This is London, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Firstly, it doesn’t rain enough. Then, there’s the mercenaries waging war across the city, vying for control of a city emptied by some unknown disaster.
This is the world of Dirty Bomb.
Developed by Splash Damage, Dirty Bomb is a free-to-play team-based first-person shooter with a heavy focus on objective based gameplay, currently in beta. There are no deathmatches here; the two currently available game types revolve around attacking and defending.
Stopwatch sees two teams compete to complete all the objectives first. Once one team completes (or fails to accomplish) all goals, the two teams switch sides and the other must race to finish the objectives faster. Objective is essentially half of Stopwatch; you either play as an attacker or a defender for one round and winner takes all.
A mode not in the beta but to be included down the line is called Execution.. It plays much like a match of Counter Strike or, say, Search and Destroy in Call of Duty. Almost identically, actually. You only get one life per round, there are ten rounds and the first to six wins.
Graphically, the game is a pleasant change from the fifty shades of brown most modern day shooters run with. The game looks good even on my mid-range PC, and I’m yet to encounter any frame rate issues or tearing. The visuals themselves are considerably less stylized than Team Fortress 2 — its closest relative — but are much more so than, say, Call of Duty or Counter Strike.
Combat is where Dirty Bomb shines. Guns feel good, grenade launchers thump and sniper rifles crack. The parkour system may often be hit-and-miss but the combat is, most importantly, fun. You play as a Merc, a character who fits roughly into a class system that is, again, similar to that of Team Fortress 2.
There is far more diversity within classes, with clearly defined roles for any given Merc. Take the Medic class. Currently there are two to choose from: Aura or Sawbonez (yes, with a ‘z’). Aura is great for holding objectives or creating a zone defense, using her healing station deployable to keep her team healthy. Sawbonez, on the other hand, is a much more frontline Medic, throwing med packs directly on the ground which, in turn, makes him more suited for pushing onto and capturing objectives.
Even with the current, tiny roster of Mercs there is almost certainly someone suited to your playstyle. Like to rush objectives and shred the enemy team? Fragger and Nader are your friends. Want to deny the enemy teams push? Arty and Skyhammer have what you need. Feel the need for solid objective defense? Bushwhacker’s turret and Proxy’s mines will do the job well. Heals for days? Aura and Sawbonez. Want to play like a dirty, rotten coward? Vasili the sniper is just your man. With the relatively small nine Merc roster currently available many avenues of play are already covered and, with more Mercs already planned for release, diversity won’t be an issue.
The developers have labeled Dirty Bomb as being “Difficult to learn, impossible to master”, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve played many, many hours of Counter Strike and other first-person shooters, but it all just felt instantly familiar. There are no mechanics that change gameplay enough to make it terribly different from any other FPS. I mean sure, there’s the parkour system (Splash Damage also developed Brink) but even that isn’t game defining.
Gameplay is focused very much around a run and gun type style of play — unless you’re the dirty, rotten coward who plays Vasili — and so gunplay requires far less mechanical skill than say, Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It feels very similar to (you guessed it) Team Fortress 2 with spray and pray being the best option in 90% of combat situations.
The real focus of Dirty Bomb is objective play, and that is where it both excels and struggles. Combat has a real flow to it, with pushes and counter-pushes turning the momentum of a map quickly. Even the smartest static defense can be broken with good offensive teamwork, and when you have a team who understands this the game plays great. When you’re against a team of equal skill the game is tense, and breaking an objective open is rewarding to say the least.
The same can be said of defensive teamwork, closing off choke points and holding back wave after wave of attackers can be nail-biting. If team skill is unbalanced, as it often is, the rounds finish quickly. The superior team stomps the other, with individual brilliance helping little. It’s not like Dirty Bomb is alone in this though, as virtually any objective focused team game suffers when the player skill is unbalanced.
Dirty Bomb adheres to the standard free-to-play structure of other games such as League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. Mercs can be purchased for in-game currency or for real world cash, starting at around $5.99 USD. You can also customize your Merc with loadout cards unlocked by opening cases. Said cases are earned each time you level up, but can also be purchased for credits in the in game store.
Credits are earned awfully slowly, with most matches giving you around 300. Considering each case costs 1000 credits, and Mercs start at about 30,000, you best be prepared for a slog if you’re unwilling to spend real money. Daily missions help the grind somewhat, giving you 600 credits for each one you finish, but there are only three available each day.
To me, what Dirty Bomb needs most is players. I’ve had a code for Dirty Bomb for two weeks and managed to find a decent game on Australian servers once. I occasionally found some half full Aussie servers, but 4v4 doesn’t do the game justice. The 7v7 and 8v8 games I found on American servers were far better, they were more dynamic and harder fought than local servers, but I was plagued with bad ping. If I managed to get a spot in the almost always full West Coast servers I could pull 175ms at best, but East Coast left me at around 240ms. Neither of those are particularly enjoyable for a modern day FPS.
Dirty Bomb seems to have had a slow start to its Early Access, which is worrying to say the least. It’s wading into a market currently dominated by Team Fortress 2, and with Blizzard’s big new IP Overwatch on the horizon I’m left to wonder how Dirty Bomb will fare. Both games seem to be aiming at the same niche: an objective-based first person shooter in the vein of Team Fortress 2, but with a slightly more serious approach. Mechanically Dirty Bomb is in a great place. Guns feel great, Mercs are balanced and the game flows well. Will it gain the following it needs to be successful? I guess time will tell.