Duke Nukem. He feels less like a person, as I roll it around in my mind, and more like the personification of the 80s cranked up to 11. He shoots problems in the face, he saves the world and screws the prom queen. I admit I never played any Duke Nukem games growing up but when I heard there was going to be a spiritual sequel in the form of Bombshell, I signed up for a chance of some chewing-the-scenery gameplay with writing more hammy and cheesy than what you can find in a sandwich factory. I didn’t sign up for this though…
Bombshell, by Interceptor Entertainment, is an isometric shooter with RPG mechanics stapled to it. Interestingly, it was originally meant to be a Duke Nukem game up to the point when 3D Realms lost the rights to the series (because nothing pours salt in the wounds like your 15 year old game bombing and then losing permission to try again). So, replacing Duke Nukem is Bombshell: A female action hero with a bionic arm, a bad attitude and an itchy trigger finger.
Bombshell feels like a female version of Duke (well, minus the sexualization of all women) complete with quips. Unfortunately, you have about 8 quips being rammed into your ear-socket like thick greasy sludge once every few minutes. At first it seems spaced out enough…and then you hit that moment when you’re an hour in and hear the same damn quip about Bombshell’s car blowing up for the twentieth time. At that point Bombshell becomes the vocal equivalent of tinnitus.
To be fair to the game, it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of story: “Oh no, aliens have kidnapped the president, are you a bad enough dude (…dudette?) to rescue the president?”. Although the aliens made for an interesting twist; the story took me an hour to remember it isn’t a Duke Nukem game and that aliens invading is a major event they forgot to talk about. The rest rolls out like an average boiler repairman: It technically works after all is said and done, but it is no-thrills and is done with zero enthusiasm.
Let’s be honest though, I think honesty is best in this situation: You’re not here for the story. You want to shoot all the bad guys and win the day.
As I mentioned before, it is an isometric shooter with RPG elements to it. You gain XP (from shooting anything that moves and for doing quests) which not only gives you points to spend on health, move-power, armor or leveling up said moves, but it also unlocks gun upgrades. Each of the eight guns at your arsenal (and one grenade) can be upgraded (at least assuming you have the money to do so) as well.
This would normally invite “ooohh”s of customising and focusing down on your favoured form of gunplay, except you’ll need to flick between the whole array during the game. The game favours the “swarm the player until they give up” approach to gunfights (some of which involve the enemy shooting you from off-screen) and since each gun has a very limited capacity, you will run out of ammo a lot. This tends to make the gameplay horrifically repetitive, especially as enemies will often require tactics no more sophisticated than Hollywood films’ cop arresting method: “SHOOT UNTIL IT STOPS MOVING”.
“Well, at least the environments are nice” you may mutter, slightly defeated. I have to agree; they are nice to look upon in terms of a nice gory aesthetic. Bombshell has enough variation to keep things fresh and allow for enough environmental manipulation (e.g. platforming on spinning discs, unlocking iced up tunnels with a flamer and discovering hidden tunnels behind portraits), so you don’t feel like you’re stumbling down palette-swapped halls.
To actually navigate these environments, however, is an absolute nightmare and a chore. You are prone to getting lost with objectives which amounts to “hide and go seek in the caves.” In addition, most of said objectives are you finding a door and then finding X many macguffins that will open said door. This is repeated like a broken record and loops the same old padding (as well as the never-ending numbing quips). So, along with the previous gameplay (and the quips, oh they never end), soon enough you stop feeling anything above your neck.
The final thing that struck me was how glitchy it was. The game has many bugs. After a level loads up, it’ll take a good few slams of the space-bar to get things rolling. I’ve also managed to get an XP reward for a singular side mission multiple times by talking to an NPC over and over. Then there are the times when the AI will decide to stare into space as though amidst a existential crisis for a brief flicker, before going back to shooting me. Then there are the times a menu will pop up (e.g. shop or character menu) and invisible walls will ensure I can’t reach things like the buy button; like a baby reaching out for the dangling car keys, scraping the metallic edges but nothing more.
The final score for Bombshell, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have the nostalgia of Duke Nukem, is a 4.5 out of 10. A good nostalgic game uses the past as a leaping off point, while still taking the advances of today to further make it shine. While a game like Hard Reset embraced the old-school Quake-style FPS genre, it also knew you couldn’t just hand the player 9 guns in a grey and brown world filled with demons. Instead it gave you two guns that had three firing modes each and pit you against robots in a colourful environment.
Bombshell seems to bank entirely on the nostalgia. It hasn’t noticed the “recent” advances such as despising back-tracking, not being big on flipping through all nine guns due to ammo concerns and actually having room to deliver characterization and plot on top of the gameplay. Maybe it will sell to some people because its like a Duke Nukem game? To others though, without that history of the video-game equivalent of chewing on the 80s action film scenery with condensed masculinity, Bombshell might be a reconditioned relic of days gone past. A relic with all the stretch-marks, the out-of-touch attitude and best buried again
A PC code for Bombshell was provided by 3D Realms for the purpose of this review