Remember when Dirty Bomb changed its name to Extraction, only to reverse course back to Dirty Bomb in an anticlimactic miniature blog post? That decision seemed to be reflective of a game that aimed to move away from the safe, the standard and the subdued into bigger, badder territory. If Splash Damage had found a way to capture the ridiculousness of its free-to-play first-person shooter’s name, then the multiplayer shooter community might have found its free solution to the monolithic Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises. Instead, this feels a game more suited to the bland Extraction than it does to Dirty Bomb, a statement to how by-the-books it begins to feel only after a few matches. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re looking for a solid shooter that costs nothing up front, this could very well be the game that takes over your life. Those looking for an exciting, novel experience will likely find themselves disappointed with Dirty Bomb, a title that feels like it lacks a genuine hook.
Splash Damage clearly took some inspiration from the MOBA scene because Dirty Bomb‘s class system revolves around its mercenary characters. Players bring three mercenaries into battle, with the ability to switch between them coming after any given death. This system can certainly bring some dynamism to the proceedings, though it seems that, even with the long Closed Beta Cycle, that the community is still trying to figure out the proper way to utilize this mechanic. A free character rotation, not unlike that seen in numerous MOBAs, is instituted to give everyone a shot at figuring out what makes Dirty Bomb tick without them having to invest money right out of the gate (you know, the whole free-to-play thing). The thing about Dirty Bomb is that there isn’t some balls-to-the-wall Titanfall-level gimmick that immediately brings players in for more. If you’re seeking out a solid shooter with no barrier to entry, then Splash Damage has certainly created something that you’d be interested in, but it’s hard to say whether or not people are going to flock to Dirty Bomb because it’s exciting in it of itself or because it’s simply a free alternative to games that people have to spend money on.
That last point is what’s truly interesting about Dirty Bomb. It’s a suitable alternative to Call of Duty and Battlefield, even though it’s not nearly as polished as those two games mechanically (not many shooters are), as the lack of a sixty dollar price tag is generally the price point for a shooter of this quality. Players are tasked with accomplishing a series of objectives on various linear maps, with one team on offense and the other on defense. These objectives are relatively standard shooter fare, as offensive squads have to plant C4, escort vehicles to a set point and control various areas all while the other team attempts to prevent them from doing so. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the structure of a Dirty Bomb match, as even though nothing new is being brought to the genre, everything is executed as well as you’d hope for from a Splash Damage title.
Dirty Bomb‘s greatest strength is its pace, which is about as frenetic as a Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty match. You’re not going to have to wander for minutes in order to find an enemy to shoot at, and there’s little reason to take the time to aim down sights in the midst of a close-quarters fight. The latter part of the previous sentence is something that even Splash Damage themselves have alluded to, as the almost intolerable opening video lets players know that everything is all about speed. It’s exciting to constantly be in combat, and if you’re a fan of mouse-and-keyboard controls, you’re going to be able to really test the upper limits of your aiming skills. Players have the ability to jump off of any surface, and although this is often worthless, it’s possible to gain some interesting vantage points if you find the correct areas to wall-jump on. If one were grading Dirty Bomb based on its speed of play alone, this would be an overwhelming success; however, the fact remains that Dirty Bomb feels a bit too safe in an industry that is constantly throwing new ideas into the first-person shooter genre.
A true, identifiable hook is what takes a good game and makes it a great one. Dirty Bomb is a good shooter, but if you’re someone who has played a number of good shooters, there’s nothing that will take the moment-to-moment experience Splash Damage has created to the next level. Perhaps this is a bit much to ask (after all, if every game is unique, then is anything truly unique?), but after spending an entire generation playing shooters of this ilk, it’s hard not to want something more. I’m pleased with the idea that fans of the genre can get as much shooting in for no money, thus giving them an alternative to the blockbusters that constantly gobble up the first-person shooter market share, but with the sheer amount of games flooding Steam, it’s hard to see Dirty Bomb standing out for an extended period of time. The dedicated audience will certainly be there, and a number of players will put hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into becoming the best player they can possibly be, but that can be said of every multiplayer game.
Dirty Bomb is a first-person shooter that will win you over if you’re looking to get into a multiplayer shooter not unlike those you’ve played before. For those who are constantly balancing whether or not to add another game to their backlogs, however, this is probably going to be a title you avoid. Again, perhaps its a bit much to ask a shooter of this magnitude to be something mildly revolutionary, but after experiencing a number of first-person shooters for years, simply removing the financial barrier to entry might not be enough. If you’ve found your niche with Dirty Bomb, then more power to you, but if you want to experience novelty, run for the hills.