In Bomb, the new isometric shooter from Interceptor Entertainment and 3D Realms, there’s a shield. I know this with 100 percent certainty, because for the last third of my playthrough, every step, action, and breath I took was interrupted by a robotic voice voicing “shield activated.”
That’s not because I was spamming my character’s comically overpowered bubble shield (though I often did), but it stemmed from what I assumed was a bug. I say “suppose” because I’m not entirely sure Bomb had not become conscious and developed just a little of malice towards me. The game seems smart enough to at least realize what a repetitive grind it’d been up to then, so maybe it’s completely turned its newborn ability to think and feel into mocking my attempts to find the quickest way to the credits. to find.
Bomb is not aggressive terrible game. It’s just aggressively mediocre long enough that it starts to look that way.
Half and half and less than both
Much of my frustration can be attributed to the fact that Bomb takes what’s actually a pretty decent set of top-down shooter mechanics and does nothing with it for eight hours. That’s eight hours of walking through backtrackland (or backtracking through hikingland) looking for keys, disabling force fields, or collecting keys that disable force fields. Occasionally a boss fight will crop up to waste the potential of some decent character design, but beyond that, you basically know what each level of Bomb contains.
That is Bomb the game of course. Not Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, Bionic Commando cosplayer and our cybernetic protagonist. Shelly — literally referred to as Bombshell by the majority of the cast — is actually one of her namesake’s better points, thanks in large part to the strength of Valerie Arem, the heroine’s voice actress. Arem brings it and sells the various poses and outlandish characterization the script drags her character through.
Bombshell, a former colonel, lost her right arm and the rest of her team in a bombing raid at the time. The perpetrator was a cybernetic terrorist who by the time of Bomb‘s start, teams up with a bunch of equally cybernetic aliens. Together they kidnap the president for no good reason, and Shelly tries to rescue her.
Yes, it’s one of them That types of video game stories.
Moment to moment, Shelly seems believable (again thanks to a solid cadence). However, over time, there is simply no rhythm to her personality. Shelly is depicted at various times as both a smart super soldier and a serious survivor. Neither of these two identities feels particularly well resolved with the other. Bomb (which actually started its development as a Duke Nukem project) seems more appropriate if it’s just silly: the president’s stars-and-stripes eye patch and endlessly over-the-top one-liners speak for it. However, Harrison is presented with a scattered bland melodrama centered around her character that seems overly sincere for her surrounding game.
These disparate tones never interlock, and at no point do they reach far enough in either direction to pull apart (that damn eye patch almost feels like the addition of the eleventh hour from an artist or marketer who was afraid that players would take them seriously). It almost feels like the developers assumed that a “strong female character” needs a traumatic past to be taken seriously.
Open a door, shoot some more
The same lack of cohesive rhythm applies to the action. Harrison’s bionic arm serves as both a weapon and a companion (her name is Amiga). As a weapon, the arm can hot-swap between the usual fare: a minigun (“hilariously” dubbed the “Maxigun”), a shotgun, rocket launcher, flamethrower, and the aforementioned automaton. The late game sees a few slightly more outlandish additions, but nothing too difficult to wrap our shooter-warped minds around.
You’ll also rarely run out of ammo for any of them, but it’s not for lack of effort on the developer’s part. Enemies start off hard and only get spongier over time. It is here that the real boredom sets in.
Fights just don’t flow. You’re pumping bullet after bullet into the same dozen enemies, listening to the same half dozen barks from Shelly, over the same three tile sets. There’s no combo to keep or play better, just the promise of more bullets and bombs to throw their way. You will level up and improve your equipment over time, but enemy shelters are so strong that it never feels like you, the player, are improving your skills. Instead, you play around to discover which weapon or ability will simply get you to the next set of crystal keys faster.
The shield enters: a bubble of hot death in the middle of the game that, for reasons I can’t explain, seems to deal more damage to surrounding enemies than any weapon. The shield also stuns enemies, recharges quickly and infinitely, hits all surrounding enemies and makes Shelly practically invincible. So, the last three hours of my time Bomb were spent running past and scraping against alien armies, occasionally throwing shots to burn them down much faster.
Of course, that’s a balancing issue that can be fixed later, but it’s a symbol of the bigger problem. I wanted to be done with Bomb as soon as possible, and I was willing to become a genocidal hamster ball to do it.
And on that bomb…
Bomb shows a worrying lack of polish in spots. The user interface is often too small to contain all of its own information. Sometimes my health bar flat out lied to me. It’s often unclear which gaping holes in the ground are part of a structure and which will kill you instantly if you fall through.
Frankly, Interceptor seems to be aware of some of these issues. The company patched the game incessantly during the pre-release period while I was writing my review. Still, so close to release, it’s a pain that I had to listen to a robotic voice trip over itself to constantly tell me my shield was activated.
Bomb is way too thin to support the amount of game the developers have built (although not that it’s even that long to begin with). There are bright spots. The shooting itself has a pleasant impact, at least in very short bursts. Shelly and Amiga have, if not outright chemistry, at least an amiability that felt endearing. All the more shameful than when their camaraderie comes to an abrupt and unsatisfactory halt.
None of this remotely makes up for the rest Bomb, however. The other 95 percent is still top-down shooter (whatever that means in 2016) and not very solid.
- At least the shooting is pretty decent.
- I don’t hate Shelly.
- Endless repetitive encounters and mission design.
- It never knows what tone it wants to strike, and the characters suffer for it.
- Tons of bugs to drive you against the wall.
It boils down: A game that seems half-finished in every way. Skip it.