The subject of today’s review had an interesting early history indeed. After the gaming legend-come-cautionary tale known as Duke Nukem Forever finally reached us after fifteen years of development on that fateful June 2011 courtesy of 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Piranha Games and Gearbox Software, Gearbox sued developer Interceptor Entertainment over using the Duke Nukem IP (that Gearbox now owns) in their upcoming title Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction, leading Interceptor to create a new IP instead. In doing so, they did away with Duke Nukem and brought his intended sidekick character forward.
That brings us to Interceptor Games’ Bombshell, the game that emerged from the ashes of Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. It’s an over-the-top isometric action-RPG about an ass-kicking, part cyborg woman taking on a race of aliens to rescue the President. Does it hold up on its own? Let’s take a look.
Bombshell doesn’t muck about setting up its story. Once you select to start a new game you’re presented with a text scroll explaining the origins of an alien race called the Kyrr, inhabitants of the fiery world Kyrron. What was once a fairly decent homeworld with peaceful inhabitants ended up being rocked by an event simply called the “Great Catastrophe”, which caused the world to fall into chaos and spread hostility among its residents. Worse still, the event revealed the existence of Kyrronite, a substance that can be the source of untold power, trapping the inhabitants there in order to protect the valuable material. The opening crawl informs us in closing that assistance from one Jadus Heskel, brilliant professor and complete nutcase, could very well help the Kyrr escape the “Hell” their planet has become.
We’re then introduced to Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, shown fixing a car in a garage whilst the Madame President makes a speech over the radio. It’s here that we get some useful visuals to quickly clue us in on Bombshell’s backstory – a few newspaper articles and photos of her former squad are shown, along with a picture of Professor Heskel covered with pin holes. The Madame President’s speech is suddenly interrupted and Shelly hits the road to investigate, arriving shortly after on the White House’s lawn. Blasting her way through a bunch of aliens with the help of the Global Defence Force (GDF), Bombshell breaks into what I could only assume to be some sort of Presidential Portal Room to find Madame President being taken through said portal by two Kyrr. Bombshell is then spoken to by Jadus Heskel himself via video, in which he teases her for her past failures and invites her to come through the portal to try and save the President. Blasting away the screens with her (ridiculously huge cylindered) revolver, Bombshell heads through the portal and onto the fiery world of Kyrron.
It doesn’t take much playtime before you realise that Bombshell wears its over-the-top old-school atmosphere on its sleeve, displaying its Duke Nukem origins proudly in a couple of places – a few of the standard Kyrr soldiers bear some design similarities to the Assault Troopers/Captains from Duke Nukem 3D, the game’s main villain is an evil professor (voiced by Jon St. Jon no less) and Shelly herself comes out with the occasional one-liner during cutscenes and gameplay alike, with a couple of fourth-wall breaking ones ready for when you leave her idle – “Do I hear eating? Sounds like a bag of chips.” Whilst I imagine this could turn some people off, I personally found it gave the game a real sense of charm, especially with the more subtle jokes and obscure references on display – with the name the AI in Shelly’s bionic arm eventually gets being an early favourite of mine.
From a gameplay standpoint, Bombshell generally works well. Aside from the occasional usable turrets that pull the camera down to an over-the-shoulder angle the entire game takes place from an isometric perspective that the default mouse & keyboard controls accommodate well – WSAD moves Shelly about, the mouse aims your targeting reticule, Space jumps, Left Mouse Button shoots, Right Mouse Button uses a weapon’s alternate fire mode once it’s been unlocked, Middle Mouse Button throws “Bowling Bomb” grenades, etcetera.
The shooting mechanics do their job admirably most of the time, with the occasional hiccup – the aiming system sometimes didn’t interpret that I was trying to shoot a knocked down enemy close to me instead of the wall behind them, but this was a rare occurrence and it never really messed me over when it mattered.
You’ll quickly become acquainted with your special Abilities too, which are chosen by bringing up a radial menu with the F key and used with the Shift key. Your first special Ability, the Power Slide (which gets Bombshell quickly sliding towards wherever the targeting cursor is pointed), is pretty much crucial for avoiding enemy fire, especially as a lot of the areas you’ll go through are wide open with not a great deal of cover available. It’s sometimes surprisingly difficult to avoid damage as a result, but just like the First Person Shooters of old, speed and maneuvering is the name of the game. You’ll need to keep an eye on your “NRG” gauge though, as using an Ability drains it, leaving you unable to perform your abilities until it regenerates.
As you make your way across the game’s numerous planets you’ll encounter a number of different enemy types, such as the typical reptilian-looking Kyrr soldier, others equipped with jetpacks who are very fond of flying away from your attacks, stronger variants that can teleport (complete with a sound effect straight out of Duke Nukem 3D), mosquito-ish creatures that explode on contact, really odd fleshy quadrupeds that spit acid, a plethora of boss monsters and more. There’s definitely enough enemy variety to keep you on your toes, and you’ll often find yourself making split-second tactical decisions as you enter each room and catch sight of what beasties will soon set themselves upon you. Needless to say a lot of dashing, jumping and shooting tends to be involved.
If you’re anything like me you’ll find your armour being melted quite a bit too – a lot of the non-humanoid enemies are packing acid blood, straight-up Xenomorph style. Whilst a single touch of a green splat on the floor isn’t anything to worry about, damage from acid stacks up fast – as you progress further you’ll end up encountering more acid spitters, and combined with the particularly dangerous spitting plants or the mosquito-ish creatures that explode and inflict acid damage, your armour’s going to be eroded quickly, and by the end of the fight a fair few Medikits might need to be chugged to keep your health bar up. Keeping your wits about you is a necessity when dealing with these things – be careful when dashing straight towards a group of enemies, because you may very well earn yourself a vile, acidy explosion in response. Thankfully, your armour regenerates over time, so if you end up getting somewhat annihilated you can quickly patch yourself up once you’re out of combat.
You’ll find yourself packing all sorts of heat as you travel through Kyrron and beyond thanks to a number of collectible “blueprints” that give you different weapon attachments for your bionic arm. These start off with the Ion Maiden, a laser rifle that does comparatively little damage but generates its own ammo and progress on to weapons such as the rapid-firing Maxigun, the thunderous shotgun named the Motherfrakker, a weapon actually titled the P.M.S. (standing for Personal Missile System, I swear), deploying the AI in your arm as a remote sentry and more.
Whilst some weapons like the Motherfrakker do leave a little bit to be desired initially in terms of raw damage (which is soon remedied via upgrades), each weapon feels as it should for its particular type and the assets themselves are very well produced, particularly in the audio apartment, with almost every weapon sounding like it has some tangible power behind its shots.
Killing enemies and completing objectives nets you XP that eventually leads to you levelling up and being given Ability Points. These allow you to upgrade your Health, Armour and NRG as well as unlock and upgrade new Abilities, including the Power Sword (which allows you to slice up your foes directly), the Bubble Shield (which projects an aura around you that damages enemies) and (my personal favourite) the Mighty Punch, which sends Bombshell flying forward and delivering a huge, shockwave-inducing smack straight into your enemies. Whilst there’s nothing worse than sailing past your enemy as they just about dodge you, punching a group of enemies and watching them all fly away at once – some off the platform we’re on into the fiery hell below, others a fair distance away – is brilliantly satisfying. Not only that, but any enemy that takes a direct hit is concussed for a fair few seconds, giving you a moment of unopposed health bar chipping. Needless to say, this was the move I upgraded most often.
You can also use the game’s currency Kyr to purchase upgrades for each weapon available to you. There’s actually a big stat tree to each weapon, complete with a pair of secondary pathways for each that permanently decide what the weapon’s alternate fire will be, with each individual upgrade requiring both a gradually higher player level and a steadily increasing amount of Kyr to unlock.
Bombshell’s RPG mechanics go beyond the upgrade system too. Whilst a great number of the levels have a fairly linear progression to them, they do have a number of side passages and alternate pathways to get to numerous areas and exploration is usually rewarded with ammo, Kyr (usually sourced from some oddly fun to break pots and vases), items and, of course, side quests.
Whilst you’ll always have some sort of primary objective that progresses the story, each level also has a number of side quests and secondary objectives you can discover either by progressing normally or talking to specific NPCs. These side quests can take numerous forms, such as rescuing a trapped GDF soldier, defeating a boss creature protecting an important item, collecting the four pieces of an ancient Kyr scroll and more. This does carry the downside of backtracking – whilst some side pathways have shortcuts at their end to give you a head start on your return journey to the main path, they’re the exception rather than the rule, and I found myself thinking it might have been nice if they had been a bit more frequent – perhaps with a portal opening up to take you back to the fork in the path you took to get there. Maybe that’s just me – plus, the Power Slide comes in handy for getting around quickly.
There’s also the Heskel Challenges, which are found as encased portals throughout the different levels that once entered task the player with a particular challenge, such as taking on a big group of enemies using only the Ion Maiden. Both these and the sidequests give ample rewards of XP and/or Kyr, so there’s definitely a reason to head off the beaten track. Luckily enough if you do find yourself at a loss for where to go next, there’s a map screen accessible by pressing M that helps you get your bearings and find the places you haven’t explored yet.
From a graphical perspective, I personally found that Bombshell looks really nice, especially for an isometric game. Whilst the opening level in the White House was pretty good in terms of visuals as soon as I reached Kyrron I found myself very impressed by the design and the level of detail put into the world – the huge metallic rings, lengths of red desert and dusty tombs that made up Kyrron were certainly enjoyable to travel through, especially with the omnipresent backdrop of the huge, imposing sun the planet is slowly falling into hanging around too.
Character models are very well realised too, with Bombshell and the myriad of enemies opposing her sporting some gorgeously crisp designs and textures at higher settings, especially the boss characters like Heskel. Animations range from good to slightly stiff, with the occasional execution move that can’t quite convey the intended impact, but overall the animations do their job well. I did encounter the occasional visual glitch, such as where a bunch of small meteors raining down in one section still displayed their explosion effects in other places even though they shouldn’t have been visible through the ground, but they didn’t greatly detract from the experience and I’d imagine they could be fixed with a patch.
It would be hugely remiss of me not to mention the game’s soundtrack too, which does a great job of conveying the game’s over-the-top atmosphere too, full of a blend of rock guitars and classic orchestration. I particularly liked the track that plays as you enter Kyrron, where the heavy rock guitar of the previous level fades into a more atmospheric, droning and mournful sound (reminding me quite a bit of Spec Ops: The Line), perfectly capturing the dying state of the world.
In conclusion, whilst Bombshell doesn’t quite reach the hugely polished heights of a big AAA production, what it does provide is an undeniably enjoyable Action-RPG experience, that whilst not being quite as deep as some of the more fantasy-oriented fare in the genre such as Torchlight 2, gives more than enough customisation and exploration to keep things interesting. If you’re looking for a bit of classic run-and-gun sci-fi action that’ll keep you occupied for a fair while, Bombshell’s definitely one to check out.
Bombshell can be purchased from Steam.