Bite the Bullet is a rather strange title. It welcomed me in with its pixel graphics and humour, then flipped that on its head as I became a hardened warrior eating mechs right out of the sky. Yeah, maybe I should back up a bit and explain.
Bite the Bullet is a run and gun, roguelike RPG shooter where eating your opponents is one of the most crucial mechanics. Looking over a dystopian world full of waste, soldiers were created who can eat and essentially recycle that waste into tons of firepower. Economic collapse, underpopulation and pollution led to food shortages and instability. Implants were given to humans to eat anything but mutations on these implants and nodes turned human beings into all-consuming ghouls. After fleeing to the stars, mercenaries Chewie and Chewella are tasked, against their will, with going back and clearing them out. You choose which hunky protagonist you want and are then let loose on the world, gut first.
I chose Chewie, a seemingly intentional nod to rambo, and landed in the first level. In Bite the Bullet, areas are defined with their own colour palette and objects, and can be chosen at will before joining a mission. Choosing a specific board gives you a sense of level progression as the first is the easiest and the last is the hardest. Despite the areas being defined, the specifics are not. Each level you go in is somewhat randomly generated, with unique paths but similar level design. This works to varying degrees. Whilst the level of uncertainty to each run is good, Bite the Bullet’s crushing guns and easy traversal system make large chunks of each level entirely skippable. Not only is this rather easy to do but there is little incentive to do otherwise. The easiness of levels and mediocre drops make most exploration tedious rather than promoting a nice sense of risk versus reward. This fundamentally comes down to what makes risk versus reward systems work – whilst not a painfully easy experience, exploring within Bite the Bullet doesn’t feel like a risk. This turns the formula into no risk, and when that reward is rarely worth the few minutes it takes to get to it, what are you left with?
Luckily, this innate difficulty imbalance can be displaced through choices you make throughout your game. As you level up, you are made aware of a skill tree which allows you to pick a class, upgrading to be the best version of your character. This is all based around how you see the food tree. You can eat plants, meats or metal. On the other hand, you can choose a class that allows you to eat absolutely anything. You want to eat a robot out of the sky? Go for it. You’d prefer to deflect that oncoming rocket with your mouth? Why didn’t you say so sooner? Bite the Bullet has a real wacky charm as you come towards your enemies mouth first. Initially, you must damage an enemy enough to be able to munch them, but levelling up can bypass that preamble entirely. You can change little things like HP and base damage through the skill tree or more specific things like fat intake and defense against vomiting.
This brings one to Bite the Bullet’s main form of micromanagement. Each piece of food has a calorie, fat, and protein count that affects your minute-to-minute movement. All three of these are needed for each action and can positively affect certain moves, but too much can slow you down in return for extra HP or damage. How tanky your build is can be affected by each decision to eat. This would usually pose an interesting conundrum each time a particularly good bonus could be earned from eating meat but this is, ultimately, not much to worry about. No matter what decision you make, the run and gun nature of combat leaves most fights feeling pointless outside of key boss battles.
This all being said, the metal music and visceral combat are very satisfying. The combat may be easy and it’s over in a second as you run past, mowing down even more ghouls. The base gameplay and decision making throughout Bite the Bullet is nowhere near as complex as the huge skill tree might make you think. Whilst there are a multitude of options to choose, most of them consist of one of a handful of traits like increasing your HP. This leaves most progression feeling a little shallow as it takes the role-playing out of the RPG.
From my time with Bite the Bullet on Xbox One, its charm and uniqueness was made clear, but the more traditional sides of its game design and combat ultimately let me down. The RPG systems are rather shallow and progression feels hollow throughout most of the game. The general level design, whilst pretty decent, does not reward exploration, and some of its systems don’t really matter that much to the overall experience. This being said, its gameplay is fun, if mindless, and its concept is so unique that it still proves to be a reasonably good experience for fans of the genre.