Do you remember when 3D Realms unveiled Bombshell last year? If you do, it's probably only because the original trailer was so bad it burned itself into your brain. Seriously, it's one of the worst teasers I've ever seen--something that first made you go "What did I just watch?" and then shake your head and go "Is this what 3D Realms has become?"
So when 3D Realms approached me for a Bombshell demo at GDC, I was skeptical. Really skeptical. Even with 3D Realms assuring me the game was nothing like my preconceived notions.
Surprisingly, they were (maybe) right.
Shot at redemption
Here, take a look at this new trailer for Bombshell. It's better than the old one:
Bombshell isn't even a shooter. That's surprise number one. 3D Realms made a lot of games under various names in the '90s, but if you were a PC gamer back then you probably know them for Rise of the Triad or Duke Nukem or Shadow Warrior. Or if you played the Rise of the Triadand Shadow Warrior reboots recently, well, you played part of 3D Realms' legacy.
Which is why I was surprised to find out that Bombshell is an action-RPG. "We don't want to end up as the studio that's known for making one game. The studio that only makes first-person shooters," said Frederik Schreiber, CEO of Interceptor and Vice President of 3D Realms. "Blizzard used to be the studio that did strategy games. Now they're doing a first-person shooter. It's super cool because they're not experienced in doing first-person shooters, so when they go in and make a shooter they look at it with completely different eyes.
"When we started making this game, we were looking at it from the eyes of our experience, which is first-person shooters," Schreiber continued. "We're not hardcore role-playing guys, so we didn't take that route with it. But we wanted to make sure it felt really good to play it. We wanted it to feel like you were playing a first-person shooter."
Bombshell has an isometric camera, weapons and stats you level up, and two different currency systems. It's a very different game than you'd expect from 3D Realms.
And yet the 3D Realms DNA is undeniably present. This is 3D Realms leaning into its status as a '90s FPS developer: Screaming guitar solos, secret areas, creative and/or silly alternate fire modes for all ten weapons, enemies that look like they fell off the pages of Todd McFarlane's sketchbook. Hell, the main villain of the game is some sort of floating robot-skeleton dude with his spine just sort of...hanging.
Games nowadays might have more violence, but what Bombshell and Mortal Kombat X have reminded me of recently is that violence in video games used to be way more creative. Sometimes in ways that made you cringe. Sometimes in ways that made you laugh.
3D Realms takes that as par for the course. "Of course there's still blood inside skeletons. Otherwise it wouldn't be awesome," jokes Schreiber.
I mean, you play as a woman with a robot/alien arm because what the hell else would you play as? It's that sort of game.
That robot-arm is the key to Bombshell's arsenal (did I mention that's the name of the lead protagonist as well as the title?). Her arm transforms into various weapon modes--both traditional, like a shotgun or machine gun, and non-traditional, like a robot that follows you around killing enemies or bombs that roll around the area and blow up on contact. Each weapon is leveled individually, with the option to choose an alternate-fire mode at level seven--everything from stun bullets to a railgun to cluster bombs.
Oh, and in case you still don't understand how ridiculous this game is, the weapons have silly names like "Motherflakker" and "Ion Maiden."
There's also a jump-mechanic, which is interesting for an isometric RPG. Again, that first-person shooter DNA: 3D Realms said the game basically controls like an FPS, even though you're looking at it from an isometric camera.
I feel like at some point I should talk about the story. After all, this is a full-fledged action-RPG with a campaign and semi-open world and lore and all the standard trappings. I find Bombshell fascinating though because it does those things, but...tongue-in-cheek? I don't know.
3D Realms made it clear to me there is an extensive story for the player to uncover. There are three planets to explore, each home to a different alien race and accompanying lore text. One is a dying world that's just barely hovering above the system's yellow-gold sun. Seeing glimpses of that sun shining through the world's decaying ruins was surprisingly beautiful, for a game that's about mass xenocide.
But forget beauty and forget lore. At its heart this is a game about aliens kidnapping the President of the United States and a woman with a robot arm named Bombshell needs to chase them down across three different alien worlds. Imagine if Diablo was Diablo, except Blizzard had Robert Rodriguez writing all the lore. I mean, not that Blizzard's own lore is deadly serious, but Bombshell is an order of magnitude more ridiculous. It's Planet Terror rendered into a video game.
And I like ridiculous (as evidenced by my love of Just Cause 2). I love seeing games that revel in stupidity. It's one thing to see a game turn out stupid by accident, but it's quite another to see a studio lean into stupidity from the get-go.
Key to Bombshell will be sustaining that sort of excitement across what 3D Realms said is a potentially 30-hour experience. That's no small feat. I loved the recent Shadow Warrior reboot, for instance, but by the end of its run some of the humor had admittedly grown stale.
Right now though? Bombshell might be my biggest surprise of this year's Game Developers Conference. I came in expecting a disaster and left actually pretty excited about the game. As Schreiber wrapped up my demo, I had to ask: "What the hell happened with that first trailer? Because this looks way different than what I anticipated."
And with uncharacteristic frankness for a games studio, Schreiber told me. "That first trailer...We were pressured into doing something that we weren't quite ready to do. It links to that whole lawsuit with Duke Nukem." [Note: Details about the lawsuit in question here.]
"We wanted as quickly as possible to announce that we were doing a new game, just to get eyes off [the lawsuit]. We wanted to focus on the good new games that were coming out instead of Duke Nukem. All the bad stuff surrounding that character. So we prematurely revealed [Bombshell]. Doing a reveal that you're pressed into instead of when something's actually ready to reveal is never a good idea.
"When we released that trailer, we got a ton of feedback...bad feedback, from press. We read what everyone wrote about the game just so we could fix it. We started over, and this is the actual new Bombshell."
We'll see! The game's slated for this summer, so we'll take a closer look at it then. For now, I'll work on erasing that first trailer from my brain.