I’m trying to turn in a quest, but I just can’t seem to find my NPC. I get turned around a lot in the looping, wandering architecture of Bombshell’s empty world. The mini-map is useless. Suddenly, I run into a pair of aliens. Before I can shoot, they spin in a circle, shoot at each other, and run off a cliff to their deaths. I turn a corner and spot the NPC. He praises me for staying alive with all these dangerous aliens running around. He thinks I must really be something special.Bombshell is not something special. I was so ready for an interesting ARPG, focusing on loot, character progression, and dynamic combat in a sci-fi setting. I like Torchlight and Diablo as much as the next guy, but I’ll always take a laser rifle over a sword if I have a choice. Unfortunately, Bombshell makes a mess of everything that great ARPGs get right, and its B-movie sci-fi appeal falls completely flat.Bombshell throws you face-first into an absurd sci-fi quest to save the President of the United States, fronted by a gritty, ex-military, hardass alien hunter sporting a metal arm and prominent cleavage. It plays out exactly how that premise would lead you to expect. Coming from the publishers of Duke Nukem and the developers of 2013’s Rise of the Triad reboot, it drips exactly the same kind of dudebro (or dude-sis, in this case?) self-aware ridiculousness as a Duke or a Serious Sam game. It makes no apologies for its story’s shortcomings, preferring to focus on letting you atomize extraterrestrials in a variety of over-the-top ways.Shelly’s robotic arm is a mount for various weapons, including machine guns, laser rifles, and flamethrowers. As she runs around, she points, she clicks, and aliens die. It’s not much fun beyond being a simple target practice exercise. Even then, some guns feature a distractingly generous auto-aim mechanic that snaps shots to targets, even if it means they leave your rifle at an unnatural angle. When the only real gameplay challenge in Bombshell is fast and accurate shooting, I felt robbed that the game took aiming from me, too.Worse, the aliens’ only combat strategy is charging in a straight line, shooting. Sometimes they don’t even do that: I once had an alien stand a few feet away and stare at me. Like a T-Rex in an ill-conceived amusement park, he couldn’t see me until I moved.Compared to the chaos of combat in Torchlight 2 or the raw physical power in Diablo 3 (I’m thinking here of the barbarian swatting skeletons out of the stadium with his axe), Shelly just… stands there. She could move around and shoot, sure, but why? There’s no dodging or rolling, like in last year’s excellentVictor Vran. There’s no cover to find. When I realized that it didn’t matter if I stood still or moved around (enemies’ shots hit me either way), I stopped moving. My interest in mastering Bombshell’s combat mechanics vanished.The environments I explored, fought through, and left craters in were a major highlight. Shelly visits three distinct alien worlds that complement the carnage with gorgeous vistas, strong personality, interesting elements of verticality for a top-down game, and uncommon attention to detail. The enemies that populate each area are also overflowing with in-your-face visual elements and stylistic flair. My personal favorite was a race of space-zombie ice vikings (yes, all four of those descriptors are completely true),
living on a frigid world that managed to be both whimsically bright and menacingly sepulchral at the same timeThe isometric-ish overhead camera is also a problem. It’s zoomed in too close, so close that it has to draw back for any kind of platforming challenge (all of which are frustrating, anyway). It’s in so tight that I’m routinely shot by enemies who are still off-screen. There’s a button to zoom it in closer to check out Shelly’s character model, but no option to zoom it out.
Loot drops should be crucial in motivation here: the unexpected but powerful surprise piece of gear, the rare enchanted item, the slot machine payout of the RPG world. Sadly, the only loot to pick up is ammunition and cash. The cash can be spent on upgrading Shelly’s armor or buying a secondary fire mode for her weapons, but it all feels so pointless when the basic moment-to-moment game is so boring.The more I think about it, the more Bombshell just doesn’t feel finished. Several levels feature long, wandering sections with no enemies in sight. Graphics are muddy and blurry, even at the highest settings. On my GTX 970, the in-game cutscenes stuttered and I saw a lot of screen tearing. A couple of times, I saw enemies fall through the floor and die. Once, I fell through the floor and died.There’s not much I can point to as a recommendation for Bombshell. For crude humor and bombastic sci-fi schlock, look to Saints Row 4. For the brain-tickling feedback loops of great ARPGs, look to Torchlight or Victor Vran. Look anywhere, basically, but here.