Dirty Bomb Preview: Blaze of Glory

What do you get when you mix elements from games like Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike, and Quake: Enemy Territory? I won’t go so far as to say that the necessary result of that concoction is Dirty Bomb, but Dirty Bomb is likely the closest you’ll get to whatever that mixture would actually be. Dirty Bomb is a free-to-play, fast paced, arena based, first-person shooter currently in early access on Steam. It’s also a game I didn’t realize I wanted until I played it.

Growing up, I went through a phase where I was really into Unreal Tournament 2004. Once again, I’m not going to go as far as saying Dirty Bomb is the true spiritual successor to that game, but there are definitely some flashes here and there. This entry is the latest from Splash Damage, the developer behind not only the much-loved aforementioned Enemy Territory, but also the more recent and much less-loved online shooter Brink. Don’t worry, though – Dirty Bomb has more in common with the former, rather than the latter.

Breaking it down into its core pieces, Dirty Bomb is a team-based shooter that relies heavily on teamwork, speed, and skill.  It’s team-based because each of the respective classes, or mercenaries as they are represented in this game, correlate to specific roles for a teammate. Arty is, you guessed it, the artillery merc that works best from a medium distance and can supply ammo packs to his squad. Aura on the other hand can deploy healing stations that emit an…aura…of healing energy around them. Fragger is a big ol’ guy that likes big guns and frag grenades. I’m not making any of this up – these are the actual mercenary names. I suppose Splash Damage put most of their energy into nailing the gameplay mechanics rather than original names for characters. Which makes sense!
dirtybombinsert1Much like other shooters let you customize custom loadouts to take into matches,Dirty Bomb lets you choose a squad of 3 different mercs to bring into combat. It works much like switching classes – when you die you can choose to respawn as the same one, or as a different squad member. The biggest difference is that each character has their own set of stats and a specific playstyle. You’re not just swapping out your guns, you’re playing as an entirely different person.

Dirty Bomb is a team-based shooter that relies heavily on teamwork, speed, and skill.

While you have to currently pay to get into the early access version of the game, it will eventually be free-to-play. The development team has been adamant that it will not devolve into being a “pay-to-win” experience, it’s impossible to tell until after the game’s been in release condition for a few months. Currently there are five maps spread around a fictional post-apocalyptic version of London. Each offers satisfying degrees of variety, while remaining relatively small and compact. And your ability to jump off of walls and sprint at fast speeds can quickly close any gap, no matter the size.

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Only two modes exist right now - Objective and Stop Watch. Objective functions much like any other traditional Objective-based game mode you’ve played before. One team tries to complete missions and tasks while the other team tries to stop them - pretty standard stuff. Stop Watch is a bit different, as it mixes in a more rushed time-based element and alternates each team between attacking and defending. As you can see, both game modes rely very heavily on working as a team to accomplish objectives, rather than blindly storming into a group of enemies or worrying too much about your kill-death ratio.

Since it’s a free-to-play title, the developer and publisher have to make money somehow. Everyone gets access to a basic set of gear and mercenaries - consider this like the demo content. From there, you can purchase new gear to take into combat as well as new mercenaries that offer different skillsets that may fit your playstyle a bit better. Luckily, one of the paid mercenaries is always on a constant rotation to be offered for free - for a limited time. By doing this, it gives players a taste of a potential new mercenary, increasing the likelihood that they might be interested in dropping cash for them. Each week a different mercenary is offered.

I found myself really enjoying the time I spent with DIrty Bomb and I never felt compelled to spend a penny. Granted, if I had invested several dozen hours into the game my thought may be a bit differently, but the value for the entry price in Early Access is already quite high. Once it opens up as free-to-play to the masses, it should quickly establish itself as one of the premiere free-to-play shooters on Steam.

It doesn’t have many game modes or maps yet, but it’s off to a great start. Ultimately, DIrty Bomb feels like a return to form for not just Splash Damage, but for the first-person arena shooter as a whole.