Upcoming free-to-play, first-person shooter Dirty Bomb from developer Splash Damage, known for their past multiplayer games with Brink and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, recently become available on Steam as an early access title for its closed beta stage. After sitting down to try out its current content, I found a lot of promising gameplay elements with its unique setting, different approach to character classes, and team-focused gameplay. However, a few components of the game's design did cause worry with the side effects of its reliance on team-focused gameplay and less than satisfying progression model.
Set in an abandoned London during the year 2020, Dirty Bomb takes place after a mysterious disaster in which various private military companies fight for control of the city's riches and resources. The art style instantly brought back memories of Brink with its bold use of colors and contrast to present an setting that feels unique from other games. Character design combines elements of realism and exaggeration that perfectly fit the environment and gameplay.
Dirty Bomb takes a different approach to character classes than other games in that individual mercenaries comprise the roster of characters available for selection. Instead of having one set weapons and equipment for an individual mercenary, players can either earn points in-game or purchase them instantly to unlock loadout cards that vary in rarity and equipment selection. Multiple loadout cards of lower rarity can be combined to upgrade to a higher rarity level.
Unlike other online multiplayer games where team-focused gameplay is preferred and not ultimately required, Dirty Bomb changes that formula by requiring it for match victories. Players that opt for the lone wolf approach will quickly find death as characters aren't bullet sponges. Teammates can provide ammo packs and revive your character if incapacitated in battle. This focus on team cooperation in matches results in close victories or defeats as players race to defuse a bomb or escort an important item or vehicle across the map.
The team-focused gameplay does come with side effects that aren't new to online multiplayer games. As much as a game suggests players to focus on working together with teammates there will always be those that ignore that gameplay style in favor of going lone wolf. Matches can become increasingly frustrating if playing with teammates that don't work together for completing objectives. Combine that with the difficulty and unforgiving gameplay model and enjoyment easily becomes replaced with repeat frustration.
Only a faction of the character classes are available to players upon beginning the game, with others like the sniper-focused mercenary locked until earned via in-game points or purchased with real money. The character classes that are available can only be upgraded through earning additional loadout cards, which unfortunately aren't rewarded that often. Other than loadout cards and the other mercenaries to unlock, there isn't much else for players to earn by leveling with match experience.
Even with the few problematic areas with the side effects of team-focused gameplay and less than satisfying progression model, I had a great time in the online matches of Dirty Bomb. The game's unique setting, different approach to character classes, and team-focused gameplay were a welcome combination in comparison with the crowded market of current online shooters.
That crowded market of online shooters and especially free-to-play games will most likely be the biggest obstacle for Dirty Bomb to overcome and stand out among the crowd. Fortunately, Dirty Bomb is already showing a lot promise and I'm excited to see what's in store for future updates to the game and eventually its full release as a free-to-play title.
Dirty Bomb is currently available on Steam for PC as an early access title.