Bombshell review: More "bad" than "badass"

I am probably not going to complete Bombshell.

This is not something I do often, nor is it a decision I make lightly. Growing up I read a lot of Electronic Gaming Monthly, and was impressed that their reviewers finished (or made their best effort to finish) every game they reviewed. When I started doing game reviews at PCWorld, it was a policy I decided to adopt.

And it’s a policy I’ve stuck to, with the exception of one or two games. For instance, I loved Dark Souls II but didn’t complete it because it was kicking my ass.

This is different. I am not finishing Bombshell because it is busted.

There are two ways you could describe Bombshell, and on paper they sound equally appealing. 1) It’s a twin-stick shooter version of a 90’s FPS—wailing guitars, big guns with dumb names, ludicrous gibs, and a smack-talking protagonist who’s a borderline sociopath. 2) It’s sort of like Diablo-with-guns.

Not too bad, right

So despite starting life as an ill-planned trailer—or, in truth, starting like as an unofficial Duke Nukem game before some legal squabbling shut that down—I was willing to conceptually give Bombshell the benefit of the doubt. Aliens come to Earth. Aliens kidnap the president. Murder-loving lady goes after them and shoots a lot of enemies. It seemed like silly, mindless fun.

And some 3D Realms DNA made it into Bombshell. By that I mean “The guns are somewhat creative.” You pick up weapons over the course of the game and then eventually upgrade them with crazier alt-fire modes. I only made it maybe halfway, but there’s a bomb that you roll out like a bowling ball, a beam that splinters into a dozen other directions on contact, a shotgun that lights enemies on fire, et cetera.

Despite the creative concepts behind the guns, none I’ve used so far is particularly interesting or effective. Enemies, and especially bosses, are armored to hell and back, so you just shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot a dozen times until they finally keel over.

Hopefully the enemies fire back. It’s rarer than you think. About one in five enemies will just stand there mindlessly while you shoot. Perhaps when they went to Scary Alien Military School the instructor forgot to tell them how to pull the trigger. Or maybe they’re like John Boyega’s Stormtrooper in the latest Star Wars and their heart’s just not really in this whole evil empire thing.

Regardless, it means the most dangerous enemies are these floating bug things that hang out off-screen until you run around a corner, then detonate and cover you in acid. Any ol’ grunt with a gun is easy by comparison.

“Why can’t you just spot the acid-bugs before they get to you, Hayden” Well, reader, it’s because the camera is zoomed so far up this planet’s ass that you can barely see ten feet in any direction. This game has the same problem as Hotline Miami 2, in that enemies love to stand juuuuust off-camera and snipe at you, which is incredibly easy because the camera hovers low enough you need to practically stand on an enemy to shoot them.

What you actually end up doing is staring at the mini-map in the corner. It shows you enemies off camera and shows where you’re currently aiming, so I played half the game lining up shots that way.

Have you replayed Super Mario 64 recently If you have, you probably noticed that many of the platforming sections would be way easier if the camera would just behave—meaning aligned properly, instead of awkwardly angled.

Bombshell, for some reason, includes awful platforming bits where the camera is just always a little off-axis from where it should be. And you can’t rotate it. 3D Realms strongly recommended playing this game with a keyboard/mouse instead of a gamepad, but the angles for those platforming bits are awful and I have died exponentially more times from a misjudged jump than all the enemies I’ve encountered in the game.

Bombshell also includes some RPG-lite aspects. You can upgrade your main character Shelly with some stronger secondary powers and (more importantly) additional armor. And you can upgrade your weapons, too.

But all of that is contained in this knockoff Fallout Pip-Boy interface, and while I can appreciate the homage the execution is pretty underwhelming. Especially because Fallout’s UI is already not that great.

And now, we finally return to why I will not be finishing Bombshell a.k.a. because it’s busted. Everything else pales in comparison.

I don’t just mean “Falling through the world and dying” busted or “The game keeps erasing my map” busted. Those are certainly things that keep happening, and they’re certainly Problems with a capital-P, but they would not be reason enough for me to give up on a game.

It was two events, both of which happened yesterday.

1) In the third or fourth level (unsure, because they all sort of bleed together into one long corridor of baddies) I reached a place called the Vertigo Arena. My objective: Survive some waves of enemies. Suffice it to say I did not heed that objective, and for once the enemy’s braindead goons managed to shoot me dead. “No big deal,” I thought, reloading my checkpoint.

Turns out it was a big deal. After reloading, no enemies showed up. “That’s weird,” I thought, and I reloaded again. Three enemies this time, and then nothing. Reloaded. This time I managed to get the game to spawn the first wave or so of enemies by running to each entrance in a circuit, and enemies would dribble out in groups of two or three—but then that broke too. After about fifteen enemies, they stopped coming and the game did...nothing. Just sat there.


On and on and on. I reloaded that checkpoint for over an hour trying to prompt it into working. No luck. And because this game relies on a single checkpoint, I now had two choices: Lose three or four hours of progress and start the entire game over, or give up.

Luckily 3D Realms got back to me and told me I could edit an .ini file and restart just that one level—a.k.a. still lose about an hour’s progress. But I did it, and with a sigh and a few obscenities I started back through.

I encountered some more bugs and a crash to desktop, but it was going okay. I made it out of the Fire Planet and on to the Ice Planet, picked up some new weapons, mowed down a bunch of generic baddies, and listened to Shelly yell the same five lines over and over. But I was doing it.

2) And then my computer hard locked. Like, full-on “Ctrl-Shift-Esc doesn’t work, Ctrl-Alt-Del doesn’t work, nothing is responding, hold the power button to shut my computer down” hard-locked.

That’s it. Bombshell isn’t that great to begin with, but the bugs are really killing any remaining desire I have to see it through, so after six hours I’m throwing in the towel.

I do not recommend you play this game.


Hayden Dingman

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