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

No, just bombing

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.

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