With a studio like Splash Damage, creator of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory behind it, it’s no surprise that free-to-play Dirty Bomb is another objective-based multiplayer team shooter. It sits towards the faster-paced end of the spectrum, somewhere between Team Fortress 2 and Quake Live. The introductory sequence informs you that you should ‘shoot from the hip’ regularly rather than aiming down your iron sights. In Dirty Bomb, the time it takes to bring your weapon up can get you killed.
Every map has a series of objectives that need to be attacked or defended. You’ve got the classic ‘plant C4 at a certain location and defend it until it blows up’ or the ‘get object A to point B’, but there are a few little wrinkles to them. You can complete sub-objectives that grant your team small advantages, like a closer spawn point, or you can close a few doors so the attackers lose access to a certain route. Pretty straightforward stuff; nothing not seen in plenty of other similar shooters.
The most interesting thing about Dirty Bomb is the characters and how their abilities interact. As well as their primary weapon, each has a unique ability that can be used to help turn the tide of battle. Take Skyhammer, who can call in an airstrike—incredibly effective if you want to take out enemies that are dug in behind cover defending an objective. You could then have a teammate playing as Bushwacker run in, with his ability to capture objective points quickly, and lay a portable turret down. Aura is a medic who can revive downed friendlies and drop a unit that provides health to those stood near it—a really useful ability when combined with Rhino, a one man army with a ‘meaty’ feeling shotgun and minigun.
You bring three characters into each match and can switch between them every time you die. Having such varied classes means that they fulfil quite specific roles, so if you’re playing as one of them and doing the job that is expected of you, there’s no real need to have to chat with the other players—do your job, and you’ll be rewarded. There’s a roster of twelve characters in total, though only a few are immediately playable. Two characters are available at all times, while three others are rotated in for free play. Yes, Dirty Bomb is free to play, and we all know that those three words set alarm bells off, but don’t worry, Dirty Bomb handles it well.
The game shares the same microtransaction model as the ultra-successful League of Legends. If you like a character enough to want access to them permanently, they’ll cost you up to £8 / $10, depending on the character, or 50,000 in-game credits. To unlock one using these is a big ask, mind. You earn credits by completing daily tasks and playing matches, but you tend to average around 300 per game—so you’re looking at over 200 completed matches to be able to afford one. It is steep, but this is where Splash Damage will make their money.
As you play, you also earn equippable Loadout Cards that drop from cases twice per hour randomly, and can be won as levelling rewards or bought with in-game currency. There are loads for each character of varying rarity that grant you different weapons and slight stat boosts, like the ability to reload slightly faster, or move a bit quicker.
In addition, you can buy premium cases that allow access to rare loadout cards, but they’re purely aesthetic. You can also spend money on a booster that increases the rate at which you earn credits for an amount of time, but again, you’re not ‘paying to win’ here.
Dirty Bomb is still in open beta. There are only two modes right now, Objective and ‘Stopwatch’ (Stopwatch is basically objective mode, but teams race to complete all tasks in the quickest time). Some post-game statistics haven’t been added yet and there’s no way to have private matches. Right now things are a little bare bones. Splash Damage have been adamant that their free to play model will be totally fair and—so far, anyway—it certainly seems to be. There’s a lot of fun to be had here without spending a single penny, and plenty more for those that do.
Verdict: Even in Open Beta, Dirty Bomb is great fun. The finished product could be quite special.