Bombshell is 3DRealms' twitch shooter take on the action RPG

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Recent trailers and gameplay footage of Bombshell, 3D Realms’ isometric action RPG, make it look something like a sci-fi Diablo shooter. It does bear similarities to Diablo—enemies attack in groups, and the titular character attacks via repeated mouse clicks—but 3D Realms also drew ideas from its experience with twitch shooters.

“We did Rise of Triad before that and it was a twitch shooter,” 3D Realms Vice President Frederik Schreiber tells us. “We wanted [Bombshell] to feel similar in terms of how it felt to play, how fast it was, and how quick you can aim at enemies.”

Bombshell centers on Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a woman with a cybernetic arm that doubles as her primary weapon—a gun which is aimed with the mouse in the style of a twin-stick shooter. The concept is straightforward: run around levels to reveal new areas and shoot, melee, or roll bowling ball-like grenades at anything moving. The more kills you rack up and objectives you complete, the more experience and money you earn for upgrades.

At the start of the PAX Prime 2015 demo, I drop into what appears to be an alien invasion on Earth. I get my bearings and wander the level, leaving alien corpses in my wake with Bombshell’s gun-arm. Judging from the trailer, the aliens die in more spectacular fashion when using weapons not readily available in the demo. There are also special execution moves—in one, Bombshell pulls a hand cannon and splatters alien brain matter everywhere. I only saw two different execution animations, but I expect more will be added later. The executions slow down the pace of the game and seeing the same few animations repeatedly would make me avoid using them.

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I should also note that with everything exploding around me and enemies coming at me from all directions off-screen, I died once because I wasn’t paying attention to my health. The UI doesn’t quite stand out, so it forces me to pay a little more attention to the top left of my screen than I want to.

As I continue, I run across a military muckety-muck and he wants me to save our President, his daughter, from the aliens. What’s a girl with a gun on her arm to do in an alien invasion but comply? Off we go indoors to stalk more aliens. I have less freedom in this new building, where there seems to be one path to take from beginning to end. Aliens sit around in groups waiting for me to stumble into them as opposed to blitzing me like they did outside.

I’m now given an opportunity to upgrade my weapons and skills. Money earned from kills can be used to buy new weapons and upgrades for them, while Bombshell uses skill points to upgrade special abilities like her Powerslide and Mighty Punch moves. Powerslide is a dash ability used to best effect as an escape tool. I bought Mighty Punch, but frankly, I wasn’t able to figure out how to activate it. Given the circumstances of playing a demo on the show floor of a gaming convention, it was a minor inconvenience.

I continued blasting and executing aliens until I hit the demo’s abrupt ending. The game cut to a scene shown in recent trailers in which the cybernetic antagonist delivers his monologue, followed by a look at more of the worlds in which Bombshell will ply her destructive skills. Disappointingly, the trailers reveal more than I got to see in the demo, and I really wanted to get into one of these demonic looking alien worlds.

There’s no multiplayer in Bombshell, which comes as some surprise given that similar games tend to focus on co-op modes. Schreiber says there will be plenty to do in single-player, though, with New Game Plus modes and the ability to access new areas in each level after acquiring the proper abilities. Players can unlock harder difficulties and try their luck at the ultimate challenge of playing in nightmare mode, a mode similar to hardcore in Diablo. One life is all you get and if you die, you lose your entire save file.

“We’ve never done an action RPG before,” said Schreiber. “We did what we thought was natural and cool. Bombshell is built around what we think is fun.”

The demo was very limited—I wish I could’ve played what I saw in the trailers—but I came away with the sense that there’s potential in Bombshell. I like the idea of a sci-fi Diablo, and as an isometric shooter, Bombshell is fast, challenging, and seems to have plenty of options to fit different play styles. I also appreciate that 3D Realms eschews Bomshell’s roots and Shelly Harrison stands as a character on her own rather than entirely being a repurposed Duke Nukem.

Bombshell is expected to release later this year.

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