Five years have passed since Splash Damage released its last game, Brink. The multiplayer shooter introduced a novel movement system but the experience was ultimately undermined by its meager offerings, overemphasis on bot play, and milquetoast gunplay. Now the development team best known for Enemy Territory is returning to its PC roots with Dirty Bomb, a new free-to-play, objective-based shooter that launches in open beta today.
Originally announced in 2012, Dirty Bomb was briefly rebranded as Extraction before returning to its original name. In the week leading up to the open beta we got our hands on the game to see how different it is from Splash Damage's previous offerings. Here are a handful of things that stuck out to us.
Sticking Together Is The Only Way To Play
From the early days of Enemy Territory, Splash Damage has always been about organized play, and Dirty Bomb is no different. The two modes on offering at the moment, Objective and Stopwatch, both require one team to tackle a series of run-of-the-mill objectives (breach a door, escort a vehicle, detonate C4 on a strategic target) while the other plays defense. Your kill/death ratio is largely useless here. You will not win without sticking together and supporting one another with medic packs, ammo refills, and heartbeat sensors that highlight enemies. If you go lone wolf, expect to die often and cost your team a chance to win. With matches only featuring 16 to 10 players, don't be surprised to find yourself the target of ridicule in teamchat should you abandon your team. This is especially true in the competitive ranked games, where I've found the majority of players seem to understand that cooperation is paramount.
Finding A Role Best Suited To Your Play Style Is Key
After years of inundating players with endless streams of weapons and attachments, in recent years we've seen games like Titanfall and Evolve forgo arsenal avalanches in favor of a smaller offering of well-balanced options. Dirty Bomb also takes this approach. Several operatives from heavies to snipers are available to choose from, only a trio of which are unlocked at the start. Each has a primary weapon, sidearm, and two special abilities. No scope options, silencers, compensators, or barrels to choose from – just the weapon as-is.
If you're not a deadly shot or great with explosives, you are better off serving your team with a support role to provide suppressing fire with a turret, deploy health stations, revive fallen comrades, or drop ammo boxes to keep your team's supply lines full. Every hero has two unique abilities, so before you enter competitive ranked matches we suggest you play some casual matches to find which role is the best fit for you.
If You Don't Spend Some Real Cash, Get Ready For A Long Haul
As a free-to-play game, Dirty Bomb comes with the usual array of dirty tricks to get people to pony up some cash. If you want to unlock a new character, it's going to set you back 50,000 of the in-game currency. Given the snail-like pace in which you accrue these points (a few hundred points per match on average), if you have your eye on one character in particular right from the start you're better off spending the $10 to unlock him or her right away.
Unlocking a character doesn't mean you're done spending cash or in-game currency. Each character has unique loadout cards you can acquire by spending 1,000 points on a loadout case. When you open the case you are essentially spinning the wheel of fortune, hoping it lands on a valuable silver, gold, or cobalt card for a character you own instead of the nearly worthless iron and lead cards, or even worse, cards for characters you haven't purchased or unlocked. The higher-tier cards are more valuable because they sometimes offer new weapons and also give your character three perks that may cut down on reload time, mitigate the amount of damage you take from explosives, or give you a speed burst, for instance.
Don't expect to land on good cards often. If you find yourself with several lower-tier cards, you can trade three or four of them in for the next-highest tier of card for a specific character of your choosing. Splash Damage also offers players the chance to spend 17,000 points to simply purchase the card they want.
Despite Brink's intriguing SMART movement system, which let players vault over obstacles, power slide, and wall-hop to vantage points, the action felt surprisingly sluggish. Dirty Bomb is the exact opposite. Characters move at a frenetic pace, making this one of the faster shooters I've played in quite some time. I would have love to seen this paired with the SMART movement, but Splash Damage instead integrated a more streamlined approach to navigation with sprinting, limited wall jumping, and a few advanced moves like hitting the crouch button at the peak of your jump to reach elevated positions. Given the breakneck pace, don't be surprised to find a lot of bunny hopping as people try to dodge incoming fire.
Forget Your Iron Sights
The alacrity of movement makes pulling up your iron sights a complete waste of time in most close-quarters to mid-range encounters. I found it extremely hard to recondition myself to shoot from the hip after putting hundreds of hours into shooters like Rainbow Six, Call of Duty, and Battlefield, but it's essential if you want to emerge victorious from a skirmish. The only people who should be using iron sights are snipers and those using assault rifles from long distances.
Expect Some Imbalance
Now that Splash Damage is opening Dirty Bomb up to the public, the studio is going to learn a lot about how the game is (im)balanced. If you feel like you're getting sniped too much, the cooldown timer isn't long enough for airstrikes, or it's too easy to get hemmed into your spawn area on certain maps, you're probably right. As Splash Damage collects telemetry data on how the community is playing the game, expect to see a lot of tweaks in the coming months. What's there isn't bad, but it definitely has room for refinement.
The more time I played Dirty Bomb, the better I found it to be. The competition can be overwhelming at first, but once you learn the nuances of the classes and start memorizing the maps, the game becomes much more enjoyable. If you want to check out Dirty Bomb for yourself, you can download it here.