Early Access Investigations: Dirty Bomb

I don't really have a tag for this. Dirty Bomb is currently in Open Beta on Steam - so "Early Access" will have to do for now.

Dirty Bomb, before that Extraction, before that Dirty Bomb and before that 'Shooter', is a product of the minds at Splash Damage, the studio famous for Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and the studio infamous for Brink (but we can talk about that later.)

Dirty Bomb shares many of the hallmarks you would associate with Splash Damage's work; great art design across levels, characters and weapons; tactical team focused gameplay and fast paced action. This is all underpinned by being free to play with an in game store where you can spend either your own pocket money or the credits you earn from playing (again, something I'll come back to.)

While the studio does its best to forget Brink I'd like to pay that game a huge amount of respect for how it appears to have influenced Dirty Bomb. Not only has Splash Damage's visual style retained a lot of what made Brink so attractive, but the pace of the game owes a lot to Brink as well. There's very little iron sighting here; stopping simply makes you an easy target, instead you'll be leaping around, sprinting and jumping off walls all to gain a moment's advantage over your hapless, cockney foes.

There are variations in movement speed depending on which Mercenary you are playing as. Mercs are the equivalent of heroes from DOTA 2, or champions from League of Legends (the second example is a little more appropriate given the monetisation options in Dirty Bomb) and they range from the standard Assault Rifle, Air Strike wielding Skyhammer, to the light on her feet medic, Aura all the way to the bullish mini gun touting Rhino. Each with their own unique abilities and traits, they combine to make Dirty Bomb's moment to moment gameplay extremely dynamic.

Where these Mercs differ from, say, the classes in Team Fortress 2 is your ability to generate loadouts for them that are not just cosmetic. Finding a "loadout card" for a character might replace their main weapon, or give you a slight boost in your explosion radius on your grenades. There's nothing hidden away on cards though. Contrary to AngryJoe's uninformed and nonsensical criticism of Dirty Bomb the monetisation here is fair, but poorly explained. 

The natural assumption is that the higher level the card is (from Lead all the way up to Cobalt) the better the card will be. That is true up to Bronze cards, but beyond that the changes are simply cosmetic.) There is "best" card or "best" loadout for a merc - the potential changes are simply catering to different play styles, something that I actually wish Dirty Bomb did a little more.

One hangover from Brink is the parkour that saw various characters being able to access points on the map the allowed them strategic advantage or access or objectives or side objectives to help their team. Dirty Bomb does away with this, having simply a few routes that those good enough with the parkour will be able to access that feel like relics from a time where they were experimenting with adding that into the game. With a little more dynamism, especially vertically, some of the maps would move from good to great (and might even make Underground bearable.)

Dirty Bomb currently has two game modes; Objective and Stopwatch (with a third game mode, Execution, available on certain dates.) Objective is the standard mode; pitting attack versus defense across a number of objectives (think Battlefield's rush mode) while Stopwatch is the same except the two teams take it in turns to see who can complete the objectives quicker (if at all.) Execution, too, promises to be a great mode with players only having one life, adding some much needed tension and thoughtfulness to Dirty Bomb's frantic action.

The pace of the game will decide whether or not it is for you. The game is lightning quick. While it's not quite Unreal Tournament the game is much faster than Counter Strike and even Call of Duty. I didn't like Dirty Bomb much when it launched into closed alpha; the low player count alone meant it wasn't enjoyable, but through subsequent updates and the shift to open beta the game is starting to fulfill its undeniable potential.

Dirty Bomb is gorgeous, fast paced and a whole lot of fun. If you communicate effectively and find the role for you then you will have a lot of fun here, but if you go in as a lone wolf, guns blazing you'll quickly find yourself bottom of the score board alongside bcog and on the receiving end of some serious smack talk from streamers.

The game's addictive quality isn't only confined to the moment to moment gameplay, the free merc rotation offers three for free, but the compulsion to get each and every merc (not to mention decent load outs for each one) has quickly taken over my evenings.

You can download Dirty Bomb here for free and jump in.