfare , it does tend to lose its impact; ironic when the whole point of bullet time is to increase the impact of the action and events that are surrounding the player.

As per usual there are exceptions to this rule in the shape of the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time games and Red Dead Redemption, both , alongside Max Payne 3, as master classes of slow mo and bullet time use. Red Dead Redemptions bullet time never feels tacked on or out of place but instead amplifying the scenario you are occupying. You are an outlaw that gets into a grand amount of fights and does a huge amount of duels; precision and tension is key. Prince of Persia on the other hand throws in slow motion combat and reversing time to avoid death and makes it work around a succinct plot and game play feature. Both are amazing games to boot and use slow mo to their own effect rather than shoehorning it into areas it is not necessary.

This discussion of games with bulletime/slow mo as a gaming mechanic is by no means exhaustive. Games such as Braid, Race:Grid, and any of the DIRT games could have fit under the time reversal umbrella that Prince of Persia occupies. Other games that included it vary as well’; Mirrors Edge used it to help with perceived reaction time. Vanquish (10 points if you have played it) combined slow mo with rapid movement with the main character encased in a military suit. s. Bullet time works when it is implemented as an enhancer of game play , hence why it works best in 3rd person shooters, not as a gimmick. Max Payne 3 uses it to great effect and , finally, transfers it into a multiplayer that is completely devoid of what made the single player so great. Bullet time is here to stay, and I have no problem with that. Just please none in any console board games; they are painful enough as it is.


And as a treat, here is our good friend Max doing what he does best:

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