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Back Into Enemy Territory - Hands-on with Dirty Bomb
Post by Dan @ 12:01pm 28/10/14 | Comments
AusGamers goes hands-on with Dirty Bomb, the forthcoming free-to-play, team-based multiplayer first person shooter from the creators of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Quake Wars and Brink.

Nobody else does class and objective-based multiplayer gameplay quite like Splash Damage. From the studio’s roots in the Quake 3 modding community, the team has been iterating and evolving its signature style for over a decade, carving a distinct niche in the mutliplayer shooter space.

Plenty of first person shooter games have an assortment of multiplayer game modes, some with class systems, and others with objectives, but none that can equal the experience of a game wholly designed and balanced around those elements.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars are almost universally fondly remembered for offering something compellingly different in their time, but the studio’s most recent iteration Brink was much more divisive.

Despite my penchant for those earlier games, when I was invited out to the studio’s new headquarters in Bromley, UK, my preconception of the upcoming Dirty Bomb -- having only seen a few shorts of old gameplay footage and screenshots -- was a touch pessimistic.

Not only was the name a little off-putting (and the fact that it was briefly changed from Dirty Bomb to Extraction, then back again), but it was being billed as a free-to-play game -- a business model that although in the right hands with the right balance has long proven its potential to mutually benefit both player and publisher, can still also be easily mishandled and exploitative.

After a day long preview session however, I’m happy to report that Dirty Bomb looks to be doing free-to-play, among a bunch of other things, right. After going hands-on in the 5v5 objective mode for a few hours, I stopped to consider what it was about Dirty Bomb that made it more enjoyable than Brink, but there wasn’t really any one X factor.

DB has a similar vivid graphical style to Brink, but without the offbeat shrunken-head caricature player models -- a net positive. It’s also being tailor-made for desktop PC gaming, so it not only plays at a faster pace than any major console shooter, its unshackled from control-pad limitations entirely. I think the main thing though is that Brink’s weapon unlock and customisation system was somehow both so broad and overwhelming, while also being a bit dull -- oh great, I unlocked a slightly different scope for machinegun five, which is only subtly different from machinegun two, but my combination of attachments looks cool! Whereas Dirty Bomb’s mercenary class system, with character specific weapons and abilities, renews the potential for more genuine asymmetric gameplay.

For the uninitiated, Splash Damage’s signature objective-based gameplay is like a hand-crafted medley of more standard multiplayer first person shooter game modes. The players on two opposing teams are either defending or attacking a given objective, but when the flag gets captured, the point gets dominated or the bomb gets detonated, everyone advances or falls back to the next point for a new challenge in a different environment.

The asymmetry of whether you find a given map easier to attack or defend is addressed with stopwatch mode, wherein both teams get a turn as the attackers and defenders, and the best completion time wins.

Growing from its Team Fortress roots, Splash Damage shooters have also always featured character classes, which have traditionally been a set of four or five distinct roles of soldier, medic, spy, engineer and special weapons. Dirty Bomb however, mixes this up a bit with its mercenaries system.

For example, instead of there just being a single medic option to choose from, there are several different mercenaries that can heal teammates, all of which are individually balanced with different strengths and weaknesses. Although each merc will generally align with a single overall archetype, and all medic-based mercs carry defibs for fast reviving, Sawbonez has the ability to drop collectable health packs for the team, while Aura instead has a deployable healing turret, Phoenix has neither, but can revive himself when he falls in battle.

As the colourful names suggest, each mercenary in Dirty Bomb is an individual character, decorated with their own backstory, voice acting and a distinct silhouette to visually identify in the heat of battle. There will presumably be some manner of alternate costumes and such for each, but their basic look and style is locked down -- in stark contrast to Brink, where players had finely-tuned control over their character’s appearance.

There was a total of 14 mercenaries to choose from in the build we played, and when commencing a round, you can select three to take into the match -- selecting your deck, if you like. Once in a match, you are then limited to only changing between those three character classes for the duration, so it’s important to not only choose classes that you’re good at, but that can fill the correct roles for your team makeup and the scenario objectives.

When put into a free-to-play context, these mercenary characters start to sound quite a lot like MOBA-style heroes, and that’s no coincidence. During our time at Bromley, Splash Damage made no secret of the inspiration they’ve drawn from hugely successful MOBA games like League of Legends and DotA 2.

The game’s monetisation strategy has yet to be finalised, and the build we played had the various mercs unlocking via in-game experience points progression. It does seem likely that at least some mercs will be paywalled, but there was no sign of funny hats.

Each individual merc also has an independent progression system, where you can unlock some alternate loadouts by way of boosters and crates, similar to Battlefield 4’s battlepacks or other RNG unlock systems, and another obvious potential vessel for DB’s free-to-play monetisation.

Like any free-to-play game targeting the hardcore demographic, Splash Damage and Nexon are adamant that Dirty Bomb is also free-to-win, and from what we’ve seen, that looks to be a credible claim. Additional mercs and their alternate loadouts will offer different ways to play with additional novelty value, but ultimately, the base selection that is freely available when you first load the game should always be capable of a fair fight.

Dirty Bomb is also looking quite technically sound, perhaps another big advantage of the laser focus on PC development. A server browser was on offer as the default method of joining a game, and we’re told that while a simple matchmaking system is in the works, that the server browser will be staying.

A departure from Splash Damage’s long history with the Quake lineage id tech engines, Dirty Bomb is built on Epic Game’s Unreal tech -- cause for concern to fans of the low input latency inherent in id-based games, but one I dismissed only a few minutes after joining a game; the dev team has clearly been mindful of this all important element.

There’s no ambiguity as to the target audience of Dirty Bomb. Games in the Enemy Territory lineage have always had a steep learning curve, and this one is no different, but this time, the game’s handlers appear to be embracing that fact. Refreshingly, unlike Brink, there are no illusions that Dirty Bomb can be played as a single-player game.

The Nexon rep that introduced the game to us bluntly explained that this is not a game for the “masscore” -- referring to the loyalists of mass-market competitive games like Call of Duty and Halo -- but a focused product designed for players looking for that additional layer of depth, strategy and teamwork on top of the twitch shooter experience. If that sounds like you, you might want to start paying attention to Dirty Bomb.

Latest Comments
Posted 04:42pm 28/10/14
Can also see the video Preview here

Looking forward to this hopefully its alot better than Brink
Posted 05:34pm 28/10/14
Am i still covered by a NDA? I dont know. was part of the beta...alpha? no more aussie players ATM hopefully it changes. cause it was a HUGE amount of fun. best gunplay ive experienced in a long time. Felt really satisfying, looked brilliant, was a huge fan. i was also exceptionally s*** at it :P
Posted 07:23pm 28/10/14
and this time it's going free-to-play.

Wasn't ET a mod then stand alone? i.e. FREE
Posted 06:39pm 28/10/14
Yes. I believe you acn still play that amazing game which has been updated since.

RTCW:ET was amazing, the teamwork required was pretty epic and revolutionary imo. 5v5 sounds lame though.
Posted 01:44am 29/10/14
ET was intended as a commercial game, but they pulled the plug on it and decided to release what they had for free.

I still hold ET up as probably my favourite team-based FPS game ever; I had so much fun playing that game. I somehow missed the news that Splash Damage were making a new game; will be keeping an eye out on this one.
Posted 03:14pm 01/11/14
I can only see 2 AUS servers up at the moment and they both always seem to be empty

real shame quite keen on this game loved ET back in the day at lans
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