Wot I Think: Bombshell (The First Few Hours, Anyway)

3D Realms, freshly emerged from their settled lawsuit with Gearbox, bring us the much delayed top-down action shooter, Bombshell [official site]. Has the deviation from the Duke been worthwhile? No! No, it hasn’t! This is a steaming pile of shit. Now, with all surprises off the table, here’s wot I think:

“It’s hard to believe this is real, it’s like a video game or something,” says one Pvt. Broussard near the start of Bombshell. Well, you were half right, George. Because this is barely a video game.

3D Realms and developer/owners Interceptor Entertainment have removed their Duke mask and re-emerged with a truly dreadful game. Purportedly made in the Unreal Engine, although I’m not quite clear if they mean the engine used to make the original Unreal, this is a top-down, sort of twin-stick action game, in which you play a smart-talkin’ gun-totin’ grrrrrl called Shelly “Bombshell” Surname. Aliens attack the White House, so you charge in, blam blam blip blam, and then you’re on the alien planet or something, and blam-shuddery-shuddery-blam!

I suppose it probably takes a special finesse to craft a game in which the foreground characters and the background locations are so indistinguishable. Extra care must have gone in to ensure that the ludicrously zoomed-in camera angle means your brown-haired, brown-clothed, brown-gunned character so seamlessly blends into the brown world as she shoots the brown aliens. (Don’t worry, for the pink and orange bits there are pink and orange enemies too.)

In a display of boldness, the game opts not to do anything original at any point, but instead is a clumsy, clueless attempt to retread Alien Breed, but in drearily identical settings with ridiculously few enemies. Combat is leaden, sloppy, and weapons under-powered and dull to use. Enemy AI is next to non-existent, to the point where you can watch them merrily throwing themselves off the edges of platforms to save you the effort of killing them. And there’s the constant pleasure of getting Shelly stuck in the scenery.

But most of all, most incredibly, this is a game that takes place almost entirely off the edge of the screen. So stupidly close is the camera that enemies are in your face the moment they appear, meaning you end up playing the game via the mini-map, shooting blindly toward the red dots that indicate an approaching bad. And that works! Kill them before you even know what they look like. How – how can a game be in this big of a mess, and no one at all involved say, “Hey, guys, why don’t we just pull up the view a bit?” On occasions where you’re lucky enough to be joined by them on screen, there’s a fair bet they’ll be hiding behind the ENORMOUS “Objectives” window. This is what the game looks like most of the time:

Shelly is the most extraordinary character, about whom I think entire theses could be written. 3D Realms/Interceptor have clearly decided that they will show everyone they’re not just about Duke’s crass faux-ironic misogyny, and provide the world with the Strong Female Character it’s been waiting for. Bombshell is bold, ballsy, and takes no shit from any man! In this man’s world of men, she’s the one to show them that women can tough it out just as well! Oh god, oh god, it’s so awkward. She’s the living embodiment of a 13 year old boy’s doodle in the back of his exercise book after he found a copy of Heavy Metal magazine. Frankly it’s a miracle she’s not chewing on a cigar stub.

The deranged confusion of this pantomime of feminism combined with weapons called Maxigunn and PMS (no really) underlines this pitiful attempt to pastiche progression. Ladies are about vaginas and periods! The game’s dropped currency is called “KY”. Like the jelly you use during sex! Get it! (Except, somewhat confusingly, once it’s picked up it’s renamed as “$”.) You’d have to go out of your way to be offended by any of it, but goodness me, it’s embarrassing. (One especially odd moment occurs after an AI guide first speaks to you in a male voice, and Shelly insists it be changed to female. A while later after the she-bot burbles something about alien races at you, our star declares, “Effective and efficient – a woman was a good choice after all.”)

You know when a kid tries to make up a joke, but doesn’t really understand the format, the reason a punchline works? Witness one of Bombshell’s very few, endlessly repeated barks:

“How many aliens does it take to change a light bulb?

NONE! They’re all DEAD!”

Can you even begin to imagine what a pleasure it is to hear this proudly declared for the twenty-seventh time?! So goes everything about this remarkable mess.

It’s packed with stupidity. In one ally encampment on the alien planet you find two soldiers, a Pvt. Lemmy and a Sergeant Bowie. Presumably Wogan died too recently to get a mention. There’s no wit, no meaning, no entertainment. Just the basics of the genre are absent, the fights no fun to be part of, the loot annoying to collect, the upgrades slow to come and offering little difference to how you play.

I’ve admittedly not gotten an enormous way into the game, because good gravy, no one would want to. But it’s been a tortuous, buggy, and most of all, deeply uninteresting slog. If a sudden delight were to arrive around the next corner, it wouldn’t have been worth the effort of getting there.

Bombshell is out now for Windows via Steam, GOG and Humble.

63 Comments

  1. BluePencil says:

    See, the trouble with publications moving to a “no score” format is you often can’t tell whether the reviewer liked the game or not.

  2. Keios says:

    So, worth waiting for a patch then?

    • unacom says:

      Yeah. That patch where they exchange the whole game and leave only title and credits.
      I´m not quite sure if you´d better wait for them to patch the title too…

  3. Joe Clark says:

    Is ‘Shelly “Bombshell” Surname’ what they’ve ACTUALLY called her, or is that just John being ironically witty?

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I couldn’t dredge up the mental energy to look up her real last name.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      If I have a character change their name to Dangerous, is it ironic?
      If they also change their middle name, so they can state “Of cause, my middle name is Dangerous!” too, is that still ironic?
      If they are called “Dan[gerous] “Dangerous” Dan(gerous)” is that too much?

      ;)

  4. Emeraude says:

    Now, now Mr. Walker, tell us how you really feel.

    (If the game is as painful as this leads us to think: ouch. A small thought to all the testers that took one for the team.)

    • Jalan says:

      A good question is whether anyone play tested it extensively at all.

      I’m sticking with my previously stated theory that this thing was rushed out to make up for any losses potentially incurred from Gearbox yoinking Duke Nukem away from 3DR/Interceptor.

      It’s the only thing that explains the price tag and the fact that far too many reviewers have been quick to point out that it’s a bug-ridden piece of… not gaming history.

      • Urthman says:

        That’s always been the problem with 3D Realms. They rush games out the door before they’re ready. They should try just working as long as it takes and releasing the game “when it’s done” (to coin a phrase).

        • TightByte says:

          This comment is in the same sardonic league of wit as that found in the original article. Well done, sir-or-madam.

    • DevilishEggs says:

      The best thing about bad games is sometimes getting to drink the bittersweet Walkerade made out of game-lemons.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        It’s always fun to read reviews of bad games, especially ones by John Walker, a master of the Snark Side.

  5. Greg Wild says:

    I think you’re telling me I should forgo XCOM 2 for this right?

  6. colorlessness says:

    So, 8 out of 10?

  7. Urthman says:

    If John weren’t such a nice guy, he’d have spent several paragraphs ranting about how sexist this game is so the GatorGrubbers would all feel obligated to play this thing and pretend to like it. You’re a better man than I, John

    • Cederic says:

      Well, they implement a strong female character that’s the female equivalent of a strong male character and.. get slated because she’s not like a woman.

      This is why I have no time for third wave feminism. Doesn’t matter what you do, you’re wrong and you deserve eternal ire and condemnation for it.

      I appreciate John’s candour and enjoy his writing style. I pity him having to play games like this and find interesting things to say about them. I’m grateful that he saves us from them. It would just be nice to see him lambast developers for their treatment of male characters for once. No, not berating them because Duke Nukem is “misogynistic” (which he isn’t; he clearly adores women), why isn’t he complaining about all of the men Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison kills in the game?

      Oh, failing to meet feminist expectations of the perfect woman is grotesque punishable abuse, but killing lots of men? Oh that’s fine, go for it.

      Biased much John?

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        No, I just understand what the words mean.

      • Urthman says:

        Doesn’t matter what you do, you’re wrong

        Weird, huh? It’s almost like there’s more than one way a character can be shit.

        “They didn’t like my crappy tall character, so I made a crappy short character, and they still don’t like it! I give up! There’s no pleasing those people!”

        • Sin Vega says:

          Oh thank you, I was struggling not to reply and now you’ve done it so much more succinctly than I ever could.

        • pepperfez says:

          If only they would actually give up.

          • unacom says:

            “The important thing in the olympic Games is not winning but taking part,…” Pierre Baron de Coubertin.

      • frymaster says:

        The issue is no one outside of cardboard cutouts wants “strong female character” in the sense of “female character who’s main feature is they are physically strong”. They want females with strong characterisation ie have depth. So this falls down for the same reason the latest Duke Nukem falls down.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        Duke Nukem is “misogynistic” (which he isn’t; he clearly adores women)

        actual lol

      • magogjack says:

        Duke treats women like children/pets/objects and you don’t think there is anything wrong with that ???

      • DoktorV says:

        To Cederic – man-bashing isn’t characteristic of third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism is about equal rights, equal access, and equal consideration for LGBT and non-gendered people. What you’re describing is militant feminism, which isn’t directly associated with the philosophies of any of the ‘waves’ as such, though it had its prime in the second-wave period. Internet personalities who aren’t as educated as they think they are refer to man-bashing as ‘third-wave’ simply because they never bothered to look up original third-wave feminist ideals.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        I mostly agree with you in broad terms, but on this game I think you’re off. The fact that she’s a heavy-metal style she-warrior wouldn’t bother me. In fact, 99% of the time I’m ready to embrace that if you’ve got the trappings to do it justice. No the problem is, as John outlines with clear examples, she’s fucking terrible at being even that. You seriously going to defend the tampon jokes? irrespective of all that, it sounds like the game itself is a pile of shite.

      • keefybabe says:

        Yeah, you see…. what you’ve done there is…

        Right, you clearly don’t get misogyny at all, so let’s give you a different contextual example that’s pretty much the same.

        Ok, imagine you’ve got a game where the main character is black. But he has a massive afro, keeps saying, “WHITE WOMEN!”, and “GOT TA GETS ME SOME FRIED CHICKEN” and your currency is slave handcuffs.

        What you’ve done there is say, “What do these black people want? It’s a black person in the game. What about all the white people being killed, what about that?”

        Yeah, that. You’ve just done that.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Oh my, Glorb! You are right! I see the world in a while new light now!!

        #redpillmoment

  8. airknots says:

    How many developers does it take to create a Bombshell sequel? NONE! They’re all LAID OFF!

    • Eddy9000 says:

      Hahaha me next!
      *ahem*

      How many people are going to play Bombshell?
      NONE! Because it’s SHIT!

  9. w0bbl3r says:

    The sad thing about how true this review is that you can’t even say “it’s so bad it’s good”, like you could with awful and buggy games such as boiling point (remember that amazing gem?).
    No, it’s just so bad it’s really really bad.
    I played a bit and then at the end of one section about an hour or so in another cutscene played, erratically and with jittery and out of sync audio, and then the whole screen went black and nothing else happened.
    I waited a while, pressed CTRL-ALT-DEL to bring up the option to open the task manager. Clicking task manager just took me back to the black window, no matter how many times I tried, or how many times I tried other things like ALT-TAB and such.
    So eventually I used CTRL-ALT-DEL and used the restart option from there, and luckily the game closed as soon as the PC tried to shut down.

    Without this bug I was looking forward to quitting the game within the next few minutes anyway, but the crash saved me the hassle of putting up with any more.

    • Thurgret says:

      A friend recently introduced me to the Windows key plus arrow key keyboard shortcut to help to mitigate similar situations.

      • richard says:

        Ctrl-Shift-Esc works as well, on Win 7 at least. Left hand side. Coolest thing I learned in 2015.

  10. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Ouch, but no surprise just from looking at their PR/screenshots.

    However, I am saddened by your misuse of Heavy Metal mag. My pure teenage memories have been cheapened by referencing it in relation to this POS.

    • unacom says:

      There´s nothing cheap with your teen-age memories.
      The cheapness lies in an all-male dev-team making this thing over a period of years.
      (For the sake of my mind we´ll assume the team´s female designers are still running away at near relativistic speed and will take a decade or so to return to earth.)

  11. Shuck says:

    The problem with these attempts to create a modern Duke Nukem is that it’s basically an oxymoron. Duke was – unusually for a POV character – a wise-cracking ’80s action hero and DN 3D was a collection of ’80s movie lines, slightly more interactive environments than the usual 2.5D FPS of that time, along with some some decent level design, weapon progression and level creation tools. It was otherwise a pretty generic shooter. There’s nothing distinct there that can carry over to a contemporary game – the elements that stood out were either borrowed or only distinctive for the time, within the context of what is now retro FPS design. Outside that retro context, it doesn’t have its own mechanics or even style. You could take any random modern FPS, throw some aliens and stolen movie lines in, and it’ll be just as much a Duke Nukem game as anything else.

    • Cerzi says:

      Shadow Warrior is probably the most faithful successor to the style of Duke Nukem, and it worked pretty great. I mean, it didn’t break any boundaries but showed that it could still be done.

      • Shuck says:

        But it’s also a sequel to a game with its own recognizable style. Granted, a description of the original DN pretty much also describes Shadow Warrior, only SW has other distinct elements on top of that. That the “faithful successor to the style of Duke Nukem” wasn’t even an attempt to be that shows the difficulty of specifically making a DN game.

  12. DingDongDaddio says:

    “She’s the living embodiment of a 13 year old boy’s doodle in the back of his exercise book after he found a copy of Heavy Metal magazine.”

    This is exactly why I blew this game off the second it was announced. If you’re going to arbitrarily create the “strong independent female” as your main character, maybe approach the design from a woman’s perspective instead of a horny teenage boy’s. It’s so self-defeating and childish.

  13. Michael Fogg says:

    It literally fucking looks like a Torchlight mod that adds guns, complete with the goldfish bowl health meter. The ineptitude is staggering.

  14. vorador says:

    So, how many bananas out of a fruit basket? I miss scores on reviews. Ok i really don’t.

    Looking at other reviews on other sites(eeew), seems that absolutely nobody liked this one. It is that hard to make entertaining top down shooters? Because the Alien/Zombie Shooter series was done on a shoestring budget and were at least fun to play.

    • Hypocee says:

      I’m not too sure why I’m replying to this in particular, but hey here we go. I guess it is tough to make a good arena shooter? I can name Smash TV, Cannon Fodder sort of, Alien Swarm, Crimsonland, Geometry Wars and descendants and clones. That’s not a lot for one of the foundational genres of videogames.

      However, there’s now also Assault Android Cactus! I typically care about getting ‘through’ a game, then maybe about tiered ratings – stars, bronze/silver/gold, letter grades. There’s less than a hand’s worth of games where I’ve ever cared about the numerical score. AAC’s now among them. It offers the smoothest ramp I’ve ever seen from just blarsting away at the closest thingie, through positioning and managing the weapon switch, to invulnerablility frames and bullet maze, to chain management for that S+ and beyond into where the score game actually starts. I’ve not played nearly enough to ever get there, mind, but I wish I could and I’ve enjoyed watching some of the masters make it look easy.

      The other reason it’s relevant on this article specifically is that all the androids are ‘women’ in shape and voice and the whole thing’s super anime. All are at least one of a. cute and b. cool, and at least four out of the first five characters you meet are straight archetypes: Cactus the pixieish happy-go-lucky loose cannon. Holly the timid, bespectacled logistics nerd. Lemon the caring, confident ship’s doctor. Starch the incomprehensible, psychopathic fountain of randomness. Coral doesn’t vocally present as much and the lore just puts her as a bit of a jock? She doesn’t feel like the ‘athletic girl’ trope to me, I dunno. In any case. It’s tropey as anything, derived from a medium that skeeves me out more, and more incomprehensibly, as time goes on, but it doesn’t feel gross! The Australian team seem somehow to have imported the whimsy and amplified dialogue of pop anime without the male gaze. It looks like it’s more worthy of any given second’s thought than Bombshell, in any case.

  15. Biggus_Dikkus says:

    More like Shelly Braflovski

  16. GemFire81 says:

    Oh my god I am going to cry from laughing so hard. John Walker you crack me up bro. I love the intro to this WOT I Think.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Earl-Grey says:

    “…you find two soldiers, a Pvt. Lemmy and a Sergeant Bowie”

    Uuuuuuuuugghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
    Well look at you, being all respectful, eh?
    Do fuck right off.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      With the general awfulness of this game, I think it’s quite disrespectful to associate these two musical legends with something like Bombshell. With that said, I agree with the “Do fuck right off” part of your comment.

  18. keefybabe says:

    When this was announced it felt like it was going to be like this. If it had been good, I might have been able to play it through gritted teeth so I have to admit I am actually quite relieved it’s total shite.

  19. cpt_freakout says:

    Was anyone really expecting any different from this?

  20. GWOP says:

    I had to double back and reread the whole thing to see if I was missing the sarcasm.

  21. Marclev says:

    I had to laugh at this, it nearly reminded me of an Amiga Power review of a bad game, it was so frank (anybody remember them?)

    On another note, any chance of a round up of all crap games that have been reviewed by RPS in this fashion, for laugh out loud purposes? Nothing like a blunt review of a bad game to brighten one’s mood.

  22. Bassem says:

    I do so love when John Walker eviscerates a bad game. :D I wish there was a tag that grouped those exact reviews together.