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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: 3D Realms
Developer: Interceptor Entertainment
Release Date: Jan. 29, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Bombshell'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 17, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Bombshell is a top-down action role-playing game where you, as Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, strong-arm you way across 4 planets in an galactic adventure to the save the U.S. President from an apocalyptic alien threat.

Bombshell is the first new IP from 3D Realms since Prey was released in 2006, but that wasn't the plan when the concept first came to mind. After some successes in rebooting Rise of the Triad, Interceptor Entertainment decided to go after another 3D Realms property in the form of Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. Unfortunately, Gearbox Software put a stop to that, forcing Interceptor to retrofit the game with a new female character. After a teaser trailer that was met with disastrous feedback, the game has finally come out with a newer, more suitable-looking heroine. Whether the title is any good is a different story altogether.

You play the role of Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison, a former bomb tech specialist who was discharged from the Global Defense Force when she was blamed for an incident that caused the loss of her squad — and her arm. Fast-forward several years, and aliens aided by a cybernetically enhanced scientist named Jadus Heskel have kidnapped the President of the United States. Having dealt with Heskel before, you're called back into action, and with your own cybernetic arm in place, you must rescue Madame President.

Considering the game's backstory, you'd expect Shelly to be Duke Nukem in a female skin. While that's not completely untrue, you can tell that there's some more depth to the character. There isn't much chauvinism on display from Shelly, and a good amount of lines sound like normal speech instead of one-liners. There's a tough person persona, but it doesn't feel forced or overly aggressive. In a way, she feels like a normal female video game action hero who's wearing sensible clothing.

The aspects of the character and the game that emulate Duke just don't work. Almost all of Shelly's one-liners are either not funny or don't provide much context. Jokes about killing the dog that ate her homework or taking on intergalactic fetch quests barely elicit a chuckle, for example, and a reference to killing an alien as payback for her destroyed jeep happens so late in the game that you struggle to remember that an alien blast had destroyed her vehicle. This doesn't cover the smaller things, like weapons named the PMS gun and the Maxigun, which only seem inventive if you're juvenile. It would've been better if the game were more serious with bouts of unintentional humor.

The viewpoint may remind players of an action-RPG, but Bombshell only gives lip service to the RPG portion of the equation. You may be able to gain XP and level up, but you're only acquiring small health and damage boosts for your abilities. The title is more akin to a twin-stick shooter with a decent weapon variety but limited ammo on everything but your default weapon. Despite their names, the weapons are pretty pedestrian at first as you acquire things like machine guns, rocket launchers and shotguns. There's more interesting weaponry later on, like a gun that creates black holes, but for the most part, the standard stuff will carry you through. At the very least, you can upgrade weapons to provide secondary effects and more damage. The bowlbombs are great alternatives to grenades since they actively seek out enemies. In addition, you have a few items at your disposal, like health packs and decoy holograms. You also have abilities like a sliding kick, electrified shield, and a power punch that can be used against foes if you wanted to mix things up.

On the defensive side of things, the game subscribes to classic Halo philosophies. Your first layer of defense is in the form of a regenerative shield that replenishes itself as long as you don't take on fire for a few seconds. If shields are depleted, then your actual health starts to suffer, and the game's over if you run out of that as well. Unlike your shield, your health doesn't regenerate on its own, making those aforementioned health packs a precious commodity.

Even without an option for multiplayer, the simple mechanics should make for an enjoyable romp. The challenge sections are a nice diversion, especially since you get some good XP and ammo boosts. The bowlbombs are probably the best weapons since you're almost always guaranteed a hit. The shotgun is also satisfying to use since it feels powerful, and it never gets old to see a smaller foe get blown back by the impact. If those seem like feeble attempts at outright praise for the game, that's because there are a myriad of issues that drag down the experience.

The first problem you'll run into are the planets. Each is themed in expected ways that don't seem imaginative. You'll encounter a fire planet and then an ice planet. The individual stages are pretty long, and the environments barely change at all. It doesn't help that the layout of each stage is pretty pedestrian, and each planet contains so many stages that they bleed into one another after a while. Without a jolt of variety in the locales, long stretches of time start to drag since it feels like you've been traveling through one stage for a long time.

The AI for enemies also doesn't do the game any favors. With the exception of enemies that teleport or use jetpacks, almost every foe you'll face is only capable of rushing you while shooting or exploding. Depending on the planet, they'll have poison or ice attacks, but that's really the extent of their abilities. With loads of enemies relying on their corpses to damage you and with the explosive radius being rather large, your combat strategy devolves into triggering an encounter, backing away so you take on the least amount of damage, and then moving forward to repeat the pattern. Rushing as a dodge maneuver may seem like a good idea, but with a majority of the spaces being on narrow ledges or confined by walls, you're more likely to lose health with this tactic.

The camera doesn't make things any better. The zoom is nice enough to show where Shelly is, but it does a terrible job of hiding enemies. Most of them notice you first, and you'll often take damage from off-screen enemies. The limited ammo at your disposal means that shooting blindly isn't a sound strategy, but you really have no choice if you want to come out of the skirmishes relatively unscathed. The camera also plays a role in ensuring that structures like walls and overhangs obscure your vision; they refuse to go transparent until the last minute, further giving foes a big advantage. Without the ability to rotate the camera, expect to take lots of potshots.

Aside from health and armor, your other upgrades are barely noticeable. No matter how much you upgrade something, they still pale in comparison to a standard shotgun or missile launcher. Unless you upgrade everything to their maximum, they don't feel like they're any different, since it takes the same number of shots to take down a standard goon at the start of the game and at the end. That ineffectual amount of improvement actively discourages one from completing the side-quests for more XP. To be fair, side-quests were already a chore due to the large levels and the requirement of finding your original quest giver to complete the task.

There are other, smaller issues. There are quite a few grammatical errors on some screens, and the gamepad diagram is incorrect enough that you're better off with trial and error. While the execution moves are cool-looking and give you an XP bump, you have to spam the button since it doesn't always register. The ability to activate a health pack without cooldowns and the sheer abundance of them means that you'll only die if you forget you have them. Ammo is embarrassingly plentiful, so you'll never need to buy some; you're more likely to leave ammo on the field because your cache is full. The difficulty level is breezy for those with some experience in the genre, and the harder difficulty level is only available as a New Game+, so initially, there isn't a sense of challenge for veteran players who can overlook the title's flaws. Finally, menus for the store and upgrades are difficult to navigate if you're using a gamepad. You'll need to switch between the gamepad and keyboard/mouse to accomplish everything you need to do.

Graphically, Bombshell can be quite good. Despite the sameness of the environments, the texture work is good. The use of light and tons of particles impress, and the game engine can handle a decent amount of on-screen elements. The HUD can make things feel small since some elements are unnecessarily large and end up hiding some enemies. Only Shelly and the bosses have interesting designs, and every other enemy looks pretty generic thanks to some obvious influences from the foes of Duke Nukem 3D. There are times when the effects are so overdone that you have to search for Shelly since the environment obscures her.

The audio is hit-and-miss. The soundtrack starts with a very heavy metal track, and loads of rock pieces are sprinkled throughout the title. Mixed in are standard action game pieces that are heavy on drums but are still provide the right beats for gunfights. As expected, the sound effects hit hard, so shotguns and explosions provide just enough thump to be effective. The voices for Shelly and Heskel are done well enough, even if the latter hams it up immensely to compensate for the protagonist's serious demeanor. However, the rest of the voices are atrocious. Since this isn't parody, having that level of quality is simply embarrassing.

What's disappointing about Bombshell is that you can see the potential. The shooting mechanics and weapons are fine, and the idea of a female Duke Nukem doesn't hurt. Though the sound is below par most of the time, there's been some real effort in making the game look pretty gorgeous, even if the monster designs aren't that impressive. The flat humor doesn't help, and neither does the lack of any real strategy or enemy intelligence. In the end, your enjoyment of the title comes down to how much you're willing to put up with. While a few will find some genuine fun here, most may wait for a price drop and seek out other titles to satisfy their craving for a twin-stick shooter.

Score: 5.0/10

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