BPM: Bullets Per Minute Review
First-person shooters are frenetic games that have their own sort of rhythm to them. Whether it be a run-and-gun shooter like Doom Eternal or strategic cover-based combat like in Call of Duty, each game has its own beat to follow and enjoy.
Awe Interactive’s BPM: Bullets Per Minute takes that concept and goes to town with it, creating a one-of-a-kind shooter that literally plays along to the beat of a heavy metal soundtrack.
In BPM: Bullets Per Minute, you take a role of a Valkyrie making their way through the nine realms all the way to Helheim where the fearsome beast Nidhogg awaits. Guided by powers imbued by the gods and your trusty firearm, you rain bullets on your adversaries as you dance with the beat of the gods’ symphony – heavy metal.
As the title implies, you will be shooting, reloading, dashing, jumping to the beat of the song. It’s a rhythm-based shooter that’s been described as “Doom meets Guitar Hero”. To further complicate things, it’s also a roguelike where you traverse the next nine levels, take out the level boss, and proceed, starting over when you die.
With all these elements put together, is it too many good things in one package or a genre-defying title that redefines shooters as we know it?
Shooting to the beat of its own drum
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is unique, to say the least. It combines all the elements that make specific genres fun and original, all while adding a rhythm aspect for good measure. That rhythm aspect takes center stage as your survival is dependent on following the rhythm matched by the metronomic crosshair in front of you.
Every gun in BPM: Bullets Per Minute has its own rhythm in terms of shooting and reloading. Some guns have a three-beat reloading sequence, while other firearms like the revolver or the rocket launcher involve reloading every bullet. Somewhere in there is a chain gun that fires its bullets to the beat, which is pretty satisfying.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute follows a 4/4 time signature throughout the game, so it’s a simple “a one-two-three-four” rhythm pattern that attempts to make it accessible to most players. At the start of the game, there is a latency adjustment screen, which tests your actual rhythm so you could adjust it to loose or strict depending on your preference. If you’re really struggling there’s Auto mode, but where’s the fun in that?
It takes a bit of time to get used to, and others will definitely struggle more compared to those with good coordination. Even though the game has accessibility options to tweak, there will be quite a number of people who really “won’t get it”.
Sadly, switching the rhythm mode to Auto actually kills the novelty built around this mechanic. BPM: Bullets Per Minute becomes a regular shooter with RNG mechanics. The rhythm option is almost necessary to bring the game to life and once you get used to it, it really doesn’t let up.
Slave to the RNG
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is split into nine levels with randomized rooms and a boss guarding the exit. Just like with many roguelites, your progress can be extremely dependent on your “rolls”, which gives you various upgrades that allow you further progress in the next run.
To increase your stats, you have to look for altars where you offer coins picked up from killing enemies to increase your attributes. From damage, to speed, to luck, and finally range (yes, range is an upgrade, more on this later), upgrades are locked in these altars that manifest depending on what the RNG rolls for you.
The same could be said about other power-ups in the game including libraries that grant you magic scrolls, blacksmiths that unlock other weapons, and sacrifice altars that give you bonuses.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute incentivizes purchases because the more you purchase from the store, the better items you will be entitled to throughout that run. This carries over to weapons as well – the more you purchase guns, the more the guns that you need will be available the next time you visit.
Clearing rooms grants you various rewards such as coins, keys, health potions, and maybe some armor or firearms but not stats, which is the more important reward that actually gives you a fighting chance. Waiting for an altar to grant you better bonuses is quite punishing and will be dependent on your RNG more than anything.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute employs a strange design decision to make your weapon range an upgradable stat, simply because its a gun, and the fact that a “you’re too far” sign pops up every time I shoot from afar makes it questionable. It feels like the game is forcing you to do battle up close, almost making it a necessity to give up certain attributes for range, but doesn’t even give you a melee weapon when things get hairy.
A little bit out of tune
An entire run in BPM: Bullets Per Minute takes around 45 minutes once you figure out boss patterns, which isn’t too hard. The main challenge of the game lies behind the ability of the player to get behind the rhythm aspect while juggling decisions from its roguelite aspect.
After a number of runs, you’re granted access to other Valkyries who have a different set of stats and starting weapons but are basically similar to each other with minor deviations.
Presentation-wise, the visuals and level design can get quite repetitive. The enemies don’t hide that they’re inspired by old school ID software baddies from Doom and Quake and while the bosses are pretty cool in their design, getting there isn’t exactly inspiring. Paired with a certain saturated look that players may or may not appreciate all the more makes it challenging to pick up.
In the end, BPM: Bullets Per Minute is really about picking a gun that works with your rhythm. With the right stats, you could clear the game with any gun as long as you play to the beat (literally). Getting used to these weapons and unlocking the other Valkyries will be your sole source of motivation to keep going due to shallow lore and forgettable story, unlike similar titles in the genre.
By virtue of it being a beat-reliant game, the music will be something you’ll either love or hate. BPM: Bullets Per Minute employs some heavy metal tunes that are quite generic and while I’m partial to the genre, the Asgard theme does get annoying after some time. It would have been a licensing nightmare, but having some well-known tracks in the game would most certainly make it more enjoyable.
After you defeat a boss, you deliver the finishing blow where each shot has these sick guitar shred licks after every shot. I wished some form of it could’ve been implemented after you kill enemies to ramp up the excitement, sadly all I felt while juggling the many elements of BPM: Bullets Per Minute was frustration.
What we liked:
What we didn’t like:
Verdict: Wait (for a demo)
There’s a lot of fun to be had with BPM: Bullets Per Minute, evidenced by the dedicated cult following from its PC launch. Ultimately, the enjoyment of the game will be dependent on the player and how well they’ll be able to cope with the rhythm-related mechanic on top of its difficulty.
The roguelite aspect is half-baked and you’re hampered by the lack of range, which is a strange creative call for a shooter. BPM: Bullets Per Minute is also heavily reliant on RNG, which doesn’t give you a sure stat bonus when you finish rooms, leaving you at the mercy of waiting for the almighty altars to help you out.
There’s always the option to switch to Auto if you can’t quite cope with the beat, but this is the biggest selling factor of the game and turning it off relegates it to being a generic shooter.
*BPM: Bullets Per Minute was reviewed on an Xbox Series X with a review code provided by the publishers.