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    Dirty Bomb: Know Your Role

    Those of you who have been following my antics in this fine publication may have noted I built a gaming PC about six months ago. It was my first foray into the, as I perceived it then, scary world of PC elitist gaming. I was, of course, wrong. Sure, PC gamers may be elitist, but the world they inhabit isn’t scary at all. It’s competitive, challenging, unforgiving and demands the very best skills you can bring to the table. Cool intro bro, but I thought you were here to write about Dirty Bomb, Splash Damage’s new Free-to-Play IP? Well spotted, reader. Here comes the segue.

    You see, attending this hands-on was my first PC gaming event and more than a little intimidating, but it also put me in a rather enviable position. My love of shooters is public record, especially for the Battlefield franchise, Destiny and Splash Damage’s misunderstood child Brink. With several thousand hours at least on console, my time with shooters on PC has been significantly less. I understand the mechanics completely and wholeheartedly agree you cannot beat the precision of a mouse and keyboard, however the time it takes my brain to relay to my left hand what keys to press rather than doing it by muscle-memory or instinctively leaves me at a distinct disadvantage.
    Yep, it was looking like a tall order, but one I relished to conquer. There was a strange sense of karmic symmetry about the game itself, the event and my PC skillset. Early on the developers pointed out they were probably showing the game a bit too early. They weren’t quite ready yet. You don’t say? Me too. So why exactly does this make me the best man to tackle this highintensity, objective-based, old school shooter? Because in Dirty Bomb, it’s not just those stacking bodies table high who can make a difference. Teamwork, communication and support is the key. Well that, an itchy trigger finger and impeccable map knowledge.

    First up a history lesson for those not steeped in PC shooter lore, like myself. I apologise to the PC elite, I can hear your gasps as I type this. Splash Damage made a name for itself over the past decade by excelling in developing fast-paced multiplayer shooters. With the team’s roots planted in Quakemods for the community, its love of intense action led to its benchmarks, namely Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory(2003) and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars(2007). At the junket I could hear many offsiders regaling each other with tales of Splash Damage’s prowess, as each added their own time honoured anecdote to the fold. The core of each story was the same, pulling off an impressive kill-streak and destroying the opposition by intimately knowing the maps and how to exploit them.

    I, on the other hand, was a blue-flame special going in fresh with no preconceptions or expectations other than the knowledge that I was more than likely going to get my arse handed to me.

    Dirty Bomb is a respectful throwback to a time when actual skill was paramount, not how long you’ve played, what you’ve unlocked or what micro-transactions you’ve purchased. You can forget that stock-standard genre bullshit, and this is far from a relic from ancient gaming times. Not by a longshot. It’s a genetic hybrid gleaning the best cosmetic and traversal elements from modern day shooters with the finger snapping quickness and unforgiving toughness of Splash Damage’s earlier projects.

    The setting is simple. The once teeming city of London is now basking in a radioactive glow. A homemade device aka a dirty bomb (or as some have called it Derteh Berm) has made the city uninhabitable. Well, almost. Three years later Paramilitary Corporations are still picking the bones of this rotting corpse clean with fracas, skirmishes and even, dare I say it, brouhahas erupting over the spoils. Team of mercenaries wage war in the empty streets, each with unique weaponry and abilities.

    You don’t get eleventy billions guns and attachments to choose from. Nor a thousand perks or attributes. You get a squad of three mercenaries. You get a primary, secondary and a melee weapon. You get one or two special skills and three passive perks almost immediately unlocked. That’s it. No upgrade paths. No time wasted pondering the best loadout. You grab your trio, get to know their skillset and get into the fray. Oh yeah, it’s also heavily objectivebased, so solo warriors are shit out of luck. Dirty Bombis all about PTFO. Playing The Fucking Objective. I swear hear a choir of angels every time I type that.

    Think of your squad as your toolkit. Sometimes taking pop-shots with a nail-gun or bashing everything with a hammer isn’t what’s required. You might need to finesse it a little. You’ve over fifteen mercs to choose from, with more on the way. There are Tanks, such as Rhino with his fearsome mini-gun, and Fragger who spams grenades (not just immediately given to each character) like he bought them on sale. Healers like Aura can revive and drop healing beacons or if you like action on the frontlines Phoenix prefers a self-revive to doling out medpacks.

    Then there are those unsung heroes in Support. Skyhammer drops ammo, airstrikes and can decimate in open-air encounters; Like duct tape? Proxy is England’s answer to MacGyver, deadly up close, she brings the boom with proximity mines and melees with a cricket bat. Glorious!

    I stuck with a tankless roster using Sawbonez, an SMG packing healer with medkits and defrib, Nader for her grenade launcher so I could zip in and make a wonderful mess, and then alternated between Bushwhacker for his sentry turret and Stoker for his magnificent napalm grenades. That’s not to say I didn’t dabble, but gamer pride was on the line and everyone wants to win.

    We played a single game mode, Stopwatch, where both sides are given a series of objectives to complete, back-to-back, and the team with the quickest time and highest completion rate wins on both an indoor (Chapel) and outdoor (Underground) map, modelled after their namesakes Whitechapel and The Underground respectively. To lessen my negative impact, I forcibly teamed up with Hyper colleague, good buddy and conversational review nemesis Joab ‘Joaby Jo-Jo’ Gilroy. Being one of the most competitive gamers I know, he was not thrilled with this pairing. That boy likes to win. Little did I know what was coming.

    To say it’s fast is like saying Leonardo DiCaprio enjoys moderate success with the ladies. It is unbelievable. You are immediately urged, both in game and by our Splash Damage coaches, to not even bother aiming down sights. It just takes too long. It was 90% hip-firing all the way, baby, and I couldn’t have been happier. One less thing to distract me from killing, or more appropriately dying.

    Strategy became key as did constant communication and who each teammate was calling on from their mercenary deck. Soloists immediately found death becomes them. A lot. There were many timed respawns, waiting for numbers moments and it became clear everyone would have to play their part to ensure victory. Even now I can feel the spiteful glare from Joaby following my initial, shameful efforts. I immediately relegated myself to healer, hanging back and rushing in to play medic and drop medkits, but that wasn’t enough. I won’t lie, my Kill/Death ratio was atrocious in those early rounds and I’m grateful for even that.
    My desire to win combined with shooter know-how, support mechanics and a powerful need to not incur the wrathful stare of my magazine colleague forced me to look at my role, my abilities and where I could be of most use to my team. I rushed behind Joab playing Rhino feeding him medkits delivering non-stop health boosts the second I saw his bar dip. On offense I looked for secondary objectives to open alternate pathways, or defensively would dump a sneaky turret or delicious napalm, forcing flankers to hesitate. I rained down grenades until I died and then used Nader’s Martyrdom abilities to take any and every one with me.

    After a rather slow and shitty start I not only found my groove, but made an impact and a big difference to some key skirmishes. I even hit a four kill streak, which may seem laughable to some, but to me I felt like a perpetual benchwarmer who had just dunked on Jordan in the playoffs. After the mid-session break, I reconvened with my cohort and while he mocked my abysmal KD ratio, and rightly so, he’d snuck a peek at my stats and mentioned my Score Per Minute was right up there. How about that!

    So after playing easily the fastest-paced shooter around with nods to FPS’ old school beginnings what did I take away from it? Any game is as challenging and tough as you yourself make it. You may not have the skills to dominate but you can play your part and ensure your team wins. It was another zen moment where both Dirty Bomb and my journey of PC discovery intertwined. They said the game wasn’t quite ready, as I felt. It handled spectacularly, and outdid expectations, as did I. My heart hasn’t raced at this pace before, fully clothed at least, and just writing about it I can feel an adrenaline surge at its mere memory. Dirty Bomb is a dose of Viagra to an, at times, flaccid genre and I can’t wait to pop that pill again.

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