Bombshell dips its hand into the idea bargain bin one too many times. Its sprawling levels rival Diablo II’s in scope, yet nothing of interest – the alien menace included – populates them. The isometric gunplay wants to throw down against action RPGs, but the endless “point, shoot, and backpedal until everything dies” formula relegates Bombshell to the expanding list of tedious twin-stick shooters. The weapons also fail to break the bog standard mold of shotguns, rocket launchers, and miniguns, just as heroine Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison possesses a personality more soulless than the metal prosthetic grafted to her arm.
Would you believe it gets worse?
While the gravest offenders are the prevalent bugs and needless volume of quests, you must understand the story before you can fathom Bombshell’s faults. A twisted, malevolent scientist cost Shelly her arm and her squad during a previous assignment, and now that same doctor – answering to the name Heskel – has nabbed America’s president. Once the prologue ends, the nation’s armed forces – with Shelly leading the charge – venture to an unknown, inhospitable planet to rescue their commander-in-chief and silence Heskel for good.
So far, so generic, and the developers do nothing to salvage Bombshell from humdrum action RPG tropes. Look to the settings as proof. Shelly raises hell across three planets in pursuit of Heskel: the first world loves infernos and toxic foes, the second contains frozen caverns and undead skeletons, and the final location converts humans into alien infantry à la Quake IV and Mass Effect 2. Déjà vu pollutes the environments. Icy walkways replace steel beams, bugs that once poisoned Shelly now chill her, and one by one, the hours slowly bleed together.
I generally explore dungeons, caves, and other RPG surroundings to their fullest, to reveal the entire map outline over time. Bombshell remedies such obsession with incompetent NPCs and unnecessary quests that blanket the unimpressive vistas. Recover this datapad, retrieve those trinkets, rescue these soldiers, yield to the monotony. Some levels take nearly ten minutes to navigate end to end, and Shelly must return to her quest giver to receive her reward. For the record, ammo, money, and experience are not worth the backtracking when the story already requires Shelly to reclaim keys or crystals for a dozen locked doors.
To clarify: I do not loathe fetch quests as long as the gameplay or backdrop exposes players to something new and entertaining. Diablo III earns a pass for its randomized scenery and elite enemies, though fresh loot proves hard to resist, too. Bombshell fails to grasp what makes an action RPG beyond a sometimes-isometric perspective and weapon upgrades, since the same monsters, locations, firearms, and quests follow you from playthrough to playthrough. The Ion Maiden, Motherflakker, and Loverboy could redeem the lifeless twin-stick shoot-outs were they more than creatively nicknamed guns. Instead, they’re just a plasma rifle, shotgun, and pistol, respectively.
Players must meet the level and money requirements to unlock each weapon’s secondary fire, though Bombshell at least presents a say in the matter. The Ion Maiden becomes a railgun or “splinter,” letting ricocheting projectiles loose. The Motherflakker unleashes explosive or electric shells, though that also applies to the minigun. For any originality, you must obtain the coveted Shellshock and Electrocutioner. The Shellshock brings the speediest foes to a standstill before they pop like meat balloons, while the Electrocutioner – a laser by default – births black holes, subjecting victims to a spin slightly worse than your average carnival ride.
By time Shelly acquires her full eccentric arsenal, boredom also infects the bosses. While I do recognize the potential excitement of battling a millennia-old sand centipede and conjoined ice golems, any one of Shelly’s problems can be solved by running backwards and consuming a health pack, holding the fire button until every enemy drops dead. Bombshell pulls punches in regards to difficulty, to the point that I could heal-spam whenever attackers backed me into a corner.
The bosses are also indicative of Bombshell’s erratic polish. The first boss sprays toxic sludge during his third phase, coating the arena and eroding Shelly’s armor and health. Presumably, several spots remain unaffected by the slime, letting players chip away at the creature’s health without risking their own. Presumably. The grime covers the screen and the ground, obscuring whatever patch of earth Shelly must move to next, if that even is the proper way to quell the boss’s reign. Standing in a certain spot – a noted glitch – grants Shelly immunity; falling rocks cannot harm her, and neither can the monster’s tentacles or minions.
Without knowledge of the glitch, I only bested the first boss through heal-spamming; my guns could not cut it. As soon as Shelly obtains enough credits for another damage upgrade, you encounter enemies in greater numbers or with greater health. The rocket launcher wastes two missiles in putting an opponent down, whether Shelly just inherited it or equips it out five hours later. Because Bombshell showers players in medkits, I seldom picked the right firearm for the situation, too. Shelly’s rechargeable abilities might save you – the bubble shield electrocutes attackers, for example – yet I forgot about them for hours at a time.
I wish I could forget Bombshell’s infantile humor. Somebody on staff thought Shelly’s minigun should be branded the “Maxigun,” and her rocket launcher the “P.M.S.” And for all the badass aptitude Shelly exhibits in cutscenes, the regular gameplay portrays Shelly as a simpleton. She reiterates five lines in combat, many of which do not pertain to the current skirmish.
“And they said aliens would never land on the White House lawn.”
Someone tell Shelly she never sets foot on Earth after the tutorial.
“You’ll pay for that,” she proclaims to an alien-turned-blood-fountain, who left no marks on her.
“You know what they say: live long and kick ass.”
No one remotely cool or intelligent has ever said that.
In light of those quips, the voice acting seems above average. Shelly’s personality may not go much deeper than her want for revenge, but she and Heskel share a decent dialogue. On the contrary, “decent” will not get Bombshell noticed when the rest of the cast recorded lines after jamming their heads inside a cereal box or while they were practicing Matthew McConaughey impressions.
I admit, I got a good laugh out of the acting at its worst. Those snickers offset the dread when Shelly clipped into the geometry for the sixth time, requiring a reset that respawned long-dead enemies. Sometimes the aliens gain inexplicable immortality, where no bullets will harm them. I waited for those pursuers to commit accidental suicide, to follow in the footsteps of the three dozen mutants that previously skipped off a cliff. The AI seems incredibly dumb or self-aware, keeping its life expectancy in Bombshell to a minimum.
Perhaps the AI meant to escape the executions which serve no purpose, or the bug that turns corpses into Stretch Armstrong dolls. I raced through Bombshell, hoping this review acts as a public service announcement, yet I still managed to rack up a nine-hour playtime. You may be tempted by the game’s explosions or the fact that Bombshell began its existence as a Duke Nukem offshoot, but Bombshell imitates, never flatters. The unremarkable weaponry, settings, acting, quests, and twin-stick shooter mechanics redefine the word “bland.”
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided.
Bombshell could have been a fine six-hour shooter, but the unfulfilling fetch quests, uninspired firearms, and meddling glitches stretch the story until – like the game’s suicidal aliens – you, too, beg for death.