Bombshell is a newly arrived top-down action RPG from Interceptor Entertainment and publisher 3D Realms. The game centers on Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a female Duke Nukem style character. The similarity between the two is no accident either: The game was originally conceived as Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction but was altered after a lawsuit by Gearbox Software. To say that Bombshell has traveled a rocky road to this day is something of an understatement given the stress around the lawsuit and complete reworking of the game from the ground up after a lackluster reception to the initial trailer shown in mid-2014. Which brings us to today and the question about whether or not that redevelopment time has made a difference.
Bombshell starts off with a literal bang with the president of the United States having been kidnapped by aliens. No one is better suited to the task of rescuing her than Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, once of the Global Defense Force until an “incident” caused the loss of her arm and the tarnishing of her military career when she was deemed to be at fault. Her arm was replaced by a mechanical one that is the site of nearly all in-game weapons. Shelly takes off on an interplanetary jaunt to rescue the president, Aurora Skye, no shirk in the military prowess department either.
Right off the bat, players are sent out on a tutorial mission to try to find the president in her safe room inside the White House and it’s from these first baby steps that the most glaring and problematic issue arises: The controls in Bombshell are utterly abysmal. When I first began, I was using a standard mouse and keyboard set up as the WASD control scheme is a native feature. However, with the top down perspective and no way to either rotate the camera or to have the camera follow over the shoulder allowing for forward viewing, I found that movement, particularly down the screen to be awkward at best.
Thinking that a game pad would do better, I cracked out my Xbox One controller and, believe it or not, it was actually worse. Some of that, of course, comes from the fact that I’m much less familiar using a controller than I am using a mouse and keyboard set up. Movement was better in many ways but it simply doesn’t change the fact that the way the camera moves handicaps the game’s fun factor. Precision jumping to moving platforms or to narrow ledges becomes an exercise in frustration simply because in some instances, it’s nearly impossible to see the jump or to have comprehensible control over the character in order to complete it. The addition of a rotational camera or, and this would be plenty, a camera that goes behind and over the shoulder similar to the one in Diablo 3 would go a long, long way to improving things.
In fact, I asked the developers if such a thing was in the works. 3D Realms President & CEO Mike Nielsen responded, “Allow me to chime in here - as you've seen other places in the game, we do move the camera around. Right now we have no concrete plans in these respect, but we are definitely experimenting with this as a possibility.”
Additionally, I was reminded that there is a function in the options panel called Camera Peek that allows for more camera movement but made me feel queasy with the way it jerked the viewpoint around. Needless to say, that option lasted about thirty seconds.
In the end, I returned to mouse and keyboard hoping to make it work better. With practice and fully understanding its limitations, it became nearly bearable.
That, however, brings me to combat. Shelly has an array of weapons that she picks up: A pulse rifle called Ion Maiden, mini-gun, maxi-gun, a shotgun called the Motherflakker, and ultimately the “Personal Missile System” or PMS. Yeah, they went there. In addition, Bombshell has a few melee skills: Mighty Punch, Power Slide, Bubbleshield and Power Sword, the first two hard to use effectively due to the control system. Lastly, Shelly gets Rolling Bombs that when sent out ahead can pack a massive punch and yield a satisfying explosion while so doing.
The main issue with combat is the lack of a decent ability to aim. While there is a small reticule arcing out in front of Shelly, it is (pardon the pun) hit or miss whether or not meaningful injury will be dealt to the enemy. Even when precisely aimed right at a monster’s chest, there is often no damage inflicted whatsoever. Monsters seem to have an amazing ability to get out of harm’s way and some are nearly impervious to any weapon used against them even standing unmoving right in front of Bombshell, yet their twin wandering around the other side of the room can inexplicably be one-shotted by even the weakest weapon. The AI is inconsistent in this area.
Customization is pretty standard fare. Leveling actually comes at a nice pace and, as expected, players can ramp Bombshell’s health, shields, melee skills, etc. In addition, weapons picked up along the way have their own leveling system that allows players to purchase upgrades on the fly while out in the field. Weapons can be leveled along any one of two paths which is actually a very nice and unique touch. Ammo can be purchased or found out in the field in fairly prolific amounts and is worth finding since buying it from a camp NPC is very expensive for very little.
Bombshell has a lot of potential that has not been fully realized in its current iteration. A game with a female protagonist, not as a choice but as the defacto character, is a breath of fresh air. As with Duke Nukem, Shelly has some laugh-out-loud commentary and some that is just goofy bad. There is a good game inside, at least in theory if not execution. Between the generic story and the absolutely awful control system regardless of platform, Bombshell is going to go the way of many games that did not live up to potential. Hopefully, developers hear what will doubtless be said and make some alterations that will give Bombshell a second life down the road.
As much as I wanted to love Bombshell, and in some ways do despite its flaws, I cannot recommend the game in its current state.
Disclaimer: This review was completed with a code given by 3D Realms.
Gameplay – 4 Clearly the most egregiously bad aspect of Bombshell. Controls for any platform are lacking in some of the basic functionality that actually makes action RPGs fun. While the potential is there, it is not met. Well-executed combat is essential to any ARPG, an area that Bombshell fails to bring to bear.
Visuals & Sound – 9 The soundtrack accompanying Bombshell is a good one. The intro music hits just the right tone for setting up a game featuring a hard-as-nails protagonist and the voice acting, while stiff at times, hits a high note with both Shelly and the president.
Polish – 8 For the most part, my experience with Bombshell was bug free, though monsters often stood still without moving, got caught behind things or became nearly unkillable at times.
Longevity - 4 Very few people will be willing to put up with the control system to stick with the game for long. Additionally, there seems to be little reason to replay as there is no variation in the story and there is no multiplayer.
Value – 4 Coming in at $35 for the standard edition or $40 for the digital deluxe edition, Bombshell in its current iteration is not a very good value. With some improvements in controls, the price will better align with overall value.