Sometimes a game comes along that makes you feel an immense sense of dread within the first five minutes of play. Bombshell manages to pull it off in three. This is a game so painfully buggy and inexplicably messy that it’s almost impossible to compare with functional games. It’s fundamentally broken in every respect, from design to execution, and lacks the quality to differentiate it from something a rushed student could make. If there’s one good thing I can say about the game, it’s that it can’t physically restrain you and force you to suffer through it, but honestly, that’s it.
The first thing you’re presented with is the story, and immediately, the game falls flat on its face. Through entirely unrelated cutscenes, you are introduced to Shelly, a colonel in the Global Defence Force and Milhouse’d badass with a mechanical arm, and the Kyr, a scorned alien race. From here, the story is so paper-thin and yet somehow insanely cryptic that it’s almost impossible to follow***. Plot points are unresolved, characters are stereotypical, and it all feels like something an 8-year-old typed up to prove that he could one-up Star Wars, Dune and Deus Ex. It’s like three stories are happening at once, and all of them are dull filler, but this matches the rest of the game.
***I debated putting in my synopsis of the plot here, especially since the Wikipedia page doesn’t do it justice. So, I’ve supplied it at the bottom of this article. Good luck.
If there’s one thing that Bombshell does too much of, it’s everything. At its core, the game is a twin-stick shooter, but it also incorporates RPG elements that barely add anything to the game without breaking it. You can upgrade your weapons and abilities, but once you unlock the railgun and the bubble shield, you’re practically invincible. There are also side missions to pursue, but they don’t yield great rewards and are wastes of time. There’s never even an indication where to go to complete each mission, which leads us to the level design.
The game has sprawling levels to run around in, but they’re just big for the sake of bigness. The levels are bland masses of reused assets and consistently timed micro-battles that blur into each other like pissed on chalk paintings. There are three different ‘planets’ you visit (not including Earth), and none of them offer anything mechanically unique. Worse still, the majority of the levels kill you if you walk off the edge, and while that sounds obvious, 80% of the level is a ledge. This becomes more of a problem when your powers involve you sliding or flying into enemies, but that’s assuming you can even pull it off with the shoddy controls.
If you’ve ever walked a dog and lurched back because he suddenly doesn’t want to move, that’s how Bombshell plays. Out of nowhere, you’ll get caught on terrain, encounter invisible walls and get stuck on whatever loose piece of landscape is lying around. Jumping is like floating through space, and when the platforming sections crop up, it’s evidence against the existence of God. Good luck finding him, though, because the camera is so close that it hinders any hope of seeing what’s coming.
In a good twin-stick game, you need to see what’s happening, but there’s no such luck here. The camera is so close that enemies will be intimately kissing you and calling you their Mockingjay before you see them. If you do an execution move, the camera zooms in even more, so much so that you’ll miss half the damn animation because it’s happening off-screen. A piece of me suspects that it’s because I was playing in 1920×1080, but that’s hardly an excuse to make a camera so pervy that it resembles James Deen. It’s unwieldy, to say the least, but the most criminal part is that the most fundamental part of the game, aiming, just doesn’t work!
Perhaps the biggest problem with Bombshell is that the core mechanic of aiming, the thing that the whole game revolves around, is as reliable as cleaning my teeth with a parrot. I would aim at an enemy with the crosshair very much over their bodies, and the weapon fire would go right through them. Sometimes Shelly wouldn’t be pointing where I wanted if the mouse moved too quickly, so if I had to react, my railgun’s beam and the imaginary line in my head would be at a right angle to one another. This isn’t mentioning the unkillable enemies, the unresponsiveness of the weapons and overall bugginess of the game.
I was actually on Bombshell’s side through the first few levels, but after the torrent of bugs hit me, I stopped asking if it could get any worse. The sheer consistency of the bugs, whether it be dead enemies going invisible and chasing me, losing the ability to move, spontaneous dying or the game crashing, was astounding. What hit me the hardest is that the bugs get worse and more frequent the further you get into the game. What begins as some relatively harmless glitches turn into impediments capable of forcing you to restart from the last checkpoint. How this game was allowed to be released in such a state is just mind-boggling, especially since half the bugs are just corollaries of the sloppy level construction, making it borderline unplayable.
Sure, games can have bad controls and a few bugs, but I’m making a second paragraph to detail just how shoddily constructed Bombshell is, and that should be worrying. There were instances where I would be solving a puzzle only for the game to incite a brief cutscene or have Shelly pull out a one-liner, and that would either kill me or stop me from solving the puzzle. There were plenty of times where I would just die without warning, and don’t even get me started on the upgrade menu in the game. It seems to have been made to be passable and nothing more, but even that hasn’t happened.
Your worry should be straight up pity by now because we need to talk about the AI, such as the fact that there is none. The enemies are brain-dead, and I’m not exaggerating. My go-to strategy was to get the enemies to come to me, stand perfectly still and not get hit. From there, I just needed to turn on my bubble shield and watch the bodies hit the floor. To reiterate, the enemies literally ran in, couldn’t hit the stationary target and then died because they didn’t move away from the ball of lightning that was killing them. I didn’t even have to shoot; the AI was that bad. There is almost nothing that this game does right, but I did say that the game was nice-looking, and it is very easy on the eyes… Where it decides to be pretty.
From afar, Bombshell is quite a beautiful game, but it only looks good from a distance. The enemies are dull and uninspired, some of them look horrific, but there are certainly good looking parts of the game. Shelly herself looks quite reasonable, and the terrain doesn’t seem too shabby, but things like the railgun beam and the Shellshocker’s burst are blunt reminders that this is not a visual achievement. It can sometimes all be too much, and when it’s combined with the sound, it can get quite jarring.
I’m an avid appreciator of games with good sound, whether that be satisfying effects or great music. Bombshell is a mess in both areas but in some very strange ways. Voices and sound effects will fluctuate in volume, and some of the acting isn’t just wooden, it’s poorly recorded. Then there’s the music, which is so hit-and-miss and thematically all over the place, it’s difficult to take seriously. The real problem comes when all the sounds play at the same time, and nothing exemplifies this more than the penultimate level. In it, the music is going full blast with another background sound effect and about a hundred others, and it becomes a cacophony of noise that is genuinely painful to endure. It’s strange that these problems emerge, but considering the sheer amount of problems Bombshell has, it’s hardly shocking.
BONUS PLOT SYNOPSIS!
Get comfy. You play as Shelly, a colonel in the Global Defence Force private military contractor. Now, here comes the tricky part. Shelly’s arm is the by-product of an event in Washington which was orchestrated by a mad scientist who lures Shelly through a portal to another world by attacking the white house and kidnapping the president – or killing, rather – as well as Shelly’s commanding officer’s daughter – who turns out to be her sister – to another planet which is serving as the main resource station for an installation called the Planet Eater that is using the alien inhabitants and GDF forces (that somehow reached the planet through their own portals, your guess is as good as mine) to construct mechanised anthropoids because he’s really into trans-humanism and wants to cause Shelly as much strife as possible. After killing the mechanised version of the CO (oh, he got captured, converted killed in the space of one level), Shelly kills the mad scientist and then kinda just strolls off with her sister. And that’s it. That is the story.
This is not a game I’d recommend to anyone, even as a joke. It is broken at its very core, lacking functionality in the most important and basic mechanics, and offers nothing riveting from either a story or gameplay perspective. There are so many bugs and problems stemming from shoddily made levels and mechanics, it’s maddening. Sure, it looks alright, but once you look a little closer, you’ll realise just how ugly it can be. I dreaded every moment I so much as contemplated playing this game, and so should you.