Dirty Bomb is the latest effort from Splash Damage. The PC aficionado out there might recognise the name, but for everyone else here’s a little history. Fourteen years ago a group of online game modders became their own company and caught the attention of Activision and iD after creating maps for games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Counter-Strike. The company then ended up working for many publishers, like iD, creating multiplayer maps for Doom 3 and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, working on the multiplayer elements of other games as well as making their own games. There have been some lows, BRINK being the most high profile, but now Splash Damage are back making games for themselves and doing what they do best – Online multiplayer gaming.
So now we have Dirty Bomb. Set in a futuristic capital called New London, mercenaries and private militias are rulers of all. New London is empty after a dirty bomb was blown up over it. Now people are coming back to loot this city and get money. Those people are of course you and your employers leading this online first person shooter to pit teams against each other with the focus on objectives, mostly attack and defence. We got to play a small beta in actual London and tried two game modes in local online play.
The first game mode we played was a control-based game. The defending team had to stop the attacking getting through a wall and then, once they failed at that, they had to stop the attacking team from blowing up some containers. This was set in a pretty nicely designed map with some good open and constrictive flash point areas. Secondly we played an objective match in New Camden where we repaired an armored vehicle just to go 500 yards to a medical centre and steal medicine.
I’m probably the wrong person to preview this though as, despite my cynical sarcasm, I’m not someone that regularly enjoys team FPS games and my lack of a PC really prevents me from playing them. I know and watch many of them though and when you see CSGO, Team Fortress 2 and many other online game modes of other games like Battlefield, you have to wonder what the motivation is to break in to the market, or split it in your favour.
However, I was surprised how easily I got in to the team aesthetic with four people on my team from various European news outlets. So whilst English wasn’t the first language of the team, we all bought in to the communication and the organisation. One reason was because you quickly realised that you needed to in order to accomplish your team goals. But the main reason was that the game made it really easy to get in to, especially for a fairly uneducated, crap player like myself. It is incredibly fast paced and there is quite a solid feeling of achievement for succeeding as a tema, and being the best on your team.
I have no muscle memory of WASD or clouded conceptions of these types of games. So coming in to it from a complete n00b standpoint has made me realise how clean and approachable the game was. Everything in the game was smooth and worked as and when you wanted it to work. From special tools to weapon switching and changing character, everything makes sense and does so without a large learning curve or an effort to buy in to the fiction.
Your loadout isn’t limited to the guns either. You get to choose three different characters, all of which have different classes and ability benefits to your team. And as you die you can respawn as any of them. There are big tank units, medics, scouts and engineers. Engineers are essential for the objective parts as they can quickly arm and disarm bombs and repair mechanical things quicker than anyone else and I spent the most time as this class. They seemed to be the most useful for the game types we were playing, and weren’t too slow or lacking in the firepower.
The thing is that Splash Damage knows what they’re doing in creating maps. They evocative sense of tradition and arguably tourist-clichéd London is ever present, the design is great to create some balanced and enjoyable team play and works very well in getting you playing. The criticisms I have though is how needed this is. Whilst the game has its own take on the genre, it is almost scared to commit itself to having its own identity, which is understandable given the reception of BRINK. There’s a glut at the moment of both old and new team based online games. Evolve is discovering that it’s hard to move the audience across from what they know and have invested in. The game also has some micro-transactions, which can translate as pay-to-win. The game is officially free-to-win with free characters (mercs) that rotate but there are ones that you can pay for with in game or real currency. The packs that you see in Battlefield/CoD/CSGO/et. al, which Dirty Bomb calls Cases, are also available via contracts in game (so challenges) or by money, along with a Merc starter pack you can get during the Beta. So the micro transaction option is there, but not necessary.
Dirty Bomb so far is an enjoyable game and does everything right and well. But it’s not a departure enough yet to capture a new audience or steal them from other games. It doesn’t really have enough confidence in itself yet to compete. But it will, and if it gets enough traction, it could do good things. It’s certainly on the right path. It is tongue in cheek with its humour and design, it’s visually opulent enough to make your wonder where everything actually is in regards to current real London and who doesn’t love a casual mention of Wheaton’s Law in their trailer? But most of all, it plays well and that’s the most important thing.