Dirty Bomb will kick your arse before it lets you kick others. The learning curve is about as shallow as a casual hike up Mount Everest and, refreshingly, no-one is apologising about this. Not the representative from publisher Nexon who rushed through his presentation so we, and he, could play the game. Certainly not developer Splash Damage, which unapologetically reinforced that this is a game best enjoyed by fans of fast-paced competitive shooters, and if you’re a fan of older titles such as Enemy Territory, that’s a bonus.
That’s not to say Dirty Bomb can’t be enjoyed by less hardcore players. In fact, there were a few members in our group who were casual shooter fans, consolers even, and they walked away from the preview session enjoying it, albeit in a different way to the more proficient shooters of the group. On the day, I felt Dirty Bomb was the Dark Souls of the shooter space: an unapologetically challenging title that uses death as both deterring disciplinarian and sagely educator. The kill-cam is essential to seeing how you died and from what direction, so camping can be counteracted and scouting is possible post-death.
Upon further reflection, Dirty Bomb is more the DotA 2 or League of Legends of shooters, in that there’s a loose class system there, but it’s infinitely more focused on individual characters and the different abilities they bring to the table. Hell, the team has no problem listing MOBAs as an inspiration for Dirty Bomb.
So while you will be able to shoehorn Proxy, Fragger, Vassili, Arty, Sawbonez, Skyhammer, Aura, Bushwhacker, Nader, Phoenix, Fletcher and Rhino (alongside whatever other future mercenaries Dirty Bomb thinks up for future release) into medic, support, engineer and specialist roles, each Merc has their own flavour that greatly impacts gameplay. This might be as simple as a different primary weapon, but it’s also reflected in movement speed, overall health and, more specifically, the abilities of each Merc.
On the topic of health, time to kill errs on the higher side. It’s definitely not on the Counter-Strike or Call of Duty short side, but nor is it as long as it felt in Splash Damage’s last game, Brink. This was a deliberate choice from the outset for Splash Damage because the team wanted players to have a chance of retaliating in a shootout and it not being a simple case of whichever player gets the drop on the other wins.
Even with the faster, less-healthier Mercs, this was certainly true of my experience. And it’s absolutely freakin’ awesome. Because of the mixed bag of preview attendees, the game representatives glossed over the advanced movement system, so I didn’t encounter it in use too often from other players, but my tests found it to be a fantastic defensive tool. For instance, when facing a wall and taking fire in my hole, I was able to escape by jumping once into said wall and pressing jump again to vault off it in the opposite direction. This might sound simple, but being able to break line of sight in an unexpected way saved me on more than one occasion, and it acts as a short-hop rocket-jump, minus damage to your avatar.
Once I was more confident with it, it became a neat navigation tool and, eventually, an offensive option. Considering the game encourages you to shoot from the hip most of the time, you won’t have to worry about playing with aiming-down-sights (ADS) advantages unless you’re engaging someone at range. Outside of playing as resident sniper Vassili, I rarely used ADS and didn’t notice a marked difference when shooting from the hip.
In fact, it was often better to ignore an enemy at range and coax them into the range of your weapon, instead of wasting rounds. I say this reflecting on the bulk of my time spent playing as Bushwhacker: a mechanic who excels at disarming bombs, repairing objectives and also happens to have a deployable auto turret. His primary weapon is an SMG with 45 rounds, which works well at close- to mid-range, but isn’t as flash with targets too far down range.
Luring an enemy around a corner into my auto-turret almost always guaranteed a kill with the combined manual/auto firepower, even if I had low health. Health bars are displayed at all times, so it’s tempting to follow players around a corner for the final blow, even more so because depleting a health bar doesn’t equate to death… unless you blow them to pieces. Players can be revived from a fallen state by any other player, but medic types are faster at this. Additionally, Nader has the rage-inducing ability to drop a grenade when she’s incapacitated, which worked on me a lot. Like, a sweary amount of times.
Personally, I found this ability a tad on the cheap side, but even it is more tactical than the CoD equivalent of old, in that Nader players are required to press a button to drop the grenade upon incapacitation. I could have avoided her incapacitated body, I suppose, but the pace at which the game plays almost demands a perpetual state of forward momentum unless defending. What I can appreciate about Nader’s martyrdom ability is that it reinforces the importance of knowing the specifics of your enemy.
So, if you spot Nader, you know she has a grenade launcher and to shoot her incapacitated form from afar (or to avoid her when she’s incapacitated). If you see Bushwhacker’s iconic hat, you’d better believe there’s a turret somewhere nearby. And if you happen to spot the bulking, armoured silhouette of Rhino, it’s best to get some distance before you’re chewed up by his devastating minigun.
Like with the earlier MOBA comparison, it’s just as important to pick a character that works well for you and, more importantly, your team, as it is to recognise the classes everyone around you is playing so as to apply the best strategy. Splash Damage has extended the class limitations of what was on offer in Brink and allowed players to pick three Mercs to take into each match.
Having the right balances of classes across your team is essential to victory. There were multiple times when our team was lacking a support player to drop ammunition, and considering you don’t have a whole lot of lead to start with, dying becomes the best way to rearm (unless you know where the static ammo boxes are on the maps). Similarly, an inattentive medic made it easier for the other team to clear out a defensive position filled with low-health allies. There’s a perpetually resetting respawn clock and unlimited spawns (at least there is in Stopwatch mode), but if you happen to die right at the start of the respawn timer, 20 seconds is a long time to wait to get back to the fight.
Communication is essential and the in-game VOIP was abuzz with clipped requests and orders to complement the pace at which the game is played. After a few rounds, my team had a good working synergy and everyone had their own Merc preference. This latter point is important because I usually approach preview sessions with a shotgun approach: try as many classes/weapons/whatevers in the time allocated. With Dirty Bomb, while I tried a few different Mercs, I felt compelled to go back to Bushwhacker as he complemented my play style and made me feel as though I was playing a role that was most beneficial to the team.
It was the same across the board, as another player sheepishly confessed to playing exclusively with Rhino (a crucial crowd-control role), while fellow AusGamers’ gun for hire Joab Gilroy had Skyhammer’s combo of ammo, assault rifle and airstrikes down to a fine art. While playing, there was the kind of familiar tension (minus the fear) I’d compare to Alien: Isolation, with adrenaline high and the ultimate horror being the thought of letting down your team.
We played Dirty Bomb’s main Stopwatch mode, which tasks your team with setting or besting the completion time (or lack thereof) of the other side. The first map, Terminal, has one team defending and the other attacking, with two sections to the map if the first part is breached. It’s frantic and chaotic, with both attackers and defenders having access to secondary objectives that can, say, close off an attacking route, or unlock a forward spawn.
The second map, Bridge, had a similar two-part structure, but the attacking team had to repair and escort an Extraction Vehicle (EV), while the defending team has to disable the vehicle, and then stop the attacking team from nicking drug samples at the end. Along the way, the defending team can build a barricade at a particular chokepoint to slow EV advancement, while the attacking team can have a player inside the EV turret, which is an incredibly effective tactic for crowd control. Both maps were well balanced, with multiple paths and, more importantly, options when it came to circumnavigating entrenched enemy Mercs.
Well, that and the option to fire a grenade into the middle of them, or launch a timely airstrike for a team wipe. The big announcement of this preview session, though, was the monetisation, which certainly seems in line with the pledge that Dirty Bomb won’t be pay to win. Two Mercs, Aura (medic) and Skyhammer (support) are available for free, with another (or perhaps more than one) on a rotation to help fill out the three-Merc-slots-per-player rule. Dropping $19.95USD unlocks Proxy, Vassili, Arty, Fragger and Sawbonez, while other cash can be used to purchase credits.
30,000 credits cost $6USD; 50,000 costs $10USD; and 70,000 will set you back $14USD. The other way to earn credits is to play the game, but considering certain Mercs and Equipment Cases (similar to Battlepacks in Battlefield 4) can be purchased with credits, it’s understandable there’s an option for time-poor players or impatient fraggers to fast-track. Losing a round often resulted in very little credits, but completing specific challenges and winning netted a healthy number; in one round I got close to 1,000, which tells me that playing the game is a viable way to unlock more swag.
The equipment cases are important because they randomly are assigned at a certain rarity state. The better the rarity, the better the odds of scoring more meaningful passive perks. On top of this, cards can be traded to unlock multiple (randomised) perks for each Merc, so there’s no such thing as collecting a dud card given the trading system.
Like Evolve, Dirty Bomb’s biggest bragging point may also prove to be its biggest challenge: namely, a honed team experience that requires dedication and team synergy to reap rewards. If the community doesn’t have the patience to invest the required time to find satisfaction, or if the final matchmaking system results in imbalanced teams, it would be a shame because this shooter deserves a whole lot of attention. Best of all, the free-to-play content-delivery structure means you’ve got nothing to lose in giving it a bash. Hopefully that results in a big player base, because I can see myself sinking a lot of hours into Dirty Bomb.
Nathan Lawrence can be found fragging n00bs in a variety of digital battlefields, but most commonly the ones from the franchise with a capital ‘B’. He loves games with a strong narrative component, and believes in a gaming world where cutscenes are no longer necessary. In his lack of spare time, Nathan can be found working on a variety of wacky script ideas, and dreams of freeing cinemagoers from unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes by writing films with never-before-seen twists and turns. But mostly he’s all about the fragging of n00bs
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